Highbury Died for This: Arsenal in Crisis

Well, here we are. Not yet 4 games into a new Arsene Wenger contract extension and the club is now widely criticised as being “in crisis”. To be fair, we don’t really need to add the quotations, even if no one else had said it before – we would be of that view in any case.

After a trip to Anfield which saw the manager play Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out of position at RWB off the back of another contract rejection, leave his record signing and team of the season Left Back on the pine in favour of team mates who, while you can’t discount their desire, are simply not cut out to start in those positions, before shrinking into his pitch side seat as he oversaw one of the most inept performances seen in modern times, we then came to the final days of the summer transfer window. A transfer window in which it had become crystal clear we would need to be involved in further after witnessing a start to the campaign which highlighted some of our glaring weaknesses. With early transfer predictions putting us as being one of the big shakers this window, we watched on with nonchalant horror as we came to the realisation that there would be no further investment in the squad. The handling of the AOC situation was a dire example of our lack of strategy for players coming into the final 12 months of their contracts.

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With the player having found a good run of injury free from throughout the previous season and being a catalyst (see what I did there?) behind our change in form that saw us close out the end of the season with some semblance of half decent football, our response was to;

  • Allow the player to play through this good form, knowing that he was coming to the end of his current deal, without tabling an extension.
  • Make comment in the press that he owes the club after so much time and energy were invested in him. Basically trying to guilt trip him into accepting terms which he had already made clear he wasn’t open to accepting.
  • Continue to play him out of position (RWB/LWB) knowing he wanted a CM role, after we told him how much he owed us and while the likes of Xhaka/Ramsey/Coquelin all fumbled about ahead of him.
  • Offer him £180,000 per week without the inclusion of the conditions he so clearly identified as hurdles in him accepting the 1st few offers, basically asking him to trade cash for career direction.
  • Play him against the team he had been in discussions with all summer, out of position, just days after rejecting your final offer.
  • Selling him for good money, to a league rival and folding the money into our pockets rather than replacing someone who was a key factor in last seasons’ turnaround and then cry poor as the window came to a close.

There are many more examples of mismanagement from the previous weeks’ efforts, but this one feels the most pertinent. There was only ever one outcome here given our refusal to accommodate any of the Ox’s conditions in a window where it has become blatantly obvious of our need to shake things up in Central midfield. The fact that we also offered him £180k per week, before selling him for £40m and then crying poor should be more than enough to prove that not only are things not changing at the club – things are worse than ever.

Not even 4 games into a 2 year extension (and £2m pay rise for Wenger), the club is back in crisis with nowhere else to look but in the mirror. What is the manager up to? The team selection at Anfield was diabolical. If ever there was a case for self sabotage to simply prove a point, this is the one. The recent past is littered with high-profile losses to our opponents. Think back and remember the losses to Crystal Palace (0-3),  Bayern Munich (1-5 x 2) and in previous seasons such as Wenger’s 1000th game (0-6) etc etc… but only the Liverpool defeat was an example of a team being sent out with players completely out of position, left on the bench or omitted from proceedings altogether.

The performance itself screamed of discourse from a playing group clearly no longer motivated or interested in taking on board what the manager is offering them. Speaking from my varied experience with team sports and coaching, once a group of players lose belief in the process to win games that they are trying to emulate on field, it is basically impossible to get that group back on track without major shifts in both staff and/or approach. You can change a few players around (and it’s pretty fucking obvious that we are in need of a few new faces), but without a new philosophy being brought to them, the malaise that has infected the existing players will eventually seep into the new additions and the rot continues…

dejection

The problem for us, as fans, is that we know the club is in desperate need of leadership across all levels. On field we lack natural leaders. For all our business to bring in players with a bit of edge and fire (Xhaka, Mustafi, Alexis) two seem to be lost to the ether of mismanagement while Xhaka is floundering in the mire with no-one to throw him a line to safety. It means that when things do start to go bad in-game, like against Stoke where a turn of iffy luck played against us, we don’t have the guy who can rally the troops in order to maintain focus and see the game out. Instead, we spiral so quickly out of control that we make a team who basically met for the 1st time 4 weeks ago look like world beaters.

On the sidelines Arsene sits passive. We know his routine inside and out. So does every manager in the league. We hate high pressing oppositions, teams that let us have the ball then press us into our own half until we make that inevitable mistake and the opportunity presents to score. Of the 8 goals we have conceded this term, 6 have come directly from turnovers and within 10 seconds of the turnover being made. Wenger rarely emerges from his chair to dictate in-game adjustments, relying on his players to read the game and adapt accordingly within the structures set in the lead up. He will not gesticulate. He does not emote. He will not allow Steve Bould to even rise from his position in the number 2 chair. At 70mins we see the switches to personnel and we put our eggs in the Giroud basket. It is so predictable. The fans are fed up and now, finally, we can see the players giving up the ghost. How many times can you go through the same old routine and expect that results are going to change?

With no leadership coming from the man who is meant to steer this team when things seem to be going against the players on field, what more can we expect from them? I don’t totally excuse the players for the game at Anfield, but they are by no means solely to blame. So who makes the management team accountable for the performance of the team on pitch?

In the case of Arsenal, it seems Arsene is accountable to no one but himself. Given an extension against the advice of Ivan Gazidis, Wenger appears to have been given his previous PD with a view to maximise revenues while minimising expenditure and maintaining the teams place in the league. Think it was coincidence that we lost £20m in CL revenue but then came through the transfer window with a net gain in the region of £25m? For a man so clearly calling for change at the club, when it became clear that he would be overruled on his stance for changing the manager and bringing a new outlook to the club, Gazidis should have seen the writing on the wall and pulled up stumps. Knowing that the influence of the manager outweighs your own influence over the administration of the club as CEO, is a position that cannot be taken forward in any measure of business. It’s this kind of lack of decisiveness which permeates an aura of acceptance at the Emirates. It underlines the issues at the club as starting from the very top and presents a very worrying formula for everyone underneath with interest in the club that is not solely financial. With no one able to assert their influence strongly enough to incite the change that is so desperately needed to get this club back on track, it looks to be down to the fans/media to exercise methods already gaining traction.

kroenke

It’s embarrassing to be an Arsenal fan right now. We don’t inspire fear or hate or jealousy anymore. I actually have people coming up to me at work to tell me they feel sorry for me. It’s hard to maintain the fight and the passion to bring yet another long-winded, negatively toned piece of content to you all. Matty B can’t bring himself to do it at the moment and who can blame him?

When you invest so much of your personal time and energy into supporting a team from the opposite side of the world, the least you would expect is that the same team gives you every indication that they are out to reward that dedication with success on the field. When that is not only MIA but willfully and blatantly the case, it’s kind of hard to give a fuck in the same way for too long.

 

RIP Matty B, I’ll light a candle in the window at GDU headquarters for you.

 

For some bonus lol’s, check out Arsene Aug 2016 vs Arsene Aug 2017 press comments following defeats to Liverpool

Last season, here vs Last week here.

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