Today was a glorious day for football on television. I missed the Championship match where West Ham put Nottingham Forest to the sword. I was too busy watching Manchester City absolutely demolish Tottenham Hotspur 5-1 at White Hart Lane. That really was a delight to watch as a fan of someone who enjoys good football. It highlighted the gap in class between the two sides. City can still push on from there.
I’ll get back to the match that followed and Arsenal in particular soon. Elsewhere, though, it’s early in the season. This is a marathon and not a sprint. There is still a lot of football to be played. There are peaks and troughs to be experienced by teams. Yet for all that Manchester will have the teams that should finish first and second in the PL this season. They have not even begun to play at their best despite the festival of football they’ve provided so far. They are messing around with lots of gears to go. Chelsea have had it tough, but with the signing or two they will get into the groove, but by that time they could playing catch up with the Mancs. This is good football, better than anything else seen last season and it can only get better which bodes well for enjoyable viewing in the months to come.
Back to the match at Old Trafford. I remember changing the channel to catch the build-up to the big United vs. Arsenal and thinking to myself that United would have to go some to beat what City had did. I was in text conversation with a friend who legitimately predicted that Arsenal would lose 6-1. At half time he adjusted the prediction to get it spot on and guess that the Gooners (more Goonies) would lose 8-2.
Now take a moment to let that sink it. This was a Premier League match. A match with three points at stake and psychological advantage over a potential contender for the crown. It wasn’t a top side versus a bottom side. It was a match between the most successful team against the team that arguably played the most attractive football of the last five years. It’s hyped to be a big match and involves two big names. In that game Arsenal conceded 8 goals. They conceded 8 goals and the side who scored those 8 goals were doing it whilst playing in second gear. They hardly broke a sweat. It was almost like a training exercise and in parts it was annoying seeing United toy around with Arsenal and not just bang the goals in. If they took it more seriously Arsenal could have gone home with a gap in the score safely in double figures.
You’ll notice Fergie being very protective of Wenger in his comments. Fergie tends to do that to those who are not a threat. I mean when was the last time any team conceded 8 goals to United? Ipswich’s 9? Wasn’t that at Portman Road? If I was an Arsenal fan I would be absolutely livid. Poor Arsenal – it’s not the first time I’ve wrote about them of late. There was first what others had to say, then there was the fuss over the Fabregas Fiasco and finally there was the response to their defeat to Liverpool. Have I got something against Arsenal? Read on.
No excuses at all for Arsenal. Any team from anywhere would not capitulate the way they did. The manager is to blame. You would say the senior players, but who are they? Walcott? Van Persie? Arshavin? Get outta here. You cannot build a squad like that. His own words are returning to haunt him. If you sell your top two best players you can no longer be taken seriously as a big club. They may have money, but now a top player has to ask himself, why would I join a team like this? Cahill – stay at Bolton you’re better off. Jagielka – stay at Everton, you’re better off. Hell even Samba is better off getting relegated with Blackburn Rovers than joining a side without any sense of progress other than the ‘potential’ in their 15 year olds they’re signing from Ligue Une and Rochdale.
It’s also interesting to hear the song that what Wenger needs to do is buy big and buy now. Actually, it’s not as simple as that. Arsene Wenger does not have a reputation of buying big. He buys with potential in mind. When was the last time he bought an established Premier League player in a position to make a real difference to the side? His idea of Premier League experience in the past has been buying Silvestre from United (a deal Fergie must still be laughing at now) and earlier than that the hoped for fox-in-the-box Francis Jeffers. To change the habits of a lifetime now would not only be out of character it would necessarily be disorienting both to the manager and the make-up of the team. It’s easy to say buy big – but Arsenal’s structure is built around buying for Wenger players who will fit Wenger’s psychological, technical and tactical requirements. That is much more the case than the argument about wage structure. That is why he’ll buy young and those who can be moulded.
Some commentators, ex-Arsenal players and a few fans want to defend Wenger for all he’s done for the club, for establishing a longevity and consistency in the identity and very DNA of Arsenal to the point that the credo has been In Wenger We Trust. Things may be going a bit awry, players may have left, but in all things Wenger remains untouchable. However bad its got even staunch Man Utd fan Gary Neville says it would be wrong to sack Wenger. Don’t sack him, is the mantra, just get him to change a little. Just get him to ease off his philosophy a bit. Just get the help in from above – bring back David Dein. Just bring in the big buys and bring them in now. Just do that, but he should not be sacked. We need to respect this guy. The poor guy has had to deal with the megabucks monoliths of Chelsea and Manchester City buying everyone in sight. He’s maintained his principles in spite of it all. What a hero for the noble art of football the right way. It’s thus disrespectful to criticise him with such vigour, after all he’s done for Arsenal and all he’s done for football.
But seriously hold on a minute. Why not sack Wenger? Why should he remain untouchable? It is not unreasonable to suggest that Arsenal should have been winning trophies and yet they have won 0 trophies in six years. He has had plenty of time and money to invest in a team that can compete. He has had plenty of time to develop systems and a mentality that can create winning scenarios. He has had plenty of time to get top players to commit to the club. He has failed in all those areas. Why not sack the guy?
Why has he still got a job? Why is his job safe? Because of what he did 6 years ago? Seriously? So when is he sackable? What level of deterioration or stagnation will it take before you sack the brother? I believe in trust and longevity like the next man, but even back in the ’50’s and ’60’s no manager had a right to stay in charge of a club for that long. That’s because you knew when to sack a brother. Now you have a dangerous situation where people are genuinely wondering, who could possibly replace him? When a club is that dependent on a manager for success and progress then you’re in a very dangerous position. Just ask Manchester United when Sir Matt Busby called it a day. Compare that to the line of succession that allowed Liverpool to enjoy footballing supremacy virtually from 1973 to 1990 through four managers. No reliance on one man to guarantee success. (By the way Manchester United are yet to encounter that challenge when Sir Alex Ferguson calls it a day.)
Yet Arsenal cannot live without Wenger? Really? Maybe they deserve to go down the road to mediocrity. Understandably, though, this is not the time to make rash decisions. It’s only three games into the season. However, if you don’t sack him now, you at least raise the stakes for what he needs to do to keep his job rather than make him like the great untouchable one. Wenger has to have his targets in the same way that in Rafa’s last year at Liverpool he had his standards to hit – qualification for the Champions League was the absolute minimum.
For Wenger it has to be more than that, because he’s been giving that for years. Unless Arsenal are genuinely changing their expectations to accept a lower level of success, then they have to state to Wenger quite clearly that nothing less than a top four finish AND a trophy domestic or European will be acceptable. Who is in charge anyway? Observers speak of how Wenger ‘built the stadium’ and let Arsenal achieve the status it’s reached – that doesn’t say much about the actual leadership of the club. It’s time that the board took a grip of the club and reminded everyone who really is in charge of things.
It’s time for Wenger to be held accountable for his progress in the club. No man is bigger than the club, we hear often, and that should fit the manager more than anyone.