Tuesday, 9 December 2014

What's really going on at Arsenal?

I won't be posting a Galatasaray preview today, mostly because it's a match that doesn't really matter. I still have a post-of-sorts for you, though. I wrote a post for Crazy About EPL which I recommend you check out, but for your convenience I'm copying the entire post here. It may be a tad outdated since I wrote it after the 2-1 Swansea loss, but most of it still applies. It's a pretty long and analytical post, so bear with me!


"The clock, as many opine, is ticking. In the eyes of several pundits and neutral experts, Arsene Wenger’s position at Arsenal has never been any more untenable. The psychologically and mathematically damaging 2-1 loss to Swansea [well, 3-0 to Stoke now] has left plenty arriving to the conclusion that Le Professeur seems more replaceable than ever.

Well, they’re wrong. Arsene’s lowest ebb at the club he’ managed for more than 18 years was not last week, but was indeed the horrific summer of 2011, capped off by the nightmarish 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford. As James McNicholas of Gunnerblog put it, on that fateful day:

“For the most part, I don’t really blame the players – especially not kids like Jenkinson.  As I’ve said before: it’s not their fault they’re out there.  It’s the fault of the manager (and quite possibly the board) for failing to strengthen a squad that has simultaneously been stripped of some of its most prized assets. He sat in the dugout, motionless.  He didn’t even walk to the touchline to cajole his troops.  He just sat there and watched his lambs slaughtered.  

As I watched at home, I briefly (and, I now realise, irrationally) wondered if Wenger might resign in the aftermath of the game.  What changed my mind was our extraordinary fans, who for much of the second half drowned out the United supporters with a chorus of “We love you Arsenal”.  They will have reminded Arsene of his commitment to this club.  He won’t walk away now.
Nor should he. This is his mess, and he needs to fix it.”

Wenger panic-purchased himself into a temporary comfort zone a day or two later, but that didn’t make his summer any less forgivable. He still oversaw the most excruciating and mentally draining transfer saga of Cesc Fabregas, not to mention gifted Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri to Manchester City.

And if that were not enough, he left his team utterly naked – tactically crippled and ruptured of the team’s crucial ligaments. August 2011 was, more than ever, a sure sign that the roof was falling into the house. The FA Cup delayed Wenger’s departure, rather than prevented it. 

And while this season of all has proved that Arsene Wenger is not the right man to lead Arsenal beyond fourth, his extrication from the club is much more complicit than assumed. The internal politics of the club has kept the manager’s tenure secure, while most of the Arsenal fanbase have played a part as well.

The fans

Arsenal’s fanbase is horribly split, classified on the basis of their allegiance with the manager. There are people who believe that despite recent frustrations, Wenger ought to stay at the club (unofficially stereotyped as the ‘AKB’, or the ‘Arsene Knows Brigade’), while there are those who feel the manager is past his expiration date (labeled as ‘WOB’, or the ‘Wenger Out Brigade’).

Disclaimer: Even though I have used the phrases ‘AKB’ and ‘WOB’ a fair amount of times in this article, kindly understand that I mean no offence to any Arsenal supporter. I don’t mean to classify or judge any group based on their stance, it’s just a matter of convenience for me to call someone an “AKB” rather than “a person who backs Arsene Wenger”. You may well be a WOB but not resort to personal abuse towards the manager, for instance.

There is a certain degree of sentiment from the AKB, who take criticisms towards the manager quite personally. Conversely, the WOB have the guilty of resorting to personal abuse in the heat of disappointing Arsenal losses caused by Wenger. More often than not, this means that the aftermath of an unsatisfactory result/performance is a verbal war within fans supporting the same club!

While debating and arguing is all well and good, it tends to change the father of the thought. When the conversation should have been “Is Arsene Wenger fit for the club?”, it instead turns to “How dare you don’t show respect for the club’s most successful manager?” (from the AKB) and “How can you possibly put up with this glorified mediocrity?” (from the WOB). This deterioration of the debate is understandable, but it invariably changes the subject and keeps Wenger’s flaws hidden.

While the WOB have been growing in number and the AKB seem more open to debate, a majority of the fanbase yet remain pro-Wenger; be it out of sentiment, fear of change or because they honestly believe he can recreate the glory times.

Ivan Gazidis

Ivan Gazidis – the CEO of Arsenal FC – has the power to remove Wenger from Arsenal. He was largely responsible for the PUMA and Emirates deals, and cares deeply for the club. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say I think he knows Wenger has to leave for Arsenal to compete for major honours. However, even though he has the power to remove and replace Arsene, his hands are tied.

Gazidis can hardly remove Wenger without finding his job in jeopardy. Sacking Wenger right now will not fly well with the fans, since there are plenty to still back him. In addition, it would also incur Stan Kroenke’s wrath, since Kroenke wants Wenger to stay. (His reasons are written below)

This is purely an opinion, but I think Ivan is the good guy. Sure, he was the reason (or part of it) why Gooners pay the highest ticket prices in the land, but any CEO worth his salt are in for the profit and the prestige. Also, despite being unable to remove Wenger because he has to protect his job, Gazidis has still brought some degree of change at the club through his work on the PUMA and Emirates deals. Through ensuring that Arsenal are financially stable, Gazidis nullified one of Wenger’s fail-safe excuses.
Ask yourself this – if Gazidis hadn’t given his “money to spend” proclamation in June ’13, would Mesut Ozil have come to Arsenal? Publicly declaring Arsenal’s financial firepower didn’t only absolve the board of blame and cleared all monetary-related confusions, but it also made Wenger 100% accountable of any transfers to follow.

Ivan was also vital in setting up a good backroom team of Jonker and Forsythe. Wenger’s autocratic instincts meant that they generally tended to get overruled, but at least Gazidis has ensured that Arsenal’s next manager would have a good staff to work with, assuming he doesn’t David Moyes them!

Stan Kroenke

I’ll be frank – Kroenke does not care much for the footballing success of Arsenal. Even though he’s the majority shareholder, one would be reasonably accurate in assuming that Kroenke has absolutely no emotional attachment to the club.

Kroenke views Arsenal as a financial goldmine. As long as Arsenal keep qualifying for the profits of the Champions League, Stan doesn’t really care what they do. He sees Arsenal as a guaranteed investment – a club from where he can make heaps of profit without spending a dime. That’s any businessman’s dream!

Wenger has his flaws, but he guarantees at least 4th every year. Furthermore, Wenger’s frugal nature of spending (with this summer being the obvious exception) means that Kroenke can take his slice from a financially thriving club. With Wenger at the club, Kroenke is assured the annual profits of CL football and his share of expensive ticket prices, without spending a single buck.

It’s for this reason Kroenke wants Wenger to stay. Gazidis (or Kroenke himself) sacking Wenger would put Arsenal down an uncertain path. Under a new manager Arsenal may finish first, but they may also finish fifth. Why risk the profits of finishing fourth? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?

Arsene Wenger

The CEO can’t sack him because the owner (and half the fans) won’t take kindly. Ultimately, Wenger is accountable to himself. He won’t be under pressure from Kroenke unless he finishes below fourth (which, let’s face it, in this Premier League, is not going to happen).

Since most of the board are filled with businessmen who lack footballing knowledge, Wenger’s given a free reign. In terms of transfers, players, positions, formations – Arsene Wenger calls all the shots. His degree of power even eclipses Sir Alex Ferguson’s at Manchester United! Since David Dein’s departure in 2007, Wenger has no one to challenge and question him footballistically. Maybe Ivan Gazidis could, but he dare not.

As Sir Chips Keswick – Arsenal’s Chairman – said in the AGM 2014:

“If Arsene has a plan we back it, if he doesn’t have a plan we keep quiet. So don’t let’s be in a muddle about who calls the shots about football at Arsenal. It is not the chairman, it is not the fans, it is Mr Arsene Wenger.”

It’s this increase in power and tenure that has led to Arsenal FC turning into Arsene’s FC. His dictatorial stronghold on the club is poisonous. None of Shad Forsythe, Andries Jonker and Steve Bould are given much input, because Wenger does not take kindly to criticism. Remember his reaction to Jacqui Oatley’s probing questions and Paul Merson’s post-Anderlecht analysis?

Wenger wouldn’t care to change his outdated methods (why would he, he gets £8m per annum for achieving the bare minimum!) until fan pressure gets to him. It only took drastic situations (the 8-2, the season opener Villa loss, the #PlayOzilAt10 Twitter hashtag) for Wenger to (be forced to) radically change his approach. Since the board and Gazidis can’t hold him accountable for on-field failures, the fans have taken it upon themselves to put Wenger under pressure. Should Podolski or Joel Campbell be given a start against Manchester United [again, apologise because it's outdated], it won’t be because Wenger thinks they deserve a go. It’ll be because the fans have questioned Wenger’s “minimal rotation” policy for too long.

But the fans themselves are so disjointed in their opinions, that there can’t really be any united protests and genuine change unless something disastrous happens.
      And so, keeping the above factors in mind, I see only three ways how Wenger can leave.

      1. The WOB (again, apologies for the labelling) manage to convince the AKB, and fan pressure forces Kroenke’s hand.

      2.  Arsenal fail spectacularly (fall out of the top four, get humiliated in Europe) and the shock of the failure goads the club into action.

      3. Wenger realizes how he has hamstrung the club – does the honourable thing and resigns.

The process of Wenger’s Arsenal exit is undoubtedly complicated. However, when he does leave, Gazidis has to ensure that his replacement doesn’t have the same autocratic personality. Wenger is out of Ivan’s and Stan’s control. Gazidis has to make certain that he can control Arsene’s successor, not feed his egocentrism.

Wenger has led Arsenal through the Emirates Stadium transition, but it’s apparent that he can’t lead the club to “the next level”, so to say. It’s in these troubled times that a real leader is born. Once Wenger leaves, the onus falls on Ivan Gazidis to deliver. Fail, and he’s the villain.

Succeed, and he’s the messiah."


Well, there you go. A huge thanks to those who had the patience to go through all that and contemplate the bigger picture. Be back tomorrow (hopefully) with a Galatasaray review and thoughts on the Wenger abuse thing.

Time to get hyped for Matchday!

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

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