Is it possible to be both optimistic and pessimistic about the same thing at the same time?
This is the question that somehow is confronting Arsenal fans, after two of the most encouraging displays in quite some time had left fans purring about what is to come in both the near and distant future.
Yet both performances were followed by two of the most abject displays of apathy by the executive side of the club that can only leave fans fearing the worst.
Ever since Alexandre Lacazette joined the club in the summer, the prospect of he, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil playing in the same team had been a tantalising one, but one that remained unfulfilled until last Sunday.
Arsenal won 5-2 against Everton and it should have been more. But it was the manner in which the Toffees were swept aside that gave fans so much hope regarding the future.
Pace. Tempo. Movement. Intent. Creativity. For 70 minutes, Arsenal’s all-star front three didn’t so much attack Everton’s back line, they brutalised them.
Ashley Williams was hauled off at half-time because he had no clue where to stand. Idrissa Gueye was sent off after chasing so many shadows on the pitch that by the time he caught an Arsenal player in the flesh, he made the most of it and left a boot in. And Michael Keane, the hugely promising centre-half recently bought from Burnley, was reduced to praying for Arsenal to misplace a pass while Lacazette and Ozil ran rings around him.
With those three running circles around the defence, Aaron Ramsey running into the spaces created by defenders leaving their positions and Hector Bellerin & Sead Kolasinac roaming down the wings with freedom, it was the first time all season that we could see a glimpse of the master plan Arsene Wenger is trying to implement. It was a hugely encouraging one. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but it was the best Arsenal have looked since beating Chelsea in the FA Cup final in May.
Then there was Tuesday night, when Eddie Nketiah decided that it was time for people to learn how to pronounce his surname properly. There are very few things that any football fan loves more than to see ‘one of our own’ playing for their club. There is the real prospect of Arsenal being able to field a front three of Nketiah, Reiss Nelson and Alex Iwobi at some point this season.
It’s been a decade since Arsenal last had so many promising attackers come through the youth setup at the same time, when the likes of Carlos Vela and Nicklas Bendtner were putting teams to the sword in the League Cup. To have a first-choice front three as good as Alexis, Lacazette and Özil, and have their backups all be Arsenal graduates, would be the sign of a job well done by those in charge of the long-term management of the club.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the signs of a job well done, that’s where they end. While Arsenal’s playing staff were trying their hardest to give fans something to look forward to, the board were trying to do the opposite. With the yearly Annual General Meeting coming up, and two good performances by the team fresh in the fans’ minds, it was the perfect opportunity for Stan Kroenke and his son Josh to shed some light on why they decided to give Wenger a contract extension, and what their own aims were for the future.
Instead, what the Kroenkes gave us was a cavalcade of non-answers and middle-management guff. Interviews given to the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror were nothing more than self-serving puff pieces designed to create the illusion that they were communicating to fans when in reality all they were doing was talking for talking sake.
Here is Stan Kroenke, justifying the decision to re-hire Wenger, by referencing the time he sacked a coach that was underperforming and how his replacement was an improvement. Josh Kroenke referenced how winning three of the last four FA Cups was a massive achievement, and how well Wenger rallied the squad at the end of the season.
It’s as if they only started paying attention to what was happening at Arsenal in the immediate aftermath of losing 3-0 at Crystal Palace on APRIL 10. Because after that game, Arsenal looked really good, especially at Wembley. But before that? Yeesh.
Then there was the AGM itself, where over 130 shareholders gathered to try and gain some insight into how Arsenal as a business was being run. We might not like the idea of ‘our’ football club acting like a PLC, but at least in a PLC the board supposedly answers to the shareholders. But not at Arsenal.
Never mind the distinct lack of accountability displayed by those who sat on the stage, with Sir Chips Keswick acting throughout as if the meeting was getting in the way of an afternoon tee-time at the Belfry, there is no better way to sum up how little Arsenal’s largest shareholders actually care about the footballing side of the club than by this little nugget:
Alisher Usmanov, a man who has bid £1billion to try and gain control of Arsenal, has been refused a seat on the board by Stan Kroenke ever since his arrival, has consistently and frequently voiced his frustration at how Arsenal was being run, voted in favour of keeping Josh Kroenke on the board today.
At every turn, those who have a say in how Arsenal is being run try their hardest to duck out of explaining why they do what they do. And the one time fans actually get to meet them face-to-face, they are treated as nothing more than an annoyance. As Stan Kroenke said himself: “Fans are the best things about a club, and the worst,” suggesting fans complaining about an under-performing team can make matters worse.
So, when the team is doing well, he wants you to speak up. When the team is doing poorly, he wants you to shut up. That, right there, is how Stan Kroenke views Arsenal, as something to be tolerated. It is why as long as he is at the club, Arsenal will never make a bold decision or take a risk, because they only happen once tolerance is lost, and Kroenke has made it perfectly clear that he is happy to tolerate under-performing.
Arsenal somehow has created a football team that relies on creativity and risk-taking, and always going the extra mile in order to give fans what they want, yet simultaneously has an owner and board who view such qualities as something to avoid personally at all costs.
Welcome to Schrodinger’s Arsenal, where they are and aren’t a football club at the same time.