The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

No Sale

I recognize that a huge amount of what I write here about Arsenal has focused on the fans more than the team of late, but there’s a reason for that: I could write about the potential of a 4-4-2 formation using Bendtner and Arshavin in these next two games, but the odds of that or any other such tactical wrinkle meaning much for next season is very minor, and this season remains over. The state of the fanbase and the media covering the club, however, is guaranteed to be a major issue all through the summer and into next season, and most likely will remain so until the club once again begins to achieve in a way which will reduce the pressure and disaffection of the moment. So: this post at Gunnerblog, let’s talk about it.

Generally speaking, I like Gunnerblog- it’s mostly well-informed, mostly restrained and not prone to wild swings here and these after every result, usually knowledgeable and well-written. This post, however, is not. Counteraction follows.

“Something I feel he was trying to say but never quite managed to capture was that we as a club would benefit from being more insular. We live in a world of media saturation, whereby we are all incluenced by an external perception of the club. When that is negative, it is easy to succumb and feel similarly. Some clubs battle negative perception all the time – I’m thinking of Chelsea, primarily – but their fans can at least point to trophies. Of late we have not had that defence, and that leaves us as fans feeling vulnerable.”

This paragraph entirely lives or dies on whether you believe the negative perception of current affairs at the club is driven primarily by external coverage, or by actual dissatisfaction produced by the independent judgments of fans. I tend to believe that the vast majority of it is produced by the latter; most would characterize, for instance, my writings as very negative, and I’m several thousands of miles away, almost never read the English press, and get the majority of my Arsenal opinions from very pro-Wenger blogs. Moreover, even if you concede the argument that the negativity is external and media-driven, so what? What can or should be done about that? The same media attention which makes Arsenal potentially or actually one of the richest clubs in the world also produces the environment which is so decried, to to complain about such without acknowledging the concomitant benefits is a bit disingenuous. At the risk of recycling, albeit facetiously, one of the most irritating rhetorical techniques of football fans, if the media attention bothers you so much no doubt there’s a third division side somewhere nearby which would appreciate another fan. You may have to do without the artistry of Arshavin bought with horrible media dollars, but them’s the breaks.

“In an ideal world, we would not give a toss what the media think. We would not care what the fans of other clubs think. In an ideal world, you could argue, we would not even bother to look at the league table. “

We would in fact not even bother to play games, secure in the knowledge that ours plans and style are so good as to not even need testing!

“But trophies are transient – as soon as they are won they are given up again. “

I call bullshit on this. Most fans of most clubs can give you an off-the-cuff recitation of everything their club has ever won, some of them down to what year, in which stadium, on whose goal to clinch it. If you wish to appeal to something essential about a club beyond the present team and circumstances, you must reckon with the fact that history- counted in wins and losses- is a monumentally important consideration along that line. Moreover, I detest this argument because it’s a way of half-assedly arguing that results and performances don’t really matter, only how you play the game, without taking responsibility for really making that argument. In any major sport in the world which I know well other than football, I believe that argument is horseshit full stop. In football it’s more nuanced since football is the most ruthlessly capitalistic and hierarchical of sports, but to argue that one of the richest clubs in the richest league in the world shouldn’t be held to standards of success is a far cry from acknowledging that, say, Millwall probably won’t win the Premier League any time soon.

“The values of a club – the spirit, the style – are more significant. As Arsene himself mentioned, Liverpool have not won the title for two decades, but they are doubtless a great club. Being true to our culture and our heritage ought to be more significant than any statistic.”

One might as well say that Arsenal ought to return to their traditional club values by selling young and foreign players, buying old English defenders, and fielding a team of alcoholics who win 1-0. Who’s up for that? And of course the easiest answer to the Liverpool example is that in that time frame they’ve won FA Cups and the Champions League, giving their fans moments of brilliance like Istanbul which will live in the memory of the club forever. And why were they even in a position to do so? Because they’d been winning things for years beforehand, building a fanbase who paid for those teams and a reputation for players to live up to. Fans will always- I mean ALWAYS- choose that path over the other. For example, in hockey: I’ve been a fan of the NY Rangers since 1992, a period in which they’ve won one championship and spent many years as one of the worst, most embarrassing, most ineptly run teams in the league. Would I trade that for, say, the St. Louis Blues’ run of never winning a title, but being very good almost every year? Like fun I would. This is what kills me about these kind of arguments: they’re just not well-thought out, so much so that they smack of someone trying to convince themselves instead of trying to convince others- a rationalization for what’s happening to Arsenal more than a defense.

“I know that reeks of idealism and is a philosophy that is almost entirely alien in results-driven modern football”

Basic rule of being a thinking sports fan (also applicable to politics): when someone makes a vaguely-worded appeal to “past values” or a vaguely-worded denigration of “modern values”, ask them to specify what time period they’re referring to, and to show their work. Or in short: in which era was football not results-driven? I’m reading a book on football history at the moment, and all of the early chapters on the 1880-1910 period are an endless litany of supposedly amateur clubs paying good players under the table, instituting no-show jobs for ringers, stealing players away with better offers, etc. Things just don’t change that much.

“Arsene once famously said, “Everyone thinks he has the prettiest wife at home”. At the moment we Arsenal fans are slagging off our missus and lusting after a few voluptuous but ultimately cheap tarts.

And you know what – if we got them, it’d only be a fling. Like Arsene said at the Q&A – if he spent £70m on a player, people would be happy for two months, and then the despair would creep back in with a stronger hold than ever. And everything that he had worked so hard to build would be irretrievably disturbed.”

So get Arshavin, Nasri, Gallas, Adebayor, etc. and the rest bought with dirty transfer money out of the club, no? Isn’t that the inevitable consequence and implication of this argument that transfers “disturb” what the manager builds? I think that’s the charitable reading, because the less-charitable version is to read all of this as a giant strawman which conflates all objections to current Arsenal policy with demanding 70 million pound players, which is an utterly stupid argument. Plenty of people who support the manager and want him to stay also want him also to buy reasonably-priced experienced players, a collection which ranges from many message board commenters to Arseblogger to Arshavin himself. Plenty of people who hate the manager and want him gone yesterday, like pretty much the entire authorship and readership of Le Grove and most of Gunnerblog’s own commenters I suspect, ALSO just want a few reasonably-priced experienced signings. In fact, in all the Arsenal blog reading I do, I doubt I see more than 5% of “what we need…” posts having to do with players in that price range, mostly idle daydreaming about David Villa. In short, you can read this argument as either wildly excessive anti-transfer posturing, or else as a total misrepresentation of actual criticisms.

“But it seems to me that Arsene believes that trophies must be the fruits of a club’s ethos, not the defining factor. It’s a view that I’m inclined to agree with. “

But what if that “ethos” is both fundamentally foreign to the club’s own history both recent and less so, and fundamentally not competitive in the circumstances in which it’s being deployed? Was youth and attacking without regard for defense the ethos of the club when Tony Adams captained the team to the double on Wenger’s watch? Was not spending for transfers the ethos when Wiltord, Reyes, Arshavin, etc. were all bought for substantial chunks of change? Precisely what ethos are we talking about, anyway? I’d be much more prepared to take arguments about the innate spirit of the club seriously if there were answers to these questions, but I’ve yet to see any.

“One shareholder suggested that the club’s motto ought to take more prominence, and I can’t agree more: Victoria Concordia Crescit – Victory Through Harmony.”

There’s a difference between harmony and conformity. Arsenal are not a democracy, have never been, will not be, should not be; but it’s a bit much to ask fans to give money, time, and the care of their hearts to a club over which they have no direct control, AND demand that they not even have an opinion if it differs from that of whoever’s in charge at the moment. Wenger’s certainly not going to delegate any meaningful decision-making authority, so it’s really meaningless to talk about harmony when the club is essentially autocratic on the fooball side. And incidentally, one might add that those who want to take such a motto seriously should deliver victory if they’re going to demand harmony.

“This is a difficult period for this football club, as we all knew it would be when emabarking upon the Emirates adventure. Arsene is the best man to have at the helm, and we need to rally behind him.”

As always: the fans were sold on the Emirates plan as a way to compete with the best in Europe; now they’re told that there was always going to be a time when there was a “difficult period”, so- which was the lie? There’s been several reports of Wenger interviews in the last 18 months featuring quotes along the lines of it being over a decade before Arsenal could spend serious money again, which Wenger’s greatest defenders dismissed at the time as made-up, all lies. If they were, then what’s the holdup? If they weren’t, what does it say that the club doesn’t feel they can be honest about the actual situation? More importantly, if you acknowledge that moving to the Emirates was going to cause a difficult period at the club presumably because of restricted funds for a time, you’re implicitly acknowledging that having more money is the goal and that austerity measures (like a youth policy) taken to get to that point are precisely that and not immutable aspects of the club ethos- which invalidates half the argument in this blog post! Preposterous.

As for “rally behind” the manager, I ask as always: what does that mean? If it means not to criticize, well, a quick look through Gunnerblog’s archives will tell you that the work perhaps should begin at home. If it means cheering the team in the stadium, there’s certainly been a great deal of that lately. Most likely I think the author didn’t know what he meant when he wrote that. Such is the fate of the Arsenal fan right now, worn out and at the end of his or her rope with the team, the season, the board, themselves and each other. I have a great deal of sympathy for frustration with the negativity around the club- there’s a reason I stopped writing about them for a few months- but I differ strongly with the idea that the negativity is somehow false or illegitimate. Many fans can be hysterical and over the top in their expressions of criticism, but the basic cause for those reactions is the policy and attitude of the club and manager, and the consequences thereof. No amount of demands for unity or harmony or rallying around the manager will assuage that; only progress and victory.

Quick pick is for a 1-1 draw today, and as it happens, I actually really do like the Bendtner/Arshavin pairing idea. Hopefully it happens.

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May 16, 2009 - Posted by | The Arsenal

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