The Battle is lost – not the War…

Crushed, that’s the only way to describe my sentiment at the full time whistle on 5th May… At kick off I had been full of expectation as I sat in the Chieftain Pub (corner of 5th & Howard in SF) at lunch-time for the 2nd Semi Final leg of the Champions League… I even had the pleasure of sitting next to a really nice bloke called Jeremy (big up mate) who had a FF4 jersey on and really was the scariest look alike I’ve ever seen (I had to double take when I sat down – almost fell to me knees in worship). That was all ended after 8 minutes with a slip by one of our best prospects (who I really feel for) and Almunia not keeping his heroics from the first leg up.
All day I had to toil back in my office when I really just felt like drinking myself into oblivion (people back home don’t know how lucky you are in some ways) – thoughts RAGED: “Sell Adeyboreor to Milan if they’re so phucking keen! Send the entire Defense to the Gallows! Wengers head on a Stick!” etc. However my forced sobriety (drinking at lunch time is seriously frowned on in the US) mixed with a deep conversation with a history buff friend gave me a bit of an epiphany of sorts, which is bloody amazing considering I’m an atheist. It came to me when the conversation in question turned to WWII high risk strategies – in particular Operation Market Garden. Yes those that have read my posts before know I waffle on about history – but hear me out….This operation was a British lead high risk plan that was executed in Sept 1944 with an aim to end the war by Christmas that same year by attacking the German Rhur area via several bridges in Holland. The Rhur region was German’s industrial region where Germany made all its tanks, planes etc.
There wasn’t too much doubt at this point that Germany was on it’s last legs, but getting past the defenses that had been dug in for 5+ years was going to cost lives and equipment and so if Market Garden was successful then it would effectively cut the Germans off from being able to literally ‘make’ war and end the ware far earlier. If you want the details then look at the link, but to cut a long story short it very, very nearly succeeded… but you and I know what that’s like eh? Sadly the failure of Market Garden lead to massive Allied casualties and a continuation of the conflict until May 1945 – a further 8 months of fighting and both civilian and military casualties.
Eventually the Allies won out, but it was this operation that rang true to me with regards to the situation the Arsenal finds itself in. When the plans for the Emirates Stadium were announced in 1999 it was clear that Arsenal was in the ascendency, a big club with big ambitions. However I suspect that everyone recognised the way the wind was blowing with regards to player costs skyrocketing and in order to stay competitive they needed to bring in more cash and the best way to do that on a regular basis is to have a large number of bums on seats. So an audacious, but necessary, plan was put into place that would see Arsenal become a dominant figure in European football for decades to come, and on paper it looked promising – the squad was strong in ’99, and in the original plan the stadium was to be up by 2003 which was pushed back to 2006 by a number of things including planning permission.
So in the early Naughties when the club had already committed a serious amount of cash to the stadium delays threw a large spanner into the original plan, and I think it was redrawn because it was around this time that the Youth policy really started to show…Cesc coming in, Clichy also and young players being brought in to replacing established stars that wanted more cash that the club couldn’t afford…Thus an already astute and frugal Wenger became very cautious in the transfer market…In order to temporarily offset the Stadium costs, the club HAD to live within its own means and spend wisely. This mean Arsene Wenger would have to do things on the cheap in order to offset the massive debts the club was to run up until the stadium had been paying out for a good few years.
The idea I’m sure was to let older players slowly go as they retired or moved on and to gradually replace experience with a youth program that would see Arsenal grow its own players instead of having to buy from the outside. Of course, like all plans it took some time to get into effect, really only being fully implemented in 2006 upon the move into the Emirates when Bobby P, Freddie, Sol and Cashley had gone. The move to the Emirates has seen the complete restructuring of the club from the bottom up, one that saw us move into one of the best stadiums in the world, one that has seen us find some of the best talents available at very little cost and one that so very nearly proved everyone wrong and could have seen us win the Champions League in 2006/7 and the Premier League in 2007/8… in short it like Market Garden, ours was from the outset a high risk strategy that very, very nearly succeeded.
In the aftermath of such a painful defeat to one of our most vilified rivals it’s difficult to be calm and contemplative about the outcome. Yes, it’s now 4 seasons since we won anything, 5 since the Invincibles. However there is a saying in military circles; “no plan survives first contact with the enemy” and I think it is very applicable here. In 1999 when the plan was put into motion things like the Chelski revolution, the planning permission delays, loyal players falling out with the club and leaving for more money and more recently (when we were so close) a darth of injuries to key players, always at the worst times. Last season we were literally within a gnats bollock of winning the PL – we were a horrific foul & PK call away from continuing our run of form in the PL and a completely rubbish PK shout from putting Liverpool to the sword in the CL – I’ve always asked why would players start to leave a squad that was so close? Money is of course the answer, and yes I too have asked things like; why not just pay Flamoney the wad? Cheaper then finding a replacement right? Why not fight to keep hold of TH14, Diarra or others…?
The truth is that trying to hold on to any player that doesn’t want to stay, or breaking the bank to pay someone a lot more then those of equal or better skill are both risky moves in an environment that’s so fiscally hostile. The only comfort Gooners have is that both Hleb and to a lesser extent Flamoney, both of whom were important for us, remain bit part players for their current squads and essentially left to sit on the benches for more money.
So to round this all up cash is what this is all about, when the decision was made to build the new stadium it was considered a short term risk for long term stability. Like Operation Market Garden the gamble almost paid off, but now it’s time to retreat and re-draw the plans. We have all been blooded over the last few seasons, we’ve had to get used to a new home and the badgering of our peers as they are through their rebuilding and are in their prime, but it should NOT be forgotten that we are still just a handful of top quality players away from the top step. This summer is all about tweaking the squad and adding some solidity to the depth – hopefully while getting players like Eduardo & Rosicknote back to form. The battle is lost – but in Football the War is never over, it’s a constantly evolving game… We Arsenal supporters are dealing with the consequences of a necessary evil, one that should really start paying us back as the economy begins to recover – we have the finances to remain independent, we have a great swathe of new blood coming through the ranks and we remain in the CL…
Personally I believe Arshavin & Gallas could have made all the difference on Tuesday, and we’ve had a tortuous time over the last two seasons with injuries so in the calm that’s fallen over me upon recognising the bigger picture and taking a longer term view I stand before you all hurt but unwavering in my faith in the club. Mistakes will always be made in the course of any clubs strategy, and until managers find a way to see the future they will continue to be made. For now; the club is in a solid position financially, we’re in the CL next season, I think Wenger will have noted the galvanising effect that can be had with but a single player in what Arshavin brought to the side, and for him to say he’s going to “think” on the subject is telling… I’m not saying a 180 on his policies, but a softening for sure…..also don’t forget that we still have a chance to screw the Manc’s PL season up (providing Liverpool and others help) and get one back on the Russians too – no, there’s no trophies so now so I’ll simply sip from my Arsenal mug until they come… until then I still bleed red & white regardless…it’s all part of being a Gooner.
Let the cat calling commence….

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