The problems and solutions for Arsenal

If you happened to catch any of the Eurovision Song Contest at the weekend, you might have been going Manuel Almunia mad. I couldn’t be sure, but there seemed to be plenty of bleached blonde haired men with five o’clock shadows singing out of tune to Euro big beats. One of them must have been Almunia trying a new and more practical career move. Hearing ‘nil poi’ is probably the nearest he’ll ever get to another clean sheet.
The theme then today is the future. After gossip of Cesc Fabregas was getting the better of some, one Insider suggested a discussion on what the coming years hold for Arsenal and its supporters. The question was about addressing the solutions and not the problems (Cesc). But how do you do that? Surely one is a product of the other.
The biggest predicament with Arsenal is that they aren’t like the rest, and nor do they want to be. Over the past five years the Gunners have become the North Korea of England’s Premier League: isolated, lovesick with themselves and unwilling to listen to anybody that talks about change, in a world of new money flaunters. The question is this: if you can’t beat them, do you join them?
Football has been rapidly changing since Roman Abramovich planted his oil stained flag into the turf at Stamford Bridge. His way of running a football club has exploded and behind him it seems every millionaire businessman wants to wear his shoes. Sometimes they aren’t even millionaires, but this doesn’t stop them borrowing from the banks and copying him that way. This week, Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillette announced their decision to sell Liverpool with debts amounting up to nearly £400 million; the new owner might have a different accent and haircut, but you can bet your bottom dollar the suit will be the same.
The greatest invention by America was the game of Cowboys and Indians. Get ‘em while they’re young to ride the white horse, exterminate the ‘savage’ enemy, and see if it won’t stick for life. Football’s equivalent is the dreaded agent, really no more than an invented position because people will conceive anything when there is money to be made.
People like Abramovich and football agents come hand in hand, and like rats to scraps the agents have surfaced to seize the opportunity and make a quick buck. These influences have been around before Abramovich made his mark on the Premiership and we all remember the Nicholas Anelka fiasco that led him to Real Madrid and about every other European team thereafter. But the prize today is substantially larger and those rats are fatter than ever.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some agents that are first class in helping unknown players make the big time. Last season Cody McDonald made the switch from non-league Dartford to Norwich by the help of a very sincere agent, the type of person who also brought DJ Campbell out of the dark and eventually onto the stage at Wembley with Blackpool. Life at the top is different though, where so often money making comes first and career making comes second for both player and agent. It’s a deadly combo.
What’s all this got to do with Arsenal’s future though? Well, football is a nasty world but to beat them Arsenal don’t necessarily have to join them. Dagenham and Redbridge proved on Sunday that you don’t have to spend big to be successful, fielding a winning team in the League Two Playoff Final where 10 players were brought on free transfers.
Sure, money increases the probability of winning things, and there is an obvious correlation that since Chelsea started buying they have been successful. This is another problem which is out of Arsenal’s control. The solution then? That is purely down to Wenger, to get in the ear of players like Fabregas and convince them about the future and about the dangers of listening to others (even if they happen to be family who have totally the wrong idea of what is best).
I just watched a documentary where elephants were painting, and surely it’s easier to get Cesc to see we have a quality striker in Robin van Persie and a chance to win the league with him fully fit. In the other ear, Wenger should also hammer home what Arsenal FC is all about. Save the odd one or two, there is not much wrong with the players at Arsenal, or with the way they play. At times though, it just needs more drumming in. Sometimes it feels like the players have read the script but half-way through the season forget their lines. Theo Walcott is the prime example of an Arsenal player struggling with stage fright and it’s no surprise then he didn’t make Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad.
People like Wenger have the duty to not only coach people into better players, but to train them to think independently. Not to be led astray by agent rats. The running stereotype is that footballers are dim-witted and make poor decisions. With more influence from Wenger and Government plans to give state schools more choice in what they teach, could the free-thinking, self-relying footballer become a thing of the future? Probably not, but it’s a nice thought all the same.
I was asked to assume that Cesc will leave, and how I would go about building a team without him. Not an easy one to answer and I never can really trust names that fans throw into the hat. Seeing a few clips on YouTube of some Dutch prodigy means nothing to me. It’s not worthwhile and the impression I get is people like to list exotic names to make it look like their knowledge is better than everybody else’s. Where I’d start improving things then is within the current squad itself.
So Cesc leaves. Not great, but at the same time an opportunity to spread responsibility to the rest of the team, having a more pluralistic squad in general. When Cesc didn’t play this season Arsenal could cope but it was like watching a chef cooking with only one arm: possible, just tricky. Jose Mourinho has always made it that his teams don’t rely on any one man in particular. It’s the base to his success and probably the reason for reviving player’s careers.
Arsenal could do the same. Wenger’s movements and words can still save Arsenal. His prose have the power to be more infectious than all the evil headlines and damaging rumours lingering around, and they will be the same words with or without Fabregas. It’s easy to sense at times that Wenger is more school-musical than broadway theatre inspiration.
The future will unravel itself, but maybe for your sanity in the short-term you should assume Cesc will be an Arsenal player next year. It’s looking that way since yesterday when the club who he pledged a five year deal with sent a rotten parcelled egg down the grapevine to Barcelona. I’ll leave you then with the words of Marvin Gaye: “People say believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear.” Let the players hear it Arsene, and let the fans see it.

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