I was talking to my friend Jess in the aftermath of the Bayern massacre in London last week, and she made a rather interesting reference to Alexis Sánchez grinning on the bench during our discussion. While it’s clear both Sánchez and Petr Čech were laughing at something unrelated, her quip of “the look on Alexis’ face might be what Nero looked like when Rome was burning” summed it all up perfectly.
Perhaps as supporters, maybe all we can do is laugh in the face of tragedy. Some others will take to Twitter, AFTV, Facebook, or whatever other platform to voice their displeasure; do not knock it, it’s their right, even if you disagree with it.
Let us not forget those who still, perhaps stubbornly or out of loyalty – either blind or well founded – back Wenger and will follow the man into the fray until the end of time. As for me, I am here to say that it must be burnt to the ground, top to bottom. All of it.
By it I mean every single aspect of this club. And yes, that will undoubtedly come across to you as a very reactionary statement in the wake of yet another European catastrophe, but last week was the culmination of many factors that are far more than just another poor showing against a continental big boy.
To quote that now famous/infamous saying; “it’s just not good enough.” But let’s look at why it feels as though Bill Murray is in the leading role of our season year on year.
Arsenal Holdings plc.
Despite the above name annoying me to no end, the simple fact is that the men upstairs who control the club are a massive part of the problem; and have been for a while now.
Whether you buy into the excuse that the stadium move hamstrung the club (I don’t, and I will be tackling that in a future piece), our current Chairman, Chief Executive, and Directors of Arsenal Football Club are a main catalyst in many of our issues.
Starting at the very top with Chairman Sir bag of Chips Keswick; career banker of over 50-years for “esteemed” institutions such as the Bank of England, and DeBeers. As you trickle down the list you run into Ivan Gazidis (Chief Executive Officer), and Directors Ken Friar, Lord Harris of Peckham, Stan Kroenke, and his son Josh Kroenke.
As stated before, Keswick was in banking for five decades, or, more years than the Cold War went on for. Gazidis, a lawyer via his time at Oxford, made his name as a member of the founding management team with MLS (yeah, that’s not something you should really boast about with any regularity). Lord Harris was/is a carpet magnet. Mr. Friar, a utility man in regards to positions held within the club over a 60-year period, currently heads the Club’s efforts regards to property. And finally, the family Kroenke; father K establishing himself as a real-estate developer as well as a highly-disliked owner of multiple North American sports franchises, while K junior intends to walk in daddy’s footsteps.
If you have not noticed the trend, it’s a very simple one; everyone on the Club’s board, bar Gazidis, made their mark in the world of business or finance. At the very top echelon of Arsenal, the driving force that makes us tick surrounds our ability to generate revenue.
While football in the 21 st century has evolved into a massive money-making enterprise, yes, it is necessary to have people on the board who understand the dollars and cents side of things. However, what ails Arsenal is the fact that no one can claim any actual world experience with the sport; not even Gazidis. He may have been in management for the MLS, but managing a fledgling league (which during his time was an absolute disaster, by the way) is not the same as having done real leg work with the sport.
Considering we have been sold on the promise that this club would be competing with the very best both domestically and in Europe by this time, let’s look at Bayern Munich; the club who we supposedly wanted to model ourselves after.
At the head of the Supervisory board is Uli Hoeness, former player and German international. Under him reside Herbert Hainer (Adidas), Rupert Stadler (Audi), Werner Zedelius (Allianz), Timotheus Hottges (Deutsche Telekom), Rudolf Schels (VP, Bayern Munich), Edmund Stoiber (former Minister-President of Bavaria), Theodor Weimer (UniCredit), and Martin Winterkorn (formerly of Volkswagen). Under the Supervisory board rests the Executive board, comprised of Club Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (another former player, German international, and two-time Ballon d’Or winner), Jan-Christian Dreesen (Finance), Matthias Sammer (Sport; former German international, and Ballon d’Or winner), Andreas Jung (Marketing), and Jorg Wacker (Strategy).
Yes, the lion’s share of board members for Bayern made their name in other capacities un-related to football, but key members are very much “football men.” This guarantees that the needs of the club in footballing terms will always be met, rather than allowing financial figures to dictate club policy first and foremost. What this does is it ensures that both Hoeness and Rummenigge, with the assistance of Sammer, will put pressure on other members of the board, and indeed the manager, that Bayern remain successful on the pitch as well as off it. This is the key difference between Arsenal and other big clubs around the world.
It’s not just Bayern that operate in such a way. Paris Saint-Germain recently named Patrick Kluivert director of football. Ajax Amsterdam routinely bring former players into positions at the club, and currently have Tonny Bruins Slot (former assistant coach and scout for the club), Dick Schoenaker (former player and Dutch international) as board members, while Edwin van der Sar and Marc Overmars are employed as Marketing director and Technical director respectively. With Pavel Nedved also throwing his name into the ring as current vice-president of Juventus. These are just a handful of clubs who understand the value of having football men in high positions within the club to make sure matters of the sport itself will always be a priority.
Many supporters want the board to be replaced piece meal, and while that sentiment is one that I agree with in principle, but likely to not happen. What can be changed is that a director of football can come in (Robert Pires has openly discussed his desire to take up such a posting), and someone with genuine experience in the game be placed on the board itself.
It’s clear that Arsène Wenger is not under genuine pressure from the top to achieve greater things than “remaining competitive domestically and in Europe”, something that will not change unless the club’s head is either a person of the game, or at least someone who is a genuine fan of the club (i.e. Roman Abramovich at Chelsea).
Banner jokes aside, it really is time for Le Prof to hang up his oversized winter coat. No that was not meant to be disrespectful, just a little joke to lighten the mood. But the truth of the matter is that Wenger has not moved with the times, and thus, neither have the club in footballing terms.
The simple explanation comes last night at the Emirates when Laurent Koscielny was unjustly sent off for a bogus red card; look at the replay, and marvel at the fact that Robert Lewandowski pushed off the French center back before flopping to the ground. That aside, Wenger’s decision to move Granit Xhaka into the center back role rather than bring on an actual center back in Gabriel boggles the mind. It is a decision such as that which holds itself as a microcosm of everything that is wrong on the pitch, and has been for quite a few years now.
No one can speak against the fact that he quite literally revolutionized football in England. From dietary changes, to new fitness regimes, and yes, to his brand of football that gave us wonderful league memories in 1997-98, 2001-02, and 2003-04. But Arsène has never moved past his adjusted approach in which he aspired to mold our tactical offers after an impressive Barcelona.
To this day, we still are a side who needs possession, who needs to build the play up, and it is to our detriment more than anything. The fact that we only play one way, one style, means we are as predictable as Stoke City. Same approach, same brand, regardless of our opposition. We know it, they know it, and the result are teams becoming more and more capable of causing an upset. While the board can be blamed for certain things no doubt, and even for not putting enough pressure on Wenger to deliver after the move to the Emirates, what they cannot take responsibility for is his decisions as a manager.
We have become stale, predictable, and we need a massive refresher course in how modern football has evolved on a tactical level. We can laud about the technical proficiency of our players (let’s be honest, even that has begun to slip past the standard we have seen previously), but when we have a squad of players forced into a system which doesn’t suit most of them, the answer becomes clear.
There is no telling if Wenger will sign an extension or not, which is another source of frustration for many; most just want an answer, regardless of which it is. If he chooses to stay, the only way there will be a light at the end of this tunnel is if he freshens the squad on a tactical level; rigidity is no way to approach this sport any longer. If he does choose to go, then the decision rests on the board to bring in the right man for the job, though I fear they’d rather a “yes man” than the right one.
The blame here is two-fold; the players must take responsibility for poor performances on an individual level and a lack of real fight in them, while the manager must be blamed for his inability for motivating them both on and off the pitch. But what has become clear, is that much of our current squad are, in one way or another, not of the level required to really challenge for the league let alone Europe.
Some will say that it is the managers fault for bringing in quite a few players who, on evidence, are not performing to the level required. Indeed, this argument has some merit, considering that Arsenal have spent only 50-odd million pounds less than Bayern Munich since 2004; one club is a European power house, while the other struggles to challenge for a full domestic campaign.
Arsenal have certainly spent money, huge sums of it, and yet year after year we as supporters continue to question why many of these players are still on our wage bill. There is no point in me rattling off the names of those who are guilty in not leaving every single thread of energy and passion on the pitch every single time they feature for the club, what must be said however is that apart from a small cadre of them, the players we have now are a far cry from the days of Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Ray Parlour, Dennis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljungberg, Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry, Gilberto Silva, and so on.
Once upon a time, players truly bled for this club, now the image received by us is that they bleed for the paycheck that is guaranteed to come every week. The truth of the matter is that our current squad cost the same or more than the Bayern side who gave us the biggest margin of defeat over two legs for any English club in European history. Our players, so often lauded by Wenger as having a fighting spirit and mental strength (when times are good, mind you), routinely capitulate faster than the French army in 1940.
They cannot shoulder all the blame, but yes, each player must look at himself and understand that the effort they put forth on the pitch is not only good enough for Arsenal, but for any footballer at this level. You can blame our defensive frailties on the manager (yes, half of it should fall on his shoulders), but the constant instances of players refusing to take responsibility on the pitch, take up a leadership role, or put in the work on the pitch that is required happens far too often.
It is okay to lose when you have nothing left to give or if you were just outplayed despite your best efforts, but it’s not okay to lose when you clearly have so much more remaining.
Though the board or indeed the manager is sure to never sanction a near complete squad rebuild, it certainly needs addressing in the summer. The hard facts are that at least seven or eight players need to be let go, and if we are to spend big sums of money on their replacements, we can all hope they’ll be the right ones; remember N’Golo Kante was purchased for less than Granit Xhaka.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the club, but perhaps just gloom. We are in a very healthy financial state, and we do have a core of players who we can build something special around; whether we like it or not, Wenger has tried his best to leave us in decent shape, though it may be harder to push on than we all want to come to terms with.
There is work to be done moving forward, and there will be tough times. Even if Wenger calls time this summer, no one can expect instant results from the next manager; not even under Massimo Allegri if he did in fact make the move from Turin to London.
What we cannot fear, what the board cannot fear, and what the players cannot fear, is change. Change is inevitable, in all manners of life, and football is certainly no different.
Unfortunately for us, simple change may not be enough, and it genuinely may well take burning the entire project to the ground and starting completely fresh from the proverbial ashes for this club to realize the potential we all hope it still possesses.
Until next time, COYG.
Drew is one of our #ABW Regular Columnists and can be found on Twitter as @AFCBvB1410. When not writing for us, he also writes for Outside of the Boot and FutbollPulse, and he’s a regular hipster on the Football Hipsters Podcast.
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