No other club in the top flight quite has the same furore surrounding board meetings as Arsenal and the latest one this Thursday is no exception, with Arsene Wenger under mounting pressure after seeing his team’s faint hopes of silverware fade away in two competitions inside a week yet again. But with majority shareholder Stan Kroenke likely to pledge his support to the man at the helm once more, can fans really take reports of a bumper transfer budget in the summer seriously?
Having already been dumped out of the FA Cup to Blackburn in an embarrassing 1-0 defeat at home, it was quickly followed by the inevitable 3-1 loss to runaway Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich in midweek in the Champions League which all but ensures that the club are out of the competition at the first knockout hurdle. With the club currently sat in fifth in the league and four points adrift of Tottenham with 12 games left to play, even what qualifies as success in the distorted world of Wenger looks in danger of being missed out on altogether this term. These are testing times for the manager and it genuinely seems now that the only thing keeping him in his job at the moment is the support of the board.
With Wenger under contract at the club until 2014, he appeared to get a little hot under the collar when reports surfaced that he was in discussions over a new deal, which was best highlighted by a tense press conference earlier this week, even if it wasn’t anywhere near the ‘meltdown’ it was portrayed as in some quarters. Much like when clubs cancel Christmas parties when they are in a bad run because they believe it makes them seem more professional and dedicated not to be enjoying themselves, for Wenger to be discussing a new deal in the same week during which they essentially crashed out of two competitions would appear to underline everything his greatest detractors now feel, that he has aligned himself far too heavily with the bean counters and needs their protection from an increasingly frustrated fan base.
The first instalment of a new shirt sponsorship deal will contribute to a fund of around £70m for new signings this summer, while the club’s coffers will be swelled even further by the extra £30m they will receive courtesy of the Premier League’s new TV deal, with the BBC reporting that Wenger still retains the unequivocal support of the board and chairman Peter Hill-Wood taking to task the ‘hysterical’ reaction to the Blackburn defeat. It is believed that the manager’s future will not be up for discussion at this Thursday’s board meeting, but that begs the question, when will it be? What has to happen for that topic to become a matter of priority?
When you take a look at the club’s net spend over the past few years, they have obviously been bolstered financially by the big name and big money departures of the likes of Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that over the past three seasons Wenger has spent nearly £120m on new players. Arsenal are far from the paupers they are often made out to be.
The likes of Gervinho, Andre Santos, Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci have all been added to the squad for significant fees and failed to live up to expectations, while the mediocrity that both Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud bring with them just further highlights the drop in quality throughout the squad.
Just as the crazy deal that saw Liverpool spend £35m on Andy Carroll wasn’t any more justifiable because they’d just recouped £50m for Fernando Torres, you simply don’t judge deals on a net spend basis, because football boils down to more than spreadsheets and the balance of a bank account. Would Arsenal fans even trust Wenger to spend £70m wisely now considering his recent patchy record in the transfer market, which has more than contributed to them slowly falling away from the pinnacle of the league’s elite?
Qualifying year on year for the promised land that is the Champions League is proving more and more difficult. At the same time, spending around £70m in the summer would be regarded as something of a climbdown on Wenger’s part and tacit acknowledgement that he should have sought to rectify the team’s problems earlier, particularly considering he has always had sizeable resources available at his disposal but chosen not to use them.
Arsenal have taken a rather large gamble that Financial Fair Play (FFP) will be enforced to the letter when it is implemented, but doesn’t their sensible approach go somewhat out of the window if they let the clubs above and around them get too far ahead of them before it begins? Spending £70m by then may simply be too late.
There’s a feeling that FFP won’t offer the level playing field its biggest fans say it will, but rather ensure the status quo remains and smaller, more ambitious clubs around the continent aren’t able to crash the party. Any changes will be done incrementally and over a large period of time. The sort of players that Arsenal require to get back to the top will still go for big money and will still have plenty of clubs competing for their signature, and it’s simply bizarre to believe that overnight, the club will be restored to challenging for silverware. Football is a cyclical game, but the path that Arsenal are currently on looks a much longer one than they are often seen communicating to the supporters and FFP will not save them. It is not the answer to every question.
Wenger and Arsenal are quickly reaching a crossroads and their at times fanatical devotion to the principles of FFP have seen them become less and less competitive over the past few years in the build-up to it and that has become ingrained into the culture of the club, with a whole generation of players indoctrinated to accept style over substance and second best.
Success has become distorted and fourth place is now regarded as a bigger achievement than the League Cup, while an outfit with the fourth highest wage bill in the country is labelled as a socialist model to follow by its manager. More and more, Wenger is starting to come to represent the desperate salesman Gil out of The Simpsons, and as far as Arsenal fans are concerned, they simply aren’t buying it any more.