Men And Boys On The Pitch – Boardroom Antics

And it all started so well too. Then the referee blew for kick-off and it all rapidly went nipples skyward.
So much anticipation and pent up passion amongst the Gooner Nation. The flags for every Arsenal fan – a nice touch by the club management. They were fully deployed to good use, even in the directors’ box and the Diamond Club seats.  As The Wonder of You belted out, the Grove was a sea of waving banners and a wall of sound. A beautiful song by the Chilean songwriter Victor Jara, Con El Alma Llena de Banderas (“With the Soul Full of Flags”), came to mind. Jara was brutally assassinated by the Pinochet junta at the Estadio Chile in Santiago (think Wembley Arena) in the days after the coup d’état on 11 September 1973.
What followed last night at the Grove after the kick-off was an assassination too. A footballing assassination. The first United goal was pure tragedy for young Kieran Gibbs. The lad, who has been such a warrior for us since Gaël Clichy’s injury, slipped as he went to control and clear a fairly innocuous ball into the box. He still managed to get the faintest touch but it wasn’t enough. Park Ji-Sung stole in to score on eight minutes. Three minutes after that, Christiano Ronaldo belted a free kick on target from about 30 metres. Manuel Almunia went the right way but couldn’t get to it. Our hero at Old Trafford had let in a goal which he should really have saved. And that was all she wrote really.
With us needing four goals to qualify and no possibility of extra time or penalties as soon as United got their first, it was men against boys. I have a cordial detestation of both Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. That doesn’t stop me respecting both. Without ever having to really go for it big style they were always in control.
Christiano Ronaldo’s clinical finish of a good breakaway move on the hour just confirmed what we already knew. Over the two legs we simply weren’t at the races. Kieran Gibbs had been given the hook at that stage, being replaced by Emmanuel Eboué at half time. I can’t see that Gibbs, who must be excused his slip – it can happen to the best – was playing particularly badly. It must – at least I hope it must – have been tactical. Eboué did indeed give us a bit more thrust up the left, despite being naturally right footed.
Our penalty with a quarter on an hour left, which led to the dismissal of Darren Fletcher for a last man foul on Cesc Fàbregas, was crashed home by Robin van Persie. It was the barest of consolations. I haven’t seen a replay of the incident yet. It looked a penalty from my perch in block 112.
At least those Gooners who remained in the ground, about fifteen-twenty thousand having deserted by that stage, retained a sense of humour. “We only need four more!” we roared. And then it was all over for another season. Three more League games left now, home to Chelsea and Stoke City sandwiched around a visit to Old Trafford which will be a real barrel-load of laughs for the travelling Gooner Nation. Fourth guaranteed but third a VERY distant possibility, even if we beat Chelsea on Sunday.
Before I finish on last night’s game though, I have to, unfortunately, mention the two plastic bottles thrown on to the pitch from the East Lower Tier. No excuse for that. None. Yes, I know United players were celebrating down there, bigging it up. Irritating. Very. But there’s simply no mitigation for lobbing stuff on the pitch. Ever. I hope the culprits can be identified and will be up the steps at the Magistrates’ Court in double-quick time. Its 20 watt bulbs like you that mean I can’t have a top for my bottle of water when I want one. It’s also likely to mean us coming to the unwelcome attention of the UEFA disciplinary committee. What complete plums.
So where from here? I heard plenty of angry Gooners leaving the ground wanting various players’ heads on spikes and indeed the head of Arsčne Wenger himself. We’ve now gone four seasons without a trophy, they cry. Not good enough. I’m the first to say I’m not delirious either. BUT – do we really want to ditch a manager who has brought us three League titles and four FA Cups including two Doubles in his twelve and a half years at the club? Plus further runners-up spots in the Carling Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Cup and Champions League?  Who has bought such gifted players such as Patrick Vieira, Marc Overmars, Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit, Nicolas Anelka, Sol Campbell and Cesc Fàbregas to the club – do we really want to get rid?
The man has been loyal to us. He has had endless offers to go elsewhere for more money. I think we should show him some loyalty in return. I do think though that Ivan Gazidis should sit down with him and plan out a clear strategy starting early next week after the Chelsea game is out of the way. Who is staying and who do we want to sell? Who do we want to bring in?
The run to the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and the Champions League should inject a little extra cash into the potential transfer pot, as will any sales. I think the priorities are a world class goalkeeper and centre half. Possibly another centre-forward if Emmanuel Adebayor goes – frankly I hope he does. His continued public dalliance with Milan shows his head isn’t in the club, despite his massive pay rise. If you’re not interested, and he doesn’t appear to be at the moment. He’s lost all the vim and vigour he brought to the team. Bugger off mate, if that’s your attitude.
I think all the players should have one-to-ones with the manager. Those he wants to keep should be told so. Likewise those he doesn’t see a future for. All those he wants to keep should be looked straight in the eye and asked if they will commit to Arsenal. If not, they should be gone. I don’t want any player at the club under sufferance.
Off the field, the long running tussle for control needs to be resolved. Lively. Alisher Usmanov is making trouble because he wants the highest exit price he can get I’ve come to believe. Danny Fiszman is  trying to have his cake and eat it, still remaining in a position of influence with a big holding and a mountain of cash from Stan Kroenke. The Carr family, part of the Bracewell-Smith “clan” has proved its “loyalty” to Arsenal by selling its shares to Stan Kroenke for something like £45 million. I expect Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith to sell if she can get the price she wants.
There is some suggestion that Stan Kroenke is going to inject some money into the club for transfers and working capital. Remember the problem with the sale of flats at Highbury Square still hasn’t gone away. I don’t see that happening. Kroenke bought his shares from Fiszman on credit. Nobody knows what he’s paid for them so far in cash, if anything. Nobody knows whether the deal with the Carr family has been done in cash on the “drip” too.
These are all questions I hope the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust will be asking all the senior shareholders. Let’s be clear about one thing – the last thing we need at the club is more debt. Neither do I want the club to be a rich man’s train set a la Chelsea, nor a “trophy asset” a la Manchester City. Football simply has to grow up and live within its means. If we can’t run a successful club with a playing budget of £100 million plus there’s something badly wrong.
All that the various share transactions have done is open up the club to potential predators. I tend to agree with those who say that Stan Kroenke is the lesser of two evils when compared to Alisher Usmanov. Why should we have to settle for that though? Stan Kroenke seems like a personable bloke and is clearly a successful businessman with experience in running professional sports clubs in the USA. But d oes he really care about Arsenal? Who kn ows?
What I do know is that I don’t want ANY one person or company owning Arsenal. We need to widen and deepen ownership amongst supporters, not narrow it.
It’s time for all at the club to pull together, to think what each of us can put in rather than take out. David Dein has walked off with £75 million quid, PLUS the £10 million or so he got from Danny Fiszman over their time on the board together. Danny Fiszman has a HUGE net profit on his Arsenal share-dealings of around £30 million. The Carr family has strolled off with about £45 million pounds worth of Stan Kroenke’s greenbacks.  Not a penny piece of this has benefitted Arsenal Football Club. Strange for people who profess to love the club so much.
Let’s not rush into anything and start demanding people’s heads. We should be VERY careful what we wish for in that respect. But do let’s all ask some VERY serious questions of those that hold the future of the club we all love so much in their hands.
In the Champions League I shall be cheering on Barcelona tonight. I hope they beat Chelsea and go on to beat United in Rome. For all their faults they’re owned by their supporters. A dream I’ve always held for Arsenal.
And yes Lady Nina, the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust would be a VERY good home for your shares. Why not give them a ring?
Keep the faith!

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