Arsenal: Arsene Wenger and the Parable of Robin Van Persie
When Robin van Persie struck for Manchester United in the 10th minute against Fulham in the two teams' Premier League Match Day 2 encounter on Saturday, the goal was reminiscent of the Dutchman's strike for Arsenal in the 2010-11 League Cup final, that forgettable day in which Arsenal conspired to throw away their best chance to win a trophy in the last seven years of barrenness.
That day, the Dutchman hurt himself in that attempt to score. Here, he didn't. But, what unified the two goals is that both were volleys (almost impossible to make) off a defender.
A magnificent strike this was, a testimony to the player's world-class status.
For many, including Arsenal's own fans, plastic and non-plastic alike, it showcased Arsenal's folly, a folly that has stitched itself cantankerously to the club in the last few years.
For what, but folly could make a club sell its best player on the eve of a new season and to its fiercest rival no less?
What ambition looks like. Getty Images.
The Color of Ambition
I have no spurTo prick the sides of my intent, but onlyVaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itselfAnd falls on th' other.Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 7
Arsenal have garnered a reputation in the last few years as a club without ambition.
It is a reputation driven by the media and acceded to by some of the club's own fans, the types that I suspect came to the sport for the glitzes and thrills, and for one reason or the other latched on to Arsenal, probably at the time when the club was still birthed in glory.
And now that glorious day has faded into night, they can no longer abide by their supposed love. It is the classic case of love turning to hate.
But, what is this ambition that Arsenal lack?
We find it in Amy Lawrence's latest article via The Sport Blog. She asks in the title of this article whether or not Daniel Levy, the chairman of Tottenham Hotspur, will "send a big-money message of intent" after the sale of Luka Modric.
Lawrence is a fine writer who I find to be normally well-tempered. But here, she betrays the penchant to be auto-piloted to which the media is routinely susceptible.
Ambition has to be "big-money."
In that sense, the ambitious clubs are Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United (having been willing to budget over £70 million on a player at the twilight of his career, who has a bad history with injury) and PSG.
They cannot be Newcastle United (who have been astute in the transfer market in the last two seasons), Liverpool (who this season have come back to their senses and are putting emphasis on youth) and certainly not Arsenal who emphasize development and prudent spending.
Are they still ambitious? Getty Images.
The list of ambitious clubs would normally include AC Milan, who, when earlier this year, they defeated Arsenal in the first leg of the Champions League, dismissed Arsenal as unambitious because of this parsimony with money.
Massimiliano Allegri, the AC Milan coach, stated at this time (via The Telegraph) that "For me it's impossible to win the title or Champions League without signing big players. You will never do it without big players. That goes for Arsenal, Milan or any big club."
If you substitute "Champions League" with "the League," you find that the sentiment remains the same.
What is interesting is that just about five months after this statement, Milan themselves have sold two of their best players, and have, in addition, gotten rid of five of their most senior and reliable players.
But, what is more interesting here is that in the place of these players, Milan have signed only players who have been available at bargain prices, players like Francesco Acerbi and Cristián Zapata, who, as Paolo Bandini of The Guardian notes, useful as they may turn out to be, "are hardly signings to set the pulse racing."
Suddenly, Milan appears to have turned Arsenal, so that if one were to take Allegri at his words, Milan have become less ambitious.
This example, though, hardly constitutes a refutation of his sentiment. If anything, it justifies it.
AC Milan have begun their Serie A campaign with a home defeat, and that should hardly constitute a surprise, since this is a team that no longer has the old dependables: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta, Antonio Cassano, Clarence Seedorf, Mark van Bommel and Gennaro Gattuso, the players that Milan have sold this summer, who, as of yet, have not been replaced.
That a team, which is to win titles, should have players of superior quality is no rocket science, and since in the current football atmosphere it takes a great deal of money to acquire quality players, it stands to reason that ambition would be equated with big spending, since it's through this only (or so it seems) can quality players be acquired.
To this extent, the sentiment is sound.
The only problem is that it only presents one facet of the issue. The other is where this money comes from. Or asked differently: How are "ambitious" clubs able to afford these very expensive quality players?
The well-known answer is that they don't.
The smugness with which Allegri spoke in March, was birthed from the assurance that his club belonged in the company of the ambitious, undergirded as it was by Silvio Berlusconi's personal fortune.
That is, AC Milan hasn't been ambitious through the club's own generated money, but through the will and charter of Berlusconi, who, as the owner of the club, can spend (or not spend) as much money as he desires irrespective of whether or not the financial ledgers are balanced as is customary in normal businesses.
Football, of course, isn't about business; some fans would have you know. Nor is football about money; the same fans are wont to add, the last of which we can dismiss out of hand as stupid and nonsensical.
If sports or football isn't about money, why, then, do you urge with the incessancy of a locomotive engine that this or that club should spend, spend, spend? Isn't spending about money?
As of the first—the deal about football not being about business—it is the thinking that informs the current unsustainable atmosphere in the sport, where clubs spend money that they don't have.
And, the fact that this has put a number of clubs in troubled is regarded with ostensible incomprehension.
Santi Cazorla, the tale of whom should prove that Wenger is right to follow his current principle. Getty Images,
Normally, Arsenal wouldn't afford a player of Santi Cazorla's quality, but Malaga, one of the so-called "ambitious" clubs has been constrained to sell, having run into financial difficulty as a result of their rich patron's refusal to continue to finance the club.
Milan's fans are still hopeful that some spending will be done before the transfer window closes on August 31, but even if this happens, it is left to be seen what quality of players would be brought in. It might turn out that Milan have indeed turned Arsenal.
And, this is the situation the most loyal fans of Arsenal tend to warn about. What happens if a rich owner decides not to spend? Or, decides to leave altogether, as has happened in the case of Malaga?
Robin van Persie
When Manchester United's fans sent their cheers to the rafters on Saturday in celebration of Robin van Persie's goal and the player himself celebrated by sliding on the pitch facing his newest admirers, my immediate feelings were that this set of people were reaping were they hadn't sown.
But again, I couldn't fault them since they had paid for the player, whom they now celebrate. I couldn't, however, help the tingling feeling of loss that warmed my bosom.
The goal, according to popular sentiment, was symbolic of Manchester United's ambition on the one hand and of Sir Alex Ferguson's wisdom on the other, just as, at the same time, it represented lack of ambition on the part of Arsenal and foolishness on the part of Arsene Wenger.
This sell out is Manchester United's new darling. Getty Images.
In Amy Lawrence's telling, selling Robin van Persie to Manchester United, Arsenal's bitterest rival, must have been humiliating to Wenger. This is inferred from the following, part of her referenced article above:
Looking at the bigger picture, Spurs can reflect over their Modric experience with some satisfaction. They enjoyed four years of service from the Croat, doubled their money when it came to his departure, and avoided the humiliation of selling to a direct rival.
So, Wenger hasn't only been foolish, he has also been humiliated, and one would suppose that the idea of humiliation will only become more concrete if Manchester goes on to enjoy a successful season, helped by Robin van Persie, and Arsenal don't.
Already, the idea that two draws constitute a disaster in a season that has barely begun is gathering momentum, so that every wet-behind-the air "Arsenal fan" who can type feels constrained to offer an opinion on the issue: the wisdom that Wenger is mad, or that Arsenal have no business playing to draws.
Note the following exchanges:
In a mad world, the sane person becomes the mad man.
But, here's what I think, and here I revert to my presumptuous mode. It isn't that Wenger is mad. What is happening is that the world can't abide by the person whose action exposes its foolishness.
The presumptuous aspect is that it reminds me of Socrates who, as a matter of principle, chose to drink the hemlock even though opportunity was available for him to escape Athens and save his own life.
Wenger can save himself by turning Mancini. Refuse to support the board's decision to be prudent with the club's finances, but shout and complain at every opportunity about the need for new players.
But, we know that, being the principled person that he is, he won't. He'd rather figuratively die like Socrates, and this is where the parable lies: Whoever loves the world, the world will love him back; whoever opposes it, will be hated by it.
Is there any wonder, then, that Wenger is hated so much by the newsmakers and by a section of so-called Arsenal "fans"?
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