No longer a joking matter at Arsenal
Dear Unborn Gooner:
The beginning of the year 2012 was anything but auspicious for Arsenal, having lost all but one of their matches in the first month of the year.
The woes began in the month and the year ultimo, when the club lost back-to-back matches, falling to what can best be described as middling clubs.
One annoyed fan—and I use the word “annoy” in the positive sense…yes, indignant is the word—fired off the following words to me.
She couldn’t understand how a top club could lose to a lower, wet-behind-the ear opposition, and she felt that no one—not least me, yours truly—should try to justify the loss. Here’s what she wrote:
Simple question really.
Swansea: cheaper and less talent. Played us off the park. Why?
It's a question that doesn't allow you to use injuries or money or the transfer excuse.
Answer it logically as to why, tactically, we can fail to teams like this so blatantly and all will be well with the world. I'll be able to live my life knowing that it is just one big misunderstanding and we were actually supposed to lose to them.
You see, Man U I can understand. I can get losing to them even if we play better than them. But Swansea, with no deep pockets, no great squad and inferior tacticians...well, I can't fathom that. (EVEN WHEN WE BEAT THEM AT HOME, THEY WERE BY FAR THE BETTER TEAM. I WAS THERE.)
I replied that I would indeed try my best to answer the question, and I will.
By the way, Swansea (Swansea City, really) was a newly-promoted club from the lower division. I explain because I don’t know whether or not the club would be existing still by the time you read this (no offense to Swansea fans).
For now, I should like to tell you that a reasonable response—at least what many fans thought reasonable—to the loss did not manifest.
Understand that the losses began on the eve of what was then called “January Transfer Window”—forgive me if I sound a little patronizing. I’m not sure January transfer would still be in place by the time you read this. (Here’s a link to the history of January transfer. You can see why I have doubts that it’ll be in place in your time.)
The January transfer window offered an opportunity for manager and club to buy new players, instruments to staunch the tide of losses that threatened the club in more ways than one, but what happened? The club manager, Arsene Wenger, who tends to wax philosophical on issues like this, refused to buy.
Why didn’t he buy?
Well, that was the million-pound question on every Gooner’s mind.
For starters, follow this link and this for a preliminary rationale behind the manager’s refusal to buy. For the broader vision behind the manager’s reticence towards purchase of players in general, see this article.
I should, though, correct the notion that Arsenal’s French manager did not buy at all. He did; the only problem, though, is that he didn’t buy the right kind of player. He bought a kid instead of buying a star.
Thomas Eisfeld—Arsene Wenger’s new “kid.”
Many have since added “bloody” to the kid, and that sums it up. Why didn’t he buy Hugo Rodallega, who rains goals (supposedly) for Wigan Athletic? One Gooner has wondered, but for the life of me, I can’t think why.
I should tell you that those who advocate buying have a point.
For example, the entire rank of Arsenal’s fullbacks has been decimated in the last three months, which suggests that Arsene Wenger should have bought a fullback or two. So why didn’t he?
Two of the articles linked above offer a few answers. No, say the disaffected fans.
Secondly, Arsenal have had just one avenue for goals this season, Robin van Persie, who has been injury-prone in the past. What happens if—goodness forbids—he got injured? Who would score the goals? That’s both a good and a big question.
None of Wenger’s fans seem to have an answer, which is why Hugo Rodallega seems a good idea.
Thirdly, if you point out that a huge factor in buying is not simply the transfer fee (if you already have it), but wages and how they affect not just the incoming players but also the existing squad, they then answer, well, why don’t you clear house and sell the dead weights?
The dead weights. Ah!
I must confess that my expression becomes as blank or as intriguing as Spielberg’s E.T.’s. First, why didn’t I think of that? Secondly, isn’t selling players in either 2011 or 2012 as easy as arranging a yard-sale?
Bundle them out of their comfy mansions and line them up in front of Thierry Henry’s statue; you’re guaranteed an instant £40 million. Clubs, after all, consider out-of-form players hot items.
With reasons as obvious as this, what argument is left in favor of Arsene Wenger?
Success in turning some unknown players into stars? Common…the scouts discovered them! Constantly making profit for the club from the sale of players? Who cares about financial prudence?
And now, having drawn their most recent match (I write on the first day of February), there’s no excuse left. A friend of mine told me that Bolton Wanderers just tore Arsenal apart, even though it didn’t seem so to me. But what do you expect from a blind believer like me?
But even I must admit there are no excuses left.
Any reason advanced only births three other complaints. The only thing that can keep the hounds at bay is an unbroken run of victories. That’s the palliative that never fails to keep Cerberus quiet.
Cerberus now camps at Wenger’s door. William Blake.
As you can see, Unborn Gooner, I have raised a lot of issues in this first entry, which I can’t hope to address in a single entry. I will return soon to address a few of them in my next entry.
I hope that when you begin reading these entries, better times would be flourishing at the Grove.