Arsenal’s two most recent outings, one in the Premier League and one in the Champions League, served up another reminder of how fragile this club can be. 2-0 up in both games yet surrendering two points to scrape a draw. It’s what we’ve come to expect of Arsenal: no direction, no initiative to seize the day and very little in the way of inspiring performances, both on and off the pitch.
The problem with Arsenal, and as I’ve mentioned previously, is that there’s an overwhelming reliance and belief that tomorrow will be ok, that things will work themselves out and patience is the key to success. Not only is that a foolish vision to have with any sport or even business, it’s reckless and a little embarrassing. To suggest a club as big as Arsenal can’t take matters into their own hands and have some say in the outcome of more than just results on a football pitch is bordering on disgraceful.
The club is entrenched in the mentality that losing or losing out is ok. It’s not just about results on the pitch (although that is extremely high up the list of priorities) but the club never seem to have a back up plan, something different in mind when the club fail in their pursuit of Juan Mata or can’t find any passage through to the Manchester United goal. The view always seems to be about problems being resolved on their own, and if that’s not the case then it’s always someone else’s fault: referees, two games in a week, the weather, the wealth of other clubs.
It’s a worrying state with the club because it’s not as simple as just rectifying one issue and then waiting for the rest to fall nicely in line with a truly successful model. Yet at the same time, every problem at Arsenal is interlinked and connected in such a way that one light bulb going out in the circuit forces every other bulb to go out, too.
Arsenal’s problems are as clear as day to even the most uneducated of sports fans, however it’s infuriatingly difficult to see how or, more importantly, why it has come to be.
The stadium move was spoken about as a new dawn for the club and for it’s success on the pitch, but it has acted as nothing but a hindrance over these past six years. We’re told that the manager has no funds to really strengthen the squad, and that is someway believable. But the follow-up serves something from the other end of the scale that the manager really doesn’t want to indulge in the madness of the transfer market, obliging those who have set the bar so high and letting everyone know that it’s ok. Even at this stage, fans know a lot more about that club and the workings of it, but the root cause of the problem remains clouded.
Arsenal have never been about strengthening, reinforcing, putting up a real fight; rather it’s just a case of replace and make do. Yet the additional tag onto the end of that thought is that the club’s name and history will see it through. That’s the view in the transfer market, citing that Arsene Wenger as manager and a history full of trophies is enough to entice the best players to the club regardless of pay or what may be on offer elsewhere.
There doesn’t seem to be any alarm bells ringing at boardroom level at this stage, either. The club appear to be down and out of the title race, are well out of form in comparison to teams like Everton and West Brom, and yet there’s still the view that the manager, who does have his own shortcomings, will guide the team to fourth regardless. What happens to the club when that doesn’t come to be? What if Arsenal and Tottenham’s roles were reversed last season and the club finished fourth and ended up in the Europa League due to Chelsea’s success? There’s never any thought for situations such as that.
The decisions from the manager are baffling, such as strictly putting the idea into his players’ minds that an off-form Mikel Arteta should be taking the game deciding penalty ahead of a striker who’s just bagged two goals and is enjoying his best game in an Arsenal shirt. What about the choice to select Johan Djourou as the club captain, even for what was supposed to be a low key League Cup game? Where’s the desire to frighten the opposition, to give the rest of the squad some belief and take matters into your own hands?
In comparison, Manchester United know exactly what they want and know how to get it. They don’t care that the signing of Robin van Persie might “kill” Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernandez, because frankly why would any big club with great ambitions take on such a stupid outlook on sports? They didn’t just put together summer tours of the far east, America and Africa a year or two ago and began patting themselves on the back for an enterprising and ambitious, albeit extremely late in the day job. They also wouldn’t knowingly entertain another team with the view that their own brand of football will win the day come 90-minutes. There’s a winning mentality at clubs like Manchester United that can see them to victory from a two goal deficit rather than a fortunate point after being comfortably ahead.
Arsenal are resting on their laurels and past successes with the view that those successes will continue to bloom in spite of what others do. There’s a laziness to the club that runs through the boardroom and their lack of action to the manager and those coming through the academy.
Arsene Wenger might have his hands tied, but we’ll never really know. What fans do see are the mistakes that remain each season and even after previous scapegoats and poor performers have moved on. The problems the club have on the pitch now were obvious and ever present during the days of van Persie and Cesc Fabregas, too.
There’s no accountability, no competition and no punishment for costly mistakes. But most concerning and disappointing is that there doesn’t seem to be any pride in the club from the very top. Embarrassments are common place with Arsenal, from those on the pitch to a chairman who is unfit for public speaking. Financial Fair Play might change Arsenal’s fortunes to some degree, but even that won’t solely make up for a lack of leadership and fight from inside the club.