Tag Archives: WOB

The perfect solution to Arsène's situation!

It’s Sophie’s Choice. It’s Solomonic. It’s having our cake and eating it, too. For years, as the debate over Arsène’s tenure and legacy have waxed and waned, we’ve pondered what it might mean for the club’s fortunes to see the manager of the last 20 years—the only manager many fans have ever known—step down. Would we fall out of the top four? Would we see an end to the twenty-year streak of celebrating St. Totteringham’s Day or of qualifying for Champions League play? After all, we’ve watched it unfold over at Old Trafford even as they’ve spent bucketloads on transfers and cycled through managers. Wouldn’t it be better for Arsène to stay on long enough to win one more trophy and hand the reigns over to someone who can build from momentum? After the debacle at the Hawthorns, however, we might just have our compromise solution…

There’s little shame in losing away to Chelsea, Bayern, or Liverpool. Sure, we might have expected to perform better, acquit ourselves well enough to say that the scorelines flattered our hosts. However, it’s more accurate to say that we were flattered in two of the three. That’s troubling. Far more troubling is how flaccid we looked in desultory wins over Hull, Sutton, and even Lincoln. We haven’t looked convincing or confident since, well, early December. As such, we now cling rather desperately to a sixth-place position, closer in points to 15th than to first. Unless the squad can find some source of inspiration after the international break and go on a rather stirring run over our remaining 11 Prem matches and (fingers crossed) two FA Cup matches, we will finish outside the top four, below Tottenham, and out of Champions League play for the first time in living memory.

That might satisfy a significant segment of the WOB-brigade, many but not all of whom are willing to endure a few seasons wandering in the wilderness of mid-table mediocrity as the price to be paid for ousting an obstinate, out-of-touch dictator with no tactical nous and the parsimony of a Depression-era pensioner. On current form, that’s where we’re headed. We have no chance of catching Chelsea, 19 points clear, and are very much on the fringes of relevance with even Mourinho’s milquetoast squad now ahead of us. Even the outcome of our game in hand—a trip to St. Mary’s to face Southampton—seems to depend more on Southampton’s ambitions than it does on our own. Thank whatever force controls the universe that we have two games in hand over Everton.

As to satisfying the AKBs, well, I suppose they can cling to the notion we could still, in theory, win the FA Cup, allowing their exalted leader after whom the club may or may not be named to ride off into the sunset, legacy preserved courtesy of a third FA Cup won in four years. To do so, of course, we’ll have to first beat Man City and then either Chelsea or Tottenham. None of this inspires much confidence. However, with rumours already emerging to suggest that Arsène may have already been offered a new contract, we might be in for another year or two of Arsène. Protests, banners, boycotts, and rented planes are unlikely to change that. If anything, the board will likely dig in to resist such pressure.

That’s it then. In the absence of a nearly-miraculous resurrection, one that sees us fight our way back in to the top four, we’re stuck with that turd-blossom of a compromise: we fall out of the that top four, cancel St. Totteringham’s Day, and miss out on Champions League play on one hand. On the other, Arsène stays on. The WOBs and the AKBs each get half of what they wanted, leaving no one satisfied. In the meantime, we chase an FA Cup that would earn us a Europa League appearance. Meh.

Summer comes. Having no Champions League to offer, transfer-fees and wage-packets inflate. Will Alexis or Özil want to leave? Can we keep them on-board and add the likes of Griezmann, Lukaku, or Mbappé?  Let’s face it. Arsenal under Arsène have offered the virtual guarantee of Champions League play (no small inducement) and a chance to play under a legendary manager who is loyal and fatherly to a fault to his players. Alexis, Özil, and others have testified to Arsène’s role in their decisions to sign. Will that same chance shine as brightly without a chance, however remote, of winning the Champions League?

And, lo, the scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight…

So. It’s come to this, at long last. I’m done with Arsène. I’ve stood by him through some of the leaner times, defended him with by-now battered canards such as “consistency matters” and “Champions League qualification is an achievement”, parried his critics by pointing out that he financed a stadium. I’ve finally reached my limit. I accept what many others have long ago decided: it’s time for Arsène to go. It’s not even about the result at Anfield. Or the Allianz Arena or Stamford Bridge. Losses at any one of those is understandable, and losses at three might even be acceptable. However, it’s how we’ve lost that’s shaken me.

In each match, not only were we outplayed, we were outmanaged. This refers to the product on the pitch—the players, the formations, the tactics—as well as to the product off of it. Yes, Bayern and Chelsea can simply go out and rent mercenaries for a few years, but that’s hardly the only explanation for the gaping chasm between us and the world-class clubs. Conte has come into Chelsea and instilled more than tactics or formations; he’s inspired and motivated his squad to play to a higher level. Ancelotti’s done the same at Bayern (as an interesting side-note, if only to indulge in a bit of cheap schadenfreude, what does this imply about Guardiola at Man City?).

By stark contrast, we’ve looked listless, dispirited, and out of our depth, and that’s just as true at Allianz Arena, Anfield, and Stamford Bridge as it’s been at Gander Green Lane…and at the Emirates itself. Most if not all of our players have not shown the kind of dedication or passion that a squad in our situation needs. Having lost four of our last six (with the two wins coming against decidedly smaller sides), one would hope that there would be a collective reckoning. It hasn’t happened. It certainly hasn’t come from Arsène, not before any of these last six matches and not at halftime, to judge from our performances. To wit, the only time when there was a noticeable surge in our urgency came when the next sacrifical lamb was introduced—I refer to the subbing on of Alexis against Liverpool.

If you go for the click-bait rumours, he didn’t start because of a dust-up during training. Something to do with his being overly passionate and therefore critical of this or that. You can now find any number of sites of varying degrees of respectability trashing Alexis for being out of line. Pardon me for going out on a limb here, but, he might very well be the one shouting that the Emperor wears no clothes. Much as it pains me to paint Arsène with such a brush, the paint seems to fit.

Here is a player who wants to win so badly that he’ll needlessly risk injury to achieve it. Sadly, only part of that sentence merits a desultory “Arsenal DNA!” remark. For those in the dark, it’s the bit about injuries. In other words, there seems to be far too few players in the squad who are hungry—desperate, even—to win. I don’t know if I need more than one hand to count the number of players who crave success. The only one who clearly does is now being dragged through the mud for being out of line.

If these stories of a training-ground dust-up are true, well, we’re getting a peek at the man behind the curtain. For as much as I’ve respected and defended Arsène, for as much as I’ve dumped on Nasri and van Versie and Fàbregas, it’s a bit ironic for me to finally come to this realization. After all, those players “owed”  Arsène because he stood by them as they worked to achieve potential. Alexis, by contrast, stands as the antithesis to Arsène’s ostensible legacy, that of the manager who finds starlets and turns them into superstars. Alexis may not have been a superstar when he joined Arsenal, but he was hardly the diamond in the rough that Arsène was once famous for finding.

However, he wants to win. Desperately, With an insatiable hunger. To a degree that threatens his well-being. For him to then upend the apple-cart shouldn’t come across as sour grapes (sorry to mix the metaphors, as always). He’s simply shining a light on a shortcoming that I and too many have long ignored.

All of this, by the way, breaks my heart. I love what Arsène stands for. I love the idea that there is a right way to do things, and sticking to that way matters a great, great deal. I hate the idea that the super-wealthy can play by it not make their own rules (and fully recognize the potential irony of that stance while supporting a club like Arsenal instead of, say, Sutton United). I hate that there are clubs that can spend like they’re drunken sailors and park a bus at the same time.

Arsène revolutionized the way that football is played. He brought to the Premier League an aesthetic, a belief that process and product both matter. Sadly, he has hoisted himself on the the first half of that petard, perhaps failing to realize that his players crave the second half. In other words, there’s a balance to be struck between principles and pragmatics. His insistence on the former undermines his claim to the latter. He deserves to be remembered for something better. Whether he will depends whether or not he accepts that his time has passed, regardless of how this season turns out.

Loyalty to the club always; to the squad & manager when it's earned…

To have watched the match against Sunderland was akin to inhabiting a parallel universe, a bizarro-world in which Sunderland were fighting for a top-three finish and Arsenal were staving off relegation. Yes, Arsenal dominated possession, but the lion’s share of chances went to the Black Cats. Were it not for Defoe’s wastefulness or Čech’s class, we would have left the Stadium of Light empty-handed. As it stands, we escaped with a point we scarcely deserved but sorely need. Instead of standing two points clear of Man City, we’re now level on points and trailing on goal-difference. With Man U in the FA Cup final, Liverpool in the Europa League semifinal, and Man City in the Champions League semifinal, all bets are off. Fourth in the Prem assures us nothing. To paraphrase the American satirist Mark Twain, rumours or the club’s death are greatly exaggerated.

As to the squad and manager, well, rumours abound. It’s one thing for Tottenham to finish above
Arsenal; it’s happened before and will happen again. After all, the goal is not to simply finish above Tottenham; it’s to win the Prem. No, instead, it’s quite another to scrape and claw one’s way to finish fourth in a season in which Chelsea and Liverpool have been laughable by turns and Man U have been only marginally better. Had you told me in August, that those three would be struggling to qualify for the Europa League I would have pencilled us in to win the Prem. Instead, we are where we’ve been for most of the last decade—hoping against hope that we can hold to a top-four finish that seems to mean less and less each season. 
Still, for what it’s worth, we cling to that top-four berth. If Liverpool win the Europa League, and if Man City win the Champions League but fall out of the top four, it’s time to sweat a few bullets. Man U trail us by five but have a game in hand. Should the unthinkable happen—should we finish below Tottenham and out of a Champions League qualifying spot, well, that could (and bloody well should) spell the end of Arsène’s tenure as well as that of many in the squad. After all, his saving grace has been that Champions League—and a playoff spot at that. If they can’t come together to see off Sunderland (or Palace, or West Ham, or…) to earn that spot, there goes the “steady as she goes” rationale. 
Yes, there are some diamonds in the rough: Özil. Alexis. Monreal. Bellerín, These are essentially the foundation for moving the club forward. If there are other names to add, they might include Wilshere, Iwobi, and Coquelin. Others are expendable either because they don’t perform to the level we need, are overpaid, or are past their prime. I’ll leave it to you to assign the following to each category: Mertesacker. Flamini. Arteta. Ramsey. Giroud. Walcott. Of course, there are others who inhabit a sort of Limbo from which it’s difficult to predict any kind of destiny. 
One whose destiny seems to become increasingly clear, however, is Arsène. Say what you will about his parsimony or his stubborness. Even his recent loosening of the purse-strings comes with an asterisk: Real sold Özil in part to purchase Bale. Barça sold Alexis in part to purchase Suarez. Chelsea sold Čech because they had Courtois. Peek behind that veil, and we’re still stuck in the stingy mode we’ve been in for far too long. It was one thing to usher the club through the financing of a new stadium—that move was pregnant with potential, after all—it’s quite another to continue to pretend that we’re hamstrung by our own chequebook. Leicester, after all, have essentially won the Prem on a shoestring. Tottenham look set for the best finish in a generation. Man City have laid waste to the “injuries” excuse.
What we’re left with then is the remnants of those excuses. We’re not finishing behind those who have outspent us. We’re finishing behind those who have outplayed us. 
The club will survive this setback. The question though is, who in the squad will?

From AKB to WOB, something like scales fell from my eyes.

It’s official. I’m now a card-carrying member of the WOB. After the disappointing draw at home against Crystal Palace, I’ve converted. For the second straight week, we’ve bottled it. All we had to do in each case was defend a lead against an inferior opponent, and we couldn’t do that. At least against West Ham we could claim that we were away to a motivated opponent. This time through, well, there are few if any rationalisations. Palace didn’t need this point and barely played like they wanted one. Still, we gifted it to them all the same, and we now teeter precariously. I’ve tiptoed along the line of supporting Arsène through thick and thin, but this is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

If just one of you had done your job…then again, we only scored once…

Let’s get one issue out of the way. I could give a rat’s ass about finishing about Tottenham. It’s been a lark, to be sure, but little more than that. The real goal is and always has been to win the Prem, failing that, to finish in the highest position possible. To finish below Tottenham is a kick in the knickers, to be sure, but all streaks are meant to be broken. Frankly, I’ll be just as relieved to end this one as I was to end the trophy-drought. It’s like ripping off a bandage. Just do it already.

Back to the present. Courtesy of our second consecutive draw, courtesy of dropping points from a losing position for the second week in a row, we’re now embroiled in an all-too-familiar fiasco. Leicester have essentially won the Prem. Tottenham have a firm grip on second. While we went into the weekend with a reasonable chance at snatching second away from them, we now face the very real worry that we’ll fade into Europa League contention. Yes, we’re level on points with Man City, but they’re in-form and sport a superior goal-difference. We’re going to have to fight tooth-and-nail to get in front of them—and based on Sunday’s result, we’re up for that fight.

Instead, we have to worry about those other Mancs, those bastards at Old Trafford (gotta love that feminine rhyme). Instead of assessing whether Man City’s Champions League run will undermine their form in the Prem, we might do better to assess whether Man U’s FA Cup run will undermine their form in the Prem. Looking further down the road, we have to wonder what it might all mean should Man City win the Champions League, Man U win the FA Cup, and Liverpool win the Europa League.


We shouldn’t be in that position. We shouldn’t be checking UEFA’s website to figure out how many Prem clubs will qualify for the Champions League in the first place.

While I refuse to believe that we’ve bottled it completely and utterly, I’ve reached my breaking point. I say this as one who lived through some leaner years (10th place in ’83 and ’93; 12th in ’95…). In othe words, I’m not one of those glutted on the glories of Arsène’s first ten years. I’ve stood by him through the austerity-years as he financed the Emirates. I’ve defended him against the hindsight of those who accused him of failing to anticipate the oiligarchies at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad. I’ve derided van Persie and Fàbregas and defended Giroud and Ramsey. I’ve defended the man on the basis of how much he’s done and how much of an accomplishment it’s been to stay in the top-four all these years.

No more. After each of the last two seasons, I waxed nostalgic about how meaningful and symbolic it would have been for Arsène to step down after winning the FA Cup. What a wonderful riposte that would have been to Ferguson, who trampled that trophy. What would it have meant to the prestige of this cup, the oldest association football competition in the world, for Arsène to retire after having won it? Each time, however, I was beguiled into thinking that the winning of it justified another season.

Watford, of course, proved that this was a bridge too far. Even as we eviscerated them in the Prem a few weeks later, I couldn’t help but wonder why we couldn’t muster up more of a challenge of our own and only title of late.

It’s Arsène. He’s lost the plot.

He’s been a brilliant manager for a long, long time, but he’s overstayed his welcome by a a year or two, maybe more. I won’t join those calling for his head on a platter. Instead, I still harbour some hope that he can end his career on a high-note of sorts, but his margin of error for that is now microscopically thin. Had Man City, Man U, Liverpool, or Chelsea performed to expectations, I could understand our present position. However, each of their underwhelming performances has only exacerbated how unexceptional we have been.

Arsène, I’ve stood by you and taken a lot of stick for it, but I’ve stepped across the threshold. It’s no exaggeration when I say that I’m tearing up as I type that because I still believe fervently in what you’ve done for this club. I still respect your loyalty, your dignity, your class.

Whenever this odyssey comes to its end, history will still judge you as one of the most-magnificent managers that this or any other club will have ever known—not just for the silverware you won or didn’t win but also for how you’ve conducted yourself through the good times and the bad.

May we all carry ourselves with such grace…

Not with a bang but a whimper…or is it simply darkest before the dawn?

Words can’t really express how I’m feeling after this result. Fifteen minutes in, we were up 1-0, Tottenham were down 0-1, and I was starting to think we could go into White Hart Lane level on points with a wobby Leicester in our sights. Oh, how wrong I was. Heart-breakingly wrong. I thought I was undone by the loss at Old Trafford. I thought no loss could sting as much as that one. Now, I realise my naïveté. After all, I could console myself by saying, “it’s Old Trafford. Tough venue, even against a threadbare squad.” Heck, but for 71 seconds or so, we actually looked tolerable. Against Swansea—Swansea, for feck’s sake—we looked, well, terrible. Is this how Arsène’s reign will end?

It seems almost unthinkable in this of all seasons. Chelsea have imploded, and the anti-Arsène Mourinho was sacked. Liverpool collapsed, leading to Rodgers being replaced (and Klopp struggling to resurrect the squad). Man U, despite having spent enough to make even Sheikh Mansour blanche, can barely latch on to a Europa League spot. Man City, plagued by indifference in the absence of a “true” rival, have sleep-walked through the season. This should have been our time. However, we’re actually three points off our own pace from last season. No one could have foreseen Leicester’s stunning form. Tottenham’s, though less surprising, is even more troubling.

This was supposed to be a season in which Arsenal broke through. Having paid down stadium debt, we should have been able to go into this campaign flush with funds, at least enough to reinforce key areas. After adding Özil and Alexis in previous summers, we might have counted on something more-ambitious than the addition of Petr Čech. He’s been grand, but our frailties were all too obvious. Alexis’s second-season struggles have exposed them all the more. Giroud busts his butt to the best of his ability, but we clearly lack someone who can rise up and, by sheer force of will, turn a game on its head. At least he tries.

Speaking of trying, could anyone have foreseen a season in which the removal of Joel Campbell would inspire rage and despair in equal measures? He’s quickly become our best option on the right wing, and that’s just as much a compliment to him as it is a criticism of those ahead of him in the pecking order. Walcott, Ox, and Ramsey might sport superior pedigrees, but Campbell’s been the only one to soup something up on a regular basis.

Years ago, we might have hailed Campbell as yet another of Arsène’s visionary strokes of genius: plucked from obscurity and given time to marinate before exploding on the scene. However, he’s come to embody the darker sides of Arsène’s vision: a player bought on the cheap who exceeds all expectations and plugs a gap just well enough to get us by as often as not. His goal against Swansea was crafty and clever, but it was the beginning and the end in this match. He was, after all, one of the only players on the pitch visibly giving it his all.

There is a definite lack of a winner’s mentality in our squad, a pervasive sense that we will bottle it if the pressure gets too high, and that’s what’s happened twice in a row now. I’m struggling to sustain my pragmatic belief that Arsène should stay on past the end of this season. We went into halftime level against an inferior foe, but our second-half fight came up short, and now our hopes waver on the edge of failure. We now have to split hairs: how will it feel to finish behind Leicester but ahead of Tottenham in a season in which our “real” rivals have folded? Is that enough to justify Arsène’s continued reign? What if we win the FA Cup for a third straight time but finish below Tottenham?

With ten matches to play, a six-point gap separates us from winning the Prem. If we can win at White Hart Lane—something we simply must do—we can still win the Prem.

Long story short, I still cling to hope—not that Arsène will stay on forever, necessarily, but that he’ll have a chance to bow out gracefully on the heels of having won the Prem and FA Cup, bookending a career that has been both as magnificent and as ambivalent as any in any club’s history. I do still believe that there is time. There are ten Prem matches left. If we run the table, well, we should finish atop the table. Three matches separate us from that third consecutive FA Cup title.

Thirteen matches, then, stand between us and a blaze of glory. A double would lift us all to levels of elation that none of us have felt for more than a decade. There are still plenty of fixtures, chief among them a certain North London Derby on Saturday. Tottenham have rarely if ever been in this position before. Let’s see how they handle the pressure. Something tells me they’ll bottle it. It’s what they do, after all.

What does this all mean as far as Arsène’s tenure? It’s too early to tell. Losing to Swansea might sound like a death-knell, but ask not for whom the bell tolls. There will be time enough to assess what it all means after it ends.