The debate concerning the direction of Arsenal among the club's fans is, in the long run, a debate about value. Latently, it boils down to the value of sport in general and veers in different directions when the meaning of (and for) the entire endeavor is sought.
Ultimately, psychology might be the most eloquent voice and locus of this in terms of a satisfactory answer. Cursorily, it is the question of the intrinsic human drive to not only compete, but to win.
There is an adage that reveals quite profoundly the contemporary mindset, and to a certain extent, the mindset of the entire human species, which is that history does not remember the second fiddle but only the winner.
There is sense by which this certainly is true.
At any rate, it is true enough at face value, but even a casual survey—and a little plumbing beyond the surface of the idea—reveals its inherent flaw. There are enough examples scattered all over the weather-beaten terrain of history that give this idea a lie. The reader, no doubt, can think up a number of them, but just to take quick ones.
J.S. Bach, to take an example from music, was never regarded in his lifetime—and for about a hundred years after that—as the first, the second or even the third best musician among his contemporaries. He was, in fact, the third choice for the church job at Leipzig. He was offered the job only when the preferences declined to take the job.
Mozart, for all his genius, wasn't highly regarded either in his lifetime—too many notes, it was often said. He was thrown in a mass grave at his death.
Corpernicus and Galileo acquired their reputations only later, not immediately. As far as the status quo was concerned, these two were mainly pseudo scientists, both of whom “real scientists” of the time sought to discredit through scholarly but reactionary treatises.
If the adage is true, therefore, it is to the extent that history can and does after all recognize the genius of the ostensible second or even third fiddle who then are elevated to the status of winners. Bach eventually took pride of place in the musical narrative, as did the two scientists cited here.
In football, it is true that when the chronicles of past achievements are recounted, the West Germany team of 1974 would be remembered as the winner of that year's World Cup, but only to the extent that only dates and victors are recalled.
But when the true breadth and depth of history is explored or recounted, the story of that tournament cannot properly be told without the backdrop of the Dutch team. This is true also of the 1982 World Cup. Yes, we remember the Italians as the winners, but none can forget the brilliant and sweeping attacking football of the Brazilians.
Again, to take one more example, yes, we will remember history's great boxing champions and be constrained to place Mohammed Ali somewhere at the pinnacle of the list, if not at the very top. But how could the story be complete without the backdrop of his foil and his great opponent, the recently deceased Joe Frazier?
Yes, we do tend to remember winners, but in myriads of instances, it is only so because the light of profound circumstances and opponents underscore their victories. Who can tell the story of Euro 2004 by simply saying the Greeks won or of the 1992 tournament by simply naming the Danes as winners?
In fact, in many instances, it is the story of the vanquished (or, at any rate, the proverbial second fiddle) that fascinates and inspires. In the history of struggle, it is often the defeated (not victors and conquerors), who are hymned and immortalized in poetry and legends.
In this light, therefore, it is quite feasible, perhaps highly likely, that when the history of football is told in the future, it isn't just the list of winners that will be recounted.
Subterranean streams, such as the great sides responsible for tactical and aesthetic evolution will become part and parcel of the story and might arguably be cherished more.
Why, for example, do we sit up always and take notice of the Dutch play even though they haven't been history's first-place holders in the game?
Why do we ineluctably remember the Yugoslavs, the Danube and the Scottish schools when we talk about football?
And why, to a certain extent, do we turn up our noses when, recounting the history of the game, we mention Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus? Why, because over the years they've represented an aspect of the game we intrinsically rebel against: the idea of "sugar-daddies" who simply dish out the dough for the sake of trophies and control.
In the shadow of this does the historical achievement of the Scottish Celtic, the French Lyon and, most recently, Montepellier become more profound, precisely because they achieved their success empowered by other virtues the human spirit cherishes beside the bucket-load of cash other clubs splash to purchase trophies.
Are the trophies worth the millions, the billions spent to win them? Manchester City's title came about after almost a billion pounds had been spent by the owner in little more than a year.
Somehow at the back of our minds sits the question regarding the source of this wealth and whether or not such money (or a parallel and equivalent sum) shouldn't be better spent on the needy, on places where misery reigns, on campaigns for the oppressed, the widows, orphans and the sick and maimed of this world.
There is, of course, the argument to the contrary that I myself like to advance—that these monies ultimately are a way of spreading wealth. After all, it goes to individuals who otherwise would most likely spend their entire lifetime in needful circumstance.
In sum, virtue and such like, in contrast to the proverbial silver-spoon is as equally important in the fabric of history. Ethical issues and other values must ineluctably be part of the warp and woof of its intricate patterns.
Neymar might find the foregoing and the following argument unimpressive, but I'd advance it anyway to convince him to chose Arsenal over Barcelona or Real Madrid. Rich Schultz/Getty Images.
Seven Shouts for Arsenal
When, thus, I should be questioned as to why I support Arsenal and affirm the club's current philosophy, I must point to this principle as one of the reasons.
Seven years without a trophy is a long time, especially when parsed within the possibility that this wouldn't have been so had Arsenal spent some quality money.
It is no secret that lack of sufficient spending in the area of player acquisition has been Arsenal's Achilles’ heel in this period of drought, and there's justification for the objection that this necessarily wouldn't have been spending that breaks the bank.
For example, the season before last could possibly have turned out differently had the club purchased one or two defenders at the midpoint of the season when Arsenal were favorably poised in the title race. There is, however, an argument that mitigates this objection: the idea and the wisdom thereof of January purchases. (See this article and this.)
The preceding objection notwithstanding, the principle that has informed Arsenal's way of things is sound and admirable. It is one every supporter of the club should appeal to as excellent and desirable. It is akin to refusing to compromise morally.
Almost every family (I should think) has something to which it points and says, "despite that or in spite of that, we are standing," life's hard-knocks notwithstanding. The contrary of this is exemplified in Esau's contempt of his birth right.
Positively, it is why Socrates drank the hemlock. Many such examples exist, which we must leave alone to curb the inevitable sense of grandstanding that rears up when such are cited.
Simply, I love Arsenal because the club has refused to yield to the popular idea that values the spending of phantom cash, a bubble that apparently can be recreated by simply borrowing more and more money in the conviction that the consequence of this can be averted by the enigmatic tomorrow. After all, as long as it remains beyond grasp, accounting is also just so.
(There's, of course, in some people's head the dream realm of "wealth," ostensibly stashed somewhere in the caverns of Arsenal's seat of power. Evidence? Nil.)
This is the classic proverbial whitewashing of the tomb in the false belief that somehow in doing so what lies beneath isn't a stinking decomposing (or decomposed) corpse.
Tomorrow, however, does inevitably break enough times with nasty consequences: Leeds United, Southampton, Portsmouth, Rangers, etc. And while long-suffering Chelsea and Manchester City fans may well rejoice in their recent successes, there still remains the sense of disquietude that accompanies handouts, alongside the fear of the transience that underlines such foundations of success.
What happens, for example, when Sheikh Mansour and the oligarch Abramovich leave? Perhaps they never will, or when they do, they’d have left some lasting legacy.
Therefore, play for Arsenal, I'd tell a player, because in life other things beside bucket-loads of money matter. That’s first.
I'd quickly add that there's a manager who values this principle, who remains true to this important virtue of life. He dreams of a better future for the club. Fruit assuredly follows today's sacrifice. That's second.
Oxlade-Chamberlain might likely be warming the bench if he had chosen Chelsea over Arsenal. Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.
Thirdly, I'd say that at Arsenal, there's manager who values creation and cultivation over consumption. And as such, young players of sufficient talent get the chance to play. At other clubs (such as Chelsea, Real Madrid, Inter and Juventus), the historical practice is to reap the harvest of stars. Arsenal will help you to have a future.
Arsenal care for persons, not simply their talent. Think of cases such as Nwankwo Kanu and his heart surgery; Robin van Persie, with his early disciplinary issues and injury problems; Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby and now Jack Wilshere, the old-guards that Wenger inherited from George Graham and gave a fresh lease to playing life (at least for a while longer), etc.
There's nurture at Arsenal.
As a young player at Arsenal, as long as you have sufficient talent, you'd be given a chance to play at a time when your peers would be warming the bench at their own clubs.
At Arsenal, there’s a manager who understands the meaning of loyalty. He'll stick by you at difficult times. He even remains loyal to former players (think of the Kolo Toure’s drug crisis for example).
Furthermore, I'd say there's Jazz at Arsenal. This is my metaphor for the coaching philosophy at Arsenal. Jazz works upon an undergirding framework, the solidity of which allows inventive spontaneity—that inscrutable element that makes great artists and great thinkers.
The nonsensical notion making the rounds of some circles that Arsene Wenger isn't tactically astute is just that. You can't have watched the scintillating and free-scoring Wenger teams and yet hold that notion. No naive tactician can maintain Wenger's level of consistent success.
The idea of Jazz (Wenger doesn't call it that) that allows spontaneity in the circumscribe environment of a match is what some mistake for naivety, but where exactly the word applies is what needs definite recalibration.
Wenger knows how to coach players, I’d tell the potential player.
It is a fact that has been widely acknowledged. Wenger will allow you to grow, and with some luck, he can turn what might just be an average talent to a world-class one. Podolski said this fact played a great part in his decision for Arsenal. That's fourth.
Wenger's success at developing players was one of the reasons that convinced Podolski to sign for Arsenal. Photo courtesy of Arsenal.com.
In the fifth place, I might appeal to the ephemeral, by which I'd say that there's no doubt that the financial clout of both Chelsea and Manchester City means that they're likely to be contenders for trophies in the immediate future. But, I'd contend, there's always an unforeseen "X" factor in the unpredictable future.
For example, no one thought Chelsea would win anything in what was arguably their worst season in recent times. And yet when everything seemed to go wrong for them, they won the most coveted trophy of club football: the Champions League.
There's also the example of Montepellier in France, who won the French Ligue 1 title at the expense of cash-cow Paris Saint-Germain. There's, of course, the examples I cited earlier of teams that won their victories in spite of the current of circumstance.
In this wise, I'd say, luck is bound to change. And like some who thought that Chelsea's Champions League victory happened because it had been written in the stars (by whom, one wonders), likewise, Arsenal's name can't fail to be written in the recurring cycle of the seasons. They are bound to win something soon. That's how life works.
Drought never lasts forever. Rain is always the default circumstance, not the reverse. It will come indubitably. It always does.
Thus, for a player who would sign for a club and hesitates about Arsenal, I'd advance this reason and also add that signing is always a chance; you can't guarantee your success anywhere.
Why not, then, sign for a club that'll take care of you? A club poised ineluctably to win something...soon? Why not become part of this history, a player of principle who values things other than money and instant success? (Olivier Giroud just did that. Mikel Arteta took a salary cut to move to Arsenal from Everton.)
Giroud chose Arsenal for part of the reasons advocated here. Photo courtesy of Arsenal.com.
If this conversation is occurring at the present time, I'd point to the recent signings as a proof of intent. Arsenal, I'd say, are preparing to be competitive, to be major players in the coming season. (Freddie Ljungberg, a former Gunner and part of the Invincibles thinks so, too.)
Surely, I'd argue, if what was ostensibly Arsenal's worst season in the last seven years was remarkably salvaged against all odds with a team some condemned as not worthy of donning the red and white, what would happen when the team begins the new season stronger and better prepared? Surely this same team can only become better.
Sign and be part of this new future, I'd encourage the undecided potential player. That's sixth.
Lastly, I'd say the Financial Fair Play rule will kick into gear soon.
Already, forced austerity measure is affecting teams like Manchester United. They can't simply spend as they used to. Moreover, if things pan out as painted, teams like Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG, Barcelona and Real Madrid will be shackled and forced to play on a financially leveled plane (at least to some extent).
This all means that clubs like Arsenal will gain advantage and will be able to be more competitive. In other words, the old Arsenal is returning quite quickly—the Arsenal that was able to compete in the transfer market in the last decade. Put differently, superstars will begin to come to Arsenal again.
The player who signs now can only be part of the success that is to return to Arsenal, just like it did in Wenger's first decade at Arsenal.
The point of this article is exactly why Robin van Persie should stick with Arsenal. Getty Images.
How do I know this?
Exactly like I said above: Life is a matter of immediate and not-so-immediate cycles of seasons. Accordingly, success makes the rounds. But in the midst of this turning wheel of time, planters, cultivators and planners receive the fruit of their labor and sacrifice.
At the other end of the spectrum are wastrels, those who live in the bubble, who elevate the so-called rat race above all else, exemplified eloquently in the recent and epic collapse of Rangers FC.
Again, Barcelona may have consolidated their latent structure by some notable purchases in the transfer market, spawned on the back of the bubble. But undergirding their recent impressive success is a 30-year period of planning—labor that flowered in an epic shower of returns.
I have faith that this is going to happen at Arsenal. And if you challenge my faith, I'd say, what's life without this indefatigable element? What is survival, success and overcoming without hope?
Arsenal lives right; it will live long.