Gary Neville’s comments about Manchester City losing their appetite for success are a little wide of the mark. I don’t believe any club would spend £100 million every season if they were not looking for some kind of end product. The mentality within the Manchester City squad now is a slightly different debate. But perhaps accusations of laid back minds are far more applicable to Arsenal’s current state.
Manchester City have rolled up their sleeves and dived right into the thick of it in the transfer market. Whatever you may think of City and their status in European football, they’re certainly acting like they want the successes and adulation that comes with it, even if you’re unlikely to agree with their methods. It’s the modern way of building a great team, and not necessarily because it’s the only way. Patience is out the door and you have to ask how many clubs are willing to go down the route of Barcelona or Ajax and plant seeds for successes well into the future.
With Arsenal, it’s a little bit of both. Patience will allow you to see that the Arsenal method of building is admirable and done the “right way.” That’s not to say everything is perfect at the Emirates. The methods may be good but the current mentality doesn’t fit. Football doesn’t always have to be about cutting corners, even if there is immense pressure to do so. But you have to start asking questions when a club doesn’t fill supporters with confidence that things are on the up.
You can debate Arsene Wenger’s appetite for success all day, and I don’t really believe he’d keep himself around at a football club if he wasn’t trying to make strides towards silverware. The issue is the working environment and those surrounding the manager. I’m all for questioning the manager when I feel it’s deserved, because honestly how can anyone in football be exempt from criticism? But Arsenal has changed a great deal over the past decade. The club’s hierarchy strive for goals that really do not matter when looking at the bigger picture. It’s a boardroom and an owner who have placed importance in things other than reaching the top of the mountain. It’s far from a loss of identity, but rather a loss of values. There is no urgency to take steps that are absolutely necessary. Some might interpret that as going out and spending heavily in the market, but as mentioned before, football doesn’t always have to be about cutting corners.
At Arsenal, new players are immediately engulfed in a feeling that you don’t always have to do your best to become a “winner” – and that’s specifically the club’s interpretation of winning. The owner’s approach to the game offers a green light to the players that no one really needs you to turn up and give your all, but just turning up will be enough.
Top four is not a success, nor is it an adequate replacement for silverware. There wouldn’t be such a problem or feeling of discontent among supporters if there was a sense that the club were taking steps to improve the team and making noticeable progress each season. We’re not seeing that at the moment. Signings come in as replacements rather than as additions, and often the quality isn’t matched.
It feels like the club are in a cycle of comfort because they believe everything is working in their favour, from doing just about enough in terms of player recruitment and coaching, and the introduction of Financial Fair Play, which they believe will keep their heads well above water.
But it has become boring and there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight, at least for those who don’t favour the blind optimism approach. Yes, the club have lost their appetite for trophies and real success, and it’s not just because spend hasn’t equalled others in the Premier League. The real frustration here is that it’s not totally beyond reach to achieve success under the current Arsenal model, just a change of mentality within to improve as a football club and not as something else.
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