I resign my support/fandom/interest/whatever in Arsenal. I may or may not explain why some day, but I’m done.
Other Wenger quotes on Walcott from a few years back:
”I believe he has the talent to be an England regular, that’s why he is here.”
”He has fantastic pace and good technique. Getting back into the England squad would certainly help his development.”
“”You look around the country and you complain that you don’t have any strikers….You accuse Arsenal of not bringing through English players. We may have bought him, but he is a young English player.”
”He is clinical in front of goal….He is calm, he doesn’t panic and he is a real finisher. He has improved a lot.””
Gee, I wonder where all that terrible media pressure for Walcott to be good enough for England is coming from? Certainly no one at Arsenal would dare encourage such hopes, lest they injure the chances of the poor dear! Wenger is a clown. A shabby, tragic, self-parodic clown. I don’t give a fuck if this team does the double this year, it’s impossible to take him seriously or root for anything he’s a part of at this point. It took me 5 minutes on Google to find those quotes because I knew they were there to be found- does he imagine that everyone has forgotten how he’s driven the Walcott hype wagon for years now? How he advocated and pushed behind the scenes for Walcott to be taken to Germany in ’06, as was widely reported in many locations at the time? I will say it again and continue saying it as long as it remains true: it requires awesome arrogance and contempt to lie in such an easily disprovable and transparently self-serving manner, all the more so when someone does it on a near-weekly basis. It requires belief that the liar will never- can never- be called to account for the lies he tells, can never be held responsible. If you who support the man still wonder why those who want him out describe the club as having aspects of a personality cult, this is part of the reason why.
Worse still, this points out one of the inevitable flaws in Project Youth: to stave off people who want to win now the boss is required to hype every young prospect he promotes, and then required to reverse himself violently and criticize anyone who expects performances out of them in order to shield them from pressure for which they’re not yet prepared and expectations to which they’re not yet equal. It’s happened or is happening with probably 10 or more different players in the last 5 years (Bendtner, Vela, Eboue, Denilson, Walcott, Diaby, Song, Nasri, Fabianski, Ramsey, Wilshere, etc. etc.), it becomes more and more of a transparent dodge with each iteration, and it’s eroding Wenger’s credibility even with his biggest fans. Some of these players will come good, some will not, but by running them all through this process it sets them up to be seen as failures at some point along the line as there will inevitably be a period when their hype exceeds their performances. Some, like Song, survive this period of pressure; others, like Walcott and Denilson, seem to wilt under it. It’s impossible to say exactly what role it has in the development of each player, but it’s hard to see it as much of a positive. Arguably it’s a completely unnecessary aggravating factor introduced by the refusal to allow younger players to develop in the context of dependable and sturdy veterans, who could shoulder some of the responsibility for results while their younger compatriots learned their business.
Or you know, just blame the media. Whatever’s easier.
…But I preferred it when Arsenal were boring winners rather than a failarious sideshow. Hell, at this point I’d settle for non-humiliating failures because while the end result of the game today actually isn’t that bad, the goals which were conceded to produce the final balance were truly, amazingly, possibly uniquely terrible goals to give up in a crucial game. I confess, I have not seen the like.
Also, and this game really brought it home, I have rarely seen a team in any sport who so clearly did not like or in many cases respect or trust each other. Fabregas- whether he stays or goes- is clearly fed up with having to hand-hold everyone around him, and the reactions of the team and defense in particular to the goalkeeping follies spoke volumes. Everyone seems convinced that everyone else is the problem, and there’s no one in the coaching or playing ranks with the authority or ability to take this mess of a defense by the scruff of the neck and organize it. The fanbase is also starting to get really out of hand again- the hideously offensive misogyny/racism/homophobia is at banshee-wail volume again at the moment, there’s at least one major blog which is convinced that Campbell didn’t execute a backpass, the doomers are claiming the team will never win again and the tinters are ascribing the loss to everything between refereeing conspiracy and inopportune conjunction of the stars complicated by negative vibes emitted by the doomers. It’s a goddamn embarrassing mess, really.
I’ve lost my taste for those disputes for the moment, so all I’ll add is this: so long as you have a manager who believes that goaltenders are a lesser species of anti-footballer deployed only out of necessity, who are so untalented that any given one is like another, you will give away a few games because of bad goaltending. It’s part of Wenger’s policy and system, and if you endorse that system today’s result really shouldn’t bother you much- the odds are very high that Arsenal will win the Emirates leg by a similar score and end up finding a way through into the next round, because they’re clearly a more talented team than Porto. Losses like this are the price you pay for the positives which Wenger delivers. If you don’t support the Wenger system, you’re probably worried about what happens when Arsenal face an opponent better than the #2 team in Portugal, and you’re on firm ground to be worried given the repetitiously shambolic and self-defeating nature of this game. In either case, the one thing which is thoroughly ridiculous is to expect Wenger to change his policy in any way. He does not change, so it’s best to either accept how he does things or accept that he has to go. Trying to find a middle ground is impossible.
EDIT: oh and the inevitable Monsieur-Wenger-is-irate quotes are delicious as well. The best part is a variety of insane, inane and wholly disrespectful comments about the individual performance of the referee, in a tone which Wenger would never accept if applied to his own performance, immediately followed by “Any individual performance has not to be analysed publicly” in regards to Fabianski. What can you say? At least he hasn’t devolved to reflexively using the C word for referees the way half the fans have. Left unexplained however is how the referee forced that first goal into the net through Fabianski’s arms, of course. And I will never understand how a club which proclaims so loudly that they have no divine right to win trophies can also proclaim just as loudly that they do have a divine right to all the space and time and calls necessary to play their brand of hyper-futuristic galactic space football. You read these quotes and realize that they still haven’t adjusted to the fact that they’re not playing in whatever karmicly perfect unicorns-and-puppies league Wenger has in his head, or at least that they still think that if they complain enough they’ll get reassigned to that league next season so they can play tippy-tappy football with the Care Bears or some such. Every defeat seems to bring quotes which say, in effect, “well if football was played and officiated the way it SHOULD be, we’d win every game 5-0, so nyaah.”
Thank God for Fabregas; he alone seems to really grasp the situation. At this point I’d just as soon see HIM as manager.
If you want to know why I have no respect for Arsene Wenger these days, check out this quote found on Arseblog from the boss, regarding Niklas Bendtner:
“He is the best age now for a striker, at 22 you have to start to play at the top level but I would remind you that Thierry Henry arrived here at the age of 23.”
So he’s at the best age for a striker now, but don’t expect too much from him because he’s younger than Henry was? It’s a one-sentence quote which somehow still finds space enough to self-contradict and exists, transparently, to cover the boss’s ass in two directions: to maintain the contention that Bendtner is good enough so buying was unnecessary, but also that Bendtner should be under no pressure or expectation to produce because he’s still too young. It is, simply, a ludicrous and goofy statement which indicates contempt for any audience to which it’s directed given the shabby nature of its construction. I expect football managers to lie; I also expect them to have the class and respect to at least tell mildly plausible lies which evince some basic respect for those at which they’re directed. As it stands I find it impossible to respect someone who so transparently disrespects almost everyone else.
From today’s minute-by-minute of the Arsenal-Liverpool match:
Liverpool haven’t won a league game at Arsenal since February 2000 but seeing as that match was played with a different set of players in different circumstances it has no effect on tonight’s game. Like when FA Cup commentators say “Aston Villa haven’t beaten Bury for 39 years” which sounds impressive until you realise they haven’t played each other for 39 years.
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. About time someone said it.
A thousand more Arsene Wenger quotes have hit the press today in advance of tomorrow’s Liverpool showdown, and honestly, there’s nothing worth addressing for substance; I have no idea if Wenger even believes what he’s saying anymore, and if he does it’s been responded to many times over.
I will say this though: we are watching a man lose his mind and his reputation in public at a frightening pace, selling them for his club salary and the right to do as he pleases with Arsenal FC. He’s gone from being one of the most well-respected and admired figures in the incredibly slimy world of football to one of the most utterly loathsome in the space of a bare five years; from the man who revolutionized the English game with dignity and flair to a man who deserves to be bracketed next to the likes of John Terry and Ashley Cole. I have no idea what Wenger is like in private life, and I do not wish to know as it is profoundly not any part of my business or concern; but his public persona is, and the deterioration of it is unmistakable.
His principles are imaginary, ungrounded in fact or any recognizable theory of morality and more a manifestation of his individual twitchiness and personal obsessions than anything explicable to others. His respectful demeanor has collapsed into grumpy bitterness, complaining about referees, complaining about other teams, complaining about legitimate tactics, complaining about the internal financial dealings of other clubs, complaining about fixture schedules, complaining about national teams’ medical staffs, complaining about the media which quotes him accurately, petulantly refusing to speak to them in a manner which once would have been associated purely with Alex Ferguson, and generally acting like a bitter old man angry that his genius is going unappreciated. His explanations, when he deigns to offer them, contradict each other from week to week and make it clear that he’s completely comfortable with telling any lie he feels he needs to. His reaction to being sent off at Old Trafford earlier this season, while hilarious, was also clownish and not something the dignified Wenger of a decade ago would have done to himself. His claims that the Arsenal performance against Chelsea was better because of the possession times, despite Chelsea having stated in advance their intention to allow Arsenal to have the ball in order to play counter-attacking football, was the sort of deliberate hermetic obtuseness which would have been unimaginable from the man, once. Almunia is still in goal, and the way that man’s career has been handled and shattered in the last few years is just unbelievable. Amidst all the railing about Barca and their disgusting approaches to Cesc Fabregas, Wenger has semi-quietly engaged in a year-long attempt to unsettle and disrupt Marouane Chamakh at Bordeaux to either force a sale at a lower price or avoid paying a transfer fee altogether. That’s every bit as underhanded a piece of work, and it is not something he once would have resorted to.
Among world football managers arguably only Alex Ferguson has greater respect and cachet at his club than Wenger has at Arsenal, and while there’s much negative which can be said about Lord Fergie for all that the man retains his reputation inside and outside the club. It’s all but inconceivable that he would lose his the way Wenger is now doing, declining into a self-parody who garners attacks from everyone not because of his success, but because of his inability to stop criticizing everyone else despite his own failures. In that sense, Ferguson has already won his long duel with Wenger. Perhaps worse, while Ferguson will always be remembered for the legacy of titles and the great nights at the Theater of Dreams, the longer Wenger’s decomposition is allowed to continue without intervention from fate or his superiors the greater the risk is that his legacy and reputation are permanently damaged. There have always been whispers about the way Wenger comported himself at his previous positions, whispers easily dismissed in the past by present-day success; that is less easily done now, especially given the connections many are eager to draw- rightly or wrongly- between the way his time at Monaco ended and his current policies at Arsenal. No matter what happens from here, Wenger’s legacy will always have marks on it from the years he allowed to slip away as his behavior became more and more erratic, and he became less a respected football manager and more an international punchline. Even the people who want him to stay at Arsenal are using words for him which I will not repeat here, these days. It’s becoming football’s answer to all the years Floyd Mayweather and Roy Jones wasted refusing to fight top-level opponents.
On a personal level I’d like to say I’m sad about this, because when I became a fan of this sport and this club the respect and admiration due to Wenger were part of what drew me to Arsenal. But to be honest, I’m not; supporting this club increasingly feels like being sold a bill of goods and the utter contempt with which Wenger has begun treating everyone else in the sport, whether they deserve it or not, makes it difficult to feel much but contempt in turn for the way he comports himself these days. The man gets what he deserves. For my part I’m now down to probably 5 or fewer people involved with the club on any level who I can say I respect: a few bloggers, a few players, not much more. With every insane and ridiculous thing which comes out of Wenger’s mouth I question more and more why I follow this team. Losing doesn’t bother me; I have a game on the DVR from a 4-46 basketball team to watch tonight, a game I’m sure they’ve just finished losing by several hundred. Failing to compete bothers me. Pretending that that failure is a virtue bothers me. Never learning from results bothers me. Odious self-righteousness, unfounded in anything real, bothers me. Frankly, at this point, Arsene Wenger- or at least as much of the man as he shows in public- bothers me. For the first time in my life as a sports fan, l I have no idea why I’m paying attention to one of my teams, and am considering disowning them.
Believe it or not, there’s a limit to the amount of disrespectful fuckery I’m willing to support. Those are my principles.
Be honest, can anyone really say they were surprised by that result? It’s the same players executing (or not) the same tactics and losing in the same way to the same player, again. Nothing ever, ever changes with this team, to the point where there’s no real need to even write an analysis post since everything which could be said has been said a hundred times in the last few years. There’s several 1000+ word versions in the archives, change a few names and they’re just as relevant now. Nothing is learned from success, nothing is learned from failure, the same mistakes recur perpetually and there is no willingness on the part of the manager or his fans to even acknowledge them as mistakes in many cases. Almunia is still in goal. Still. Drogba is still left unmarked despite scoring 12 goals in his last 10 games against Arsenal. Still.
So, here’s something different: if you support this current manager, and you are resigned to performances like today’s and results like this season’s, fair enough; I strongly disagree with you, but at least your eyes are open to what it is that you’re supporting. But if you support this current manager and are angry or upset about today’s performance and result, then to hell with you. You have no right to be angry about something which you support unreservedly and have had fair warning of- these performances are every bit as integral to the side Arsene Wenger has built and continues to maintain and defend as pretty passing triangles are. Wenger does not consider height or the use of the head in attack to be a legitimate tactic, he does not consider goaltenders to be real football players, he does not teach defense, he does not select players on the basis of their mental strength in big moments, he buys only as an absolute last resort, he does not consider the FA Cup and Carling Cup to be worth fighting for, and he does not adjust his tactics to the necessities of individual games. Whatever the Arsenal Way was in 1997, now it’s this. He has put together games and teams and seasons which are exactly like this for YEARS now, far more than enough time for anyone with their eyes open to know what it is he’s up to. If it makes you upset all of a sudden there’s no other way to describe that than willful blindness.
The reality is that as much as people love to slag off Myles Palmer and Le Grove- and I have issues with them myself- they have both been a lot more accurate in regards to analyzing the Arsenal team, the manager, the thought process at the club and the likely results of the season than any of the more cheer-leading sites have. If you read Arseblog these days, it’s like reading Le Grove two years ago. What so many fans love to write off as cynicism or “hating Arsenal” has been, for the most part, an accurate reflection of what the team and club are. At what point does it become a bigger issue for the cheerleaders that the men they despise have a more accurate view of the club they love than they do? At what point do they insist that the club they love stops acting the way people they consider cynical haters expect it to? These are not rhetorical questions at this point; I am legitimately unsure if the people who think cheering louder is the best response to everything can ever be convinced of the need to adapt, learn and improve.
Until Arsenal fans grow spines and demand change at the club, seasons will continue to go this way. You can blame weather or injuries or voodoo or a vast FA conspiracy or anything you desire, you’re still going to finish 3rd or 4th and potless 9 years in 10. Eventually if this goes on long enough Arsenal will fluke a win of some kind, the same way Liverpool fluked a Champions League win; and if Arsene’s cheerleaders think a fluke of that sort and 20+ years between league titles is good enough, so be it. But if you don’t, if this game today and last week’s against United still bother you, then it’s time to demand change and accountability at the club. Amidst all his lies and obfuscation in recent weeks, Wenger has finally nailed his colors to the mast for all to see: 3rd place and qualification is good enough for him. If it’s good enough for you, fine; but if you expect Arsenal football club to try for more than that, to sometimes fail and sometimes succeed but always give best effort, then it is incumbent on you to demand that Arsene Wenger either accepts the verdict of results and changes, or else leaves the club. It’s either/or, because after five years with the current plan we know what it produces.
I’ll be honest with you though: I don’t expect it to happen. Arsenal fans are going to accept this, because for most of them, as with the manager, as with the board, as with most of the players, 3rd and a hope for a fluke is good enough. This whole club is mentally beaten in a way which goes beyond anything which happens on the pitch, beaten by the idea that somehow they “deserve” more out of a performance like today’s because they had a lot of possession, beaten by the idea that the same problems recurring are just bad luck, beaten by a dismissal of any attempt to point out those problems as “negative”, beaten by the idea that no one in the world but Arsene can manage the club, beaten by having their hopes dashed over and over, beaten by a fear of change, beaten by the idea that anyone who’s unhappy with this state of affairs supports the terrorists, er, isn’t a real Arsenal supporter. I don’t know how a club comes back from that. I would like to be wrong in this, but it has been years since my more cynical expectations for this club and its supporters have gone unfulfilled. Last year someone asked Wenger a slightly rudely worded question and it triggered marches in the streets to beg the man to stay; that’s a servile mentality, and so far as I can tell it’s still that of the majority.
If you go around the blogs and comments today, they all mostly agree on two things: that there’s some fundamental things wrong with the way the team and club are currently being run, and absolutely nothing should be done about it. Not booing, not hanging protesting banners, not leaving early, not singing songs to indicate displeasure, nothing. Arsenal fans are every bit as much an impediment to change at the club right now as the manager and board are.
The same reason I don’t write much about them here is the same reason for today’s result: nothing ever changes. Every year the same players, give or take, train the same system under the same coaches and exhibit the same strengths and same frailties, achieving so far entirely the same results. If this goes on long enough they’ll get a win in some competition somewhere as a result of random variation, but the bottom line is that Arsenal are the third-best team in England and for the moment, they appear quite comfortable and happy with that level. Right now to all appearances winning trophies is not the first priority, making money and allowing the manager free rein both being ahead of that in the hierarchy.
I say this for many reasons, but here’s the most pertinent one at the moment: it has been written and said all over the community of Arsenal blogs for a month or more now that if the manager did not spend any of the funds he’s boasted about having available to replace RVP or otherwise augment the side, he was making a rod for his own back, taking a risk, etc. What none of them have said is what, precisely, that risk was. If it was risk of allowing the team to win nothing this year, and that is taken as being implicit, fair enough. But the reality is that other than that disappointment there are no consequences for failing to win at Arsenal. The manager’s position is guaranteed regardless of performance, his pay is guaranteed, profits are guaranteed by the structure of the club and the enormous prices charged for everything, and it is exceedingly rare for any player in the side to be dropped for reasons other than health; and those who are, are usually the victims of personal clashes with the manager and not dropped due to performance. Every year half of the first team sign lucrative new contracts. It may be a rough day at the office for everyone involved with the club when they lose a game as they did yesterday, but the reality of the situation is that no one is really at risk of losing anything important to them no matter how many times they disintegrate in big games like this.
That, to me, is the most important issue with the club right now: because no one risks anything, no one learns anything, from success or from failure. The signing of Thomas Vermaelen in the offseason was Arsene Wenger at his best, locating an imperious and talented young player from a smaller league who was ready to burst onto the big stage of world football and could be had for a price that Arsenal FC felt comfortable with. It was a fine piece of business. And so moving on from that success, the manager has decided to… not buy anyone else even through the team is again wracked with injuries, his lead striker is again going to miss half the season and his goaltender is having one of the worst campaigns of any player at a CL club. Nothing learned from success. The failures of mental strength to which the team as a whole, and especially the younger players, are subject sank last season in successive fixtures against Man U and Chelsea which resulted in two ugly losses. Moving on from that debacle, the manager has decided to… keep essentially the same collection of players in place for 3 more games against those two clubs so far this year, resulting in an aggregate score of 8-2 against. Nothing learned from failure. There’s a million examples like those.
The overwhelming sense I get from the club at present is that there’s an inner core of players, mostly those who have won elsewhere, who are intensely frustrated with results and want more: Fabregas, Arshavin, Gallas, Vermaelen,Van Persie when he’s fit, a few others. These are the players who (Arshavin aside, he defines the phrase “mercurial”) give an excellent account of themselves game after game, and often raise their performances in big matches; they’re professional and dedicated. Much of the rest of the team, it must be said, are just not mentally on that level- some games they show up for, some not, sometimes they give you a half, sometimes 70 minutes, sometimes 10. Sometimes they play a great 90, with one moment of total madness like Diaby at Old Trafford earlier this season. Because they are as a group immensely talented this is often good enough against the lesser sides, but so far it’s almost never good enough against the bigger sides where something more than pure talent is required. Nevertheless, through injuries and stubbornness by the manager they get into the side regardless week after week. If good performances and bad performances bring the same check and the same playing time, what motivates someone to improve? The best will always be self-motivated by a desire to be among the best, but the rest will be Denilson or Diaby or Almunia: still making the same mistakes after years and years with the club. Arsenal have far too many players like that right now, and no mechanism for getting rid of them. And as excited as fans are for what Ramsey or Wilshere might be in a few years, bear in mind that they will be walking into the same situation which created the players who drive fans insane now.
And there it sits really, as it has done for years. Arsene Wenger is a hall of fame caliber manager in a way of speaking, and if he could be divorced from his illusions he would still be easily the best choice to run the club. But there’s little evidence he can; results don’t do it, fan anger doesn’t do it, the board certainly won’t do it- maybe the cumulative shame of having his hopes and expectations dashed repeatedly by the players he’s placed so much trust in may in time, but so far it doesn’t seem to be having much effect. Every year he talks in advance of each big game about how now is the time for his team to “show their quality”; and when they get obliterated, the last thing to occur to him is the possibility that they have. So nothing changes. Training will pick up at Arsenal on Monday and run just as it always has, and nothing more will be said about Sunday’s result, because Sunday’s result just doesn’t mean much to Arsenal and many of the people running it and representing it right now.
If Arsenal have an NBA equivalent, it’s the Chicago Bulls.
– A recent history of dominance, now past, drawing on the services of two of the most gifted offensive players of all time alongside a rock-solid defense.
– Following that a period of many years spent struggling while developing young players (Denilson, Diaby, Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, Derrick Rose, etc).
– This development project in both cases has led to several notable hits, several even more notable misses, and an intense fear of allowing any of that young talent to be exchanged for or replaced by more talented ready-made stars.
– Financial considerations have been an important influence at times with both clubs’ decision-making.
– There have been high profile defections of players who have subsequently to one degree or another failed to thrive elsewhere (Mathieu Flamini, Alex Hleb, Ben Gordon).
– And a few high-profile exiles who have (Lassana Diarra, Elton Brand).
– Both have looked amazing at times (Bulls pushing the Celtics to 7 games last year, Arsenal making a CL Final) only to be ultimately, narrowly but definitively, defeated by the eventual champion in the top competition in their respective sports.
It’s not a perfect comparison obviously, partially since their respective leagues are so different and their actual playing strategies so at odds these days (Bulls: slow, turgid, defensive; Arsenal: possession, possession, let’s win 3-2). I’m not sure if this means anything or if there’s any lessons to be learned other than that sometimes you need to pull you thumb out and actually go for it, but it interested me anyway. It’s the sort of thing which I notice more when I’m sick, which I am again. Blah.