Is it possible that the main reason for Arsenal have not put together a title challenge for the third year in succession, and for fans feeling increasingly restless over the direction in which the club may be going, is that we’re all just getting old?
I ask this, because at the root of all the things wrong with Arsenal at the moment, is a tendency for all involved to look back at the past and want things to be like they were back then.
It starts with the manager
Arsene Wenger wants to work with a small squad of independent-minded players, who can be trusted to make the right decisions on the pitch without much intrusion from him. He also wants a transfer market that is dictated by value, not greed.
Yet all the evidence from the last decade shows that neither of these are workable any more.
If you want to win with a squad of 20 players, then those players must all be of an exceptional talent level, otherwise, the constant grind of a long season will eventually wear them down. We saw this with Barcelona this season, and we saw it during the Invincibles season in 2014 when we had to play a half-strength side in an FA Cup semi-final.
Even if those players can remain fit through April, they’re still going to have to deal with at least one team who have been so thoroughly drilled in the dark arts of defensive football that it will be almost impossible to break them down. For those of you in the Diego Simeone fan club who would like Arsenal to be one of those teams, I disagree with you, but your argument becomes stronger by the week.
As far as the transfer market goes, Arsenal only started getting to grips with the new over-inflated numbers that the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG helped encourage once Mesut Özil was signed, but even then, the list of ‘big money’ signings that Arsenal have made since then consists of an Alexis Sanchez and nothing else.
Then there’s the board, a group of peers and business-people, treating the club like a parent treats their child’s piggy bank, letting everyone know that there is money available to be spent without wanting to put any energy into actually spending it.
Then there are the fans, wanting the club to return back to winning ways like in 2004, wanting the Emirates to be more like Highbury, wanting Spurs to lose so that they can laugh at them………….ok, that last one happened this year as well, but you get my point!
The problem seems to be that Arsenal are stuck in a time loop, with everyone looking to change things back to the way they were, instead of looking forward and trying to anticipate the problems that the club are about to run into. We’re all too busy starting arguments with the words ‘Back in my day’ to realise that that day has gone.
Arsenal’s hopes of winning the league disappeared when Santi Cazorla got injured. He’s about to come back into the team, just as Aaron Ramsey and Mohammed Elneny are in the middle of getting used to playing as a pair. If Cazorla is first choice, then who makes way? And where does Jack Wilshere fit in? Having a big squad is fine, but not when so many players are only of enough quality in just one position.
If Cazorla is first choice, then who makes way? Where does Jack Wilshere fit in? Having a big squad is fine, but not when so many players are only of enough quality in just one position.
Then there’s the issue with replacing those who have under-performed this season.
David Ospina, Mathieu Debuchy, Per Mertesacker, Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell, Olivier Giroud. There’s a 3-4-2-1 that could have easily seen action during a League Cup tie had things worked out differently, yet every one of them could be sold in the summer and there wouldn’t be one word of discontent from anyone.
If Wenger thinks that he can get full market value for any of them, and be able to replace them with better talent without overspending, then he’s going to be in for a nasty shock.
Take Walcott and the Ox as examples. Andros Townsend was bought for £12m by Newcastle.
He has ten international caps and played in England’s last competitive match. If that’s worth £12m, how much more are our two England internationals worth? £15m? £20m?
Even if they are worth more than that, buying clubs will know that we’ll have to take less for them just so that we can make room for new arrivals. So the chances of getting anything close to true value for any of our players is slim.
Then there’s the small matter of bringing in those new arrivals.
With Euro 2016 around the corner, player turnover always increases, so getting clubs to part with their best players becomes that little bit easier. But if the reports of West Ham bidding £31.5 for Michy Batshuayi are accurate, then how much do you think Alexandre Lacazette will go for?
With Chelsea, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid all about to go into the first transfer window with their respective new managers, there’s going to be a lengthy queue outside the clubs who are willing to part with their talent. So prices are going to be at an absolute premium, just at the moment when we have as much money to spend as we have ever had.
Which brings me back to us getting old.
We’re all fixated on the £200m in the bank, and how many world-class players that could buy us, but just like in the supermarket or the pub, our money just isn’t worth as much as it used to be.
Manchester City spent £105m on two attacking players last summer and managed to take five total shots on target over a two-legged semi-final with both of them fit and healthy.
It’s going to be a long summer, because the manager is about to realise that he has to spend his way out of trouble even though he doesn’t want to, the board is about to realise that if the manager doesn’t spend that money then they’re going to have to get off their backsides and bring someone in that will, and the fans are about to realise that they can scream for change as much as they want, but they’ll never get what they really want because what they want is a guarantee that it’s going to get better, and football doesn’t work like that.
Just ask Leicester City.
I hate getting old.