A few weeks ago, I was asked this question and was tasked to put my thoughts down.
I have not been motivated to write because of our poor form. In the words of a gentleman I respect, the Arsenal Team is like a “seemingly devastated side, shorn of confidence and steering wildly towards a rocky shore”. May I add very much helped by a misguided section of the fan base that are very much determined to commit mass suicide by jumping off the cliff edge like lemmings.
Following the draw against Man City, I have found some energy and motivation to write. Prior to Sunday’s match, it was difficult to tell where the next bit of light ahead of the tunnel was coming from. Fortunately we found something and I hope we can build on it. Not that the visitors on Wednesday will be a walk over. There is no ‘gimme’ in the Premier League plus it is a derby. Desire, talent application, work rate & a bit of luck will do it. Should do it for us.
The simple answer to the subject of this article is: NOBODY KNOWS. Anybody who tells you they know one way or the other is unfortunately telling porkies.
At the start of 2015/16 season, at the mid point and after the Leicester loss at the Emirates that season, not one person knew Leicester will win and they did. Until The Spuds self-combust at Stamford Bridge, it was all ‘can they’? Not ‘they will’. How many people had Chelsea down as league champions after the chastening defeat at The Emirates early this season? Less than 2 months ago, the Manchester Police Twitter account was bantering away at Liverpool FC’s inability to buy a Premier League point. Today they can’t stop vacuuming up 3 points.
At the start of this season, all the smart money was on one of the Manchester clubs winning league. See how that is panning out. Both clubs have spent close to a billion pounds over the last 2 seasons and are capable of paying over £200k per week wages to several players and are both still nowhere near Premier League winning sides.
Predicting if a side will win the league is not easy or straightforward otherwise Bookies will be out of business. Quoting generously from the same source as earlier “Football is a complex blend of tactics, egos, form and confidence”. Winning a football match is not easy let alone a league of 38 football matches. The better team doesn’t always win for different reasons: ill luck; wrong bounce of the ball; funny / dodgy referees, injuries etc.
If you were to ask many if Everton or our poor neighbors in Middlesex can challenge for the title, you are likely to find that people are more willing to give them the benefit of doubt while not willing to cut Arsenal under Arsene any slack at all. Many will rightfully point to the last 13 years without a league championship; the inability to compete throughout the whole season, the Champions League Round of 16 exits, the inability to pay top wages, sign the very best players and potentially many more unconnected reasons like ticket prices, a non visible owner etc. as their reason why Arsenal under Arsene can’t win. They have a point. Up to a point.
What many don’t consider in all of their upset feelings on this touchy subject of Arsene Wenger’s continued stay at The Emirates is the subject of money. The big bucks has simply been the biggest issue here. Until the billions from the Russian owner came in. Chelsea were nobodies. Now they are there or thereabout except when Jose Mourinho does a madness and threatens to bring the whole house down.
Same with Man City. 44 years with big fat zero until the Middle East Oil billions poured in. Money made a difference even in the Ferguson years. United were able to pay bigger wages and bigger transfer fees. When the Glazer debt hobbled United, their ability to compete and dominate was challenged season after season.
At the moment, Arsenal unfortunately can’t spunk money about like any of the bigger boys either for transfer fees or for wages. Yes we have a billionaire owner. His wife and her family did not make their money from selling state assets to themselves nor did they suddenly discover some viscose liquid in their back garden. Even if the Arsenal owner had a money-printing machine in his cellar, it is his decision how to spend his money and any sane and rational person should not quarrel with that.
If Arsenal FC and its owners were to one day, decide to spend money like Chelsea, Man U and Man City are doing, it will take 2 to 3 transfer seasons of spending before we can draw level with where these troika are at the moment and there would still be no guarantees of success. If however Arsene and Arsenal can somehow contrive to magic this money and spend like Chelsea and Man City season after season, Arsene and Arsenal will compete from August to May every Premier League season, win at least one league title every 3 seasons and match the might of the European footballing elite in the Champions league.
For God’s sake, Pellegrini won the league and got to the Semi Final of the Champions League. What is this nonsense about football has passed Arsene by? What tactics did Pellegrini deploy to win his league title? Why can’t Arsene achieve the same with Arsenal with the ‘unlimited’ resources at the disposal of Chelsea or Man City?
A word of caution though. The day a leader of Russia decides he wants to be petty or the day Roman himself gets bored, what is going to happen to the unlimited resources of Chelsea? What happens when oil sells for single figures or a Mad Mullah is threatening the safety of the Middle East and they are on lockdown unable to ship oil for a few months? Will the oil money still gush without a tap? People who think spending money like a drunken sailor is the way to go should beware the ides of Portsmouth and many others.
If Leicester is your retort to the issue of money, my simple response is that Leicester’s win was an exception. They waited for 120 years before their first bite of the cherry. Are we willing to wait that long too? I very much doubt that. Yes they did it and fair play to them. The stars aligned in their favor including dodgy refereeing decisions, Man City’s own flirtation with Pep with its detrimental effect on Pellegrini’s team and Arsenal’s own inability to capitalize on our Top of The League position after the New Year Day’s fixtures starting with the disappointing 3 – 3 draw at Anfield.
Leicester were also blessed with the fact that they are club without a playing philosophy until Nigel Pearson introduced a playing style that was adopted by Claudio Ranieri. Arsenal and Arsene have a playing philosophy and this in itself can be something of an albatross sometimes. It is easy for many who see winning as the only thing that matters to disagree with this playing philosophy issue but please listen to top managers including Pep Guardiola and you will appreciate that philosophy and identity are not like clothes that can be taken off willy-nilly. Alex Ferguson in two Champion League finals versus Barcelona did not change his style of play and lost both finals. As far as Arsene sticks to his playing philosophy and as long as we are unable to attract the top talents coming into the Premier League, it will take the same type of stars aligning as it happened for Leicester for Arsenal under Arsene to win the league.
If Arsene were to abandon his philosophy right now and right here. Put 10 men behind the ball, play dirty and cynical, cheat, create an intimidating atmosphere for referees like Ferguson did, I make bold to say we will challenge for the league like Leicester too and maybe like Ranieri achieved one title win in his 30 year managerial career, Wenger can finally add to his 3 titles by wining another one for Arsenal within the next 4 years before he retires.
Baba Grumpy works in Financial Services in the United Kingdom. He blogs mostly about football .