29th April 2016: Wenger on planned protest and Austerity Arsenal

Happy Friday. With a fans’ protest planned for tomorrow’s game against Norwich at Emirates stadium, Arsene Wenger’s pre-match press conference this morning was always destined to be a little tastier than usual, as he gave his take on growing discontent among Arsenal supporters.

Having blown an unusually presentable chance to win the Premier League title this season, making it 12 full campaigns since we were last champions, calls for the boss to step aside and for the club’s ownership to show more ambition in the transfer market have grown markedly. So what does Arsene make of it all? Here’s what he said:

I think this club has special values and we care about the club and our fans as well. We try to keep everybody happy. We have to put things into perspective and see how the club has evolved over the years. I believe that it was not always easy and the quality of the work we have done has got [the club] into a strong position where the expectation is very high. The frustration is very high when we don’t get what we want.

Pretty polite stuff so far and also hard to argue with in many ways. Arsene and Arsenal are undoubtedly being more harshly judged right now largely due to them having set the bar so high in the first decade of his tenure.

Two doubles, four FA Cups, an unbeaten league campaign, the club’s first ever Champions League final, some of the greatest players this country has ever seen being developed – perhaps the only way was down from those lofty heights. Anyway, Arsene then went on to remind everyone that the construction of a spanking new stadium financially restricted the club for several years, saying:

I wish when I go that the club goes higher up and wins the Champions League and the championship every year. I will be the biggest supporter in the stand because I will feel that I have contributed to that a little bit with the basis that we have built. You have to remember that when we built the stadium, we had five to seven difficult financial years, where we had to pay back. Out of five years, we had to be in the Champions League for three years and have an average attendance of 54,000 people. We didn’t know if we would be able to do that but of course we had to sell our best players every year and survive. We survived at the top level and did not do three years out of five. We did five years out of five. I think the club is now out of that period and is in a much stronger position. Today we are in a position where we can compete again financially with our main opponents. But during that time, it was very difficult.

Despite being a big fan of Arsene Wenger (how can any sane Gooner not be) and still wanting him to be our manager at a time when even some of his most loyal supporters are beginning to waver and call for a change in the dugout, the line about going through a difficult financial period is getting a little old now.

I think the job Arsene did over that period borders on the miraculous and he deserves immense credit for it, but for the last few years we’ve had money and still fallen short in the league. We’ve splashed the cash on superstars like Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Petr Cech, yet remained as far from ending our title drought as during the years of Austerity Arsenal.

We’re still brittle, still lacking a really top goalscorer, still have too many players in the squad either not good enough or badly suited to our intended style of play and yet again, we’ve let a season fizzle out into a top four finish having led the league half-way through a campaign. Throw in the fact we failed to sign any outfield players last summer and it’s clear we could and should be doing a lot better. Kevin de Bruyne, for instance, would have been a brilliant signing in hindsight, even for the £55 million it took for Manchester City to get him.

The Belgian was available and in my opinion would have improved our attack immeasurably, yet with the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain amongst others already vying for places on the flanks, we weren’t even in the race for him. And that’s what I’m  getting at in a round-about, inarticulate way – we should be far more ruthless in replacing perfectly good players when even better ones come up.

Barcelona had Alexis Sanchez but didn’t bat an eyelid in letting him leave so they could sign Luis Suarez because they rated the latter higher and because they prioritize winning matches and trophies above any individual’s career path. Arsene on the other hand, said in an interview just the other day that in his opinion, “real respect” for his work should be reserved for the way he’s helped players fulfill their potential.

There’s a balance needed ideally, because without Arsene’s desire to give youth a chance we may never have had the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin play for us, but perhaps we’re too patient and too hopeful with too many squad members too often.

I’ve gone on a bit of a meandering rant so I’ll call it a day I think. I’ll look at team selection for the Norwich game in tomorrow’s post.

Until then.

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