Arsenal—are they set to push forward and onward, not only repairing and consolidating this season, but also pushing on from there and becoming the dominant force that they once were known as, or are we beginning to see the first signs of decay, signs that would lead the club to the kind of devolution that overtook Liverpool in the last decade?
I consider the question in the following article, the first of a series on the subject. I will return again and again to it from different perspectives in the coming days.
Arsenal, Wenger and the Idea of “Quality”
One of the great pleasures of existence is access to the vast body of knowledge around us, even things we are only aware of peripherally, or things that we might not necessarily subscribe to. Nevertheless that knowledge is there, and it is part of the tapestry of things that enrich our lives.
In light of this I cite the following example. About a decade ago, I recall listening to a popular but very effective musical setting of the Parable of the Builders. This parable comes to mind when I think of the current Arsenal. For those who do not know the story, here's how it was told:
Everyone therefore, who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn't fall, for it was founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine, and doesn't do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.
Two different interpretations are available for me from this story.
The first points to the feeling one experiences when one watches transfer seasons come and go, and sees other teams strengthen their squads while Arsenal hide behind the now all too familiar story, the one about buying only “quality," as though Arsenal hold the monopoly to identifying quality.
The statement itself is true, however.
You don't want to buy dross, nor do you want to buy just for the sake of it, but the problem with this lies exactly in the word, "monopoly."
Demba Ba: a great striker.
Was it Arsenal that identified him? Or to put it differently, wasn't he already proving his worth at 1899 Hoffenheim? Were Arsenal not aware of him? When he kept banging in the goals there wasn’t he quality enough then? Has he not shown quality enough since he came to the Premier League? Or are we saying he is not good enough for Arsenal?
For Chelsea he is certainly good enough.
At Arsenal he would only strengthen us. But perhaps we didn't have the luxury Chelsea had, the one that made them afford the £7 million buy-out amount to acquire the striker.
Michu, was until recently not very well known: Is he not quality? Papiss Cissé, is he not quality enough, too? The fact is this, there is quality out there. Why, every other club except Arsenal is discovering this quality.
I am beginning to suspect that this idea of "quality" is becoming a veneer of excuse. One that if not curbed will become delusional.
On the other hand, though, I agree completely with Arsene Wenger that you have to buy quality. What I don't agree with is that it is that difficult to find this quality. Although, of course, he is right that strikers of the quality of Robin van Persie are hard to come by.
Now there are two arguments to this very issue.
I can defend Arsenal and Wenger on this very issue, but I can also offer criticism. My point here is to say that there is a time when Wenger and Arsenal need to temper their expectation and definition of "quality."
Perhaps, that "quality" is right there in front of us in that player we could just go for and strengthen our hand with.
Having said this, readers who know anything about me know that I don't believe that January is necessarily the best time to buy. Nevertheless, you cannot say I won't buy at all. When there is need, by all means buy and strengthen your hand.
In any case, as the transfer window progresses, one feels that there are those who are building on the rock and those who are building on sand. The difference will become apparent at the end of the season.
The second interpretation from this story is more fundamental and pertains to building for the future. Which teams are going to go the way of Liverpool in the coming decade and which are going to go the way of Manchester United? What will make the difference in each case?
Arsenal, by all intents and purposes, are building for the future (or so they claim to be). The stadium is already there, an investment that will continue to strengthen our hand in the coming years. (I call this building on the rock.)
Where doubt remains is in the intention of the owner and those running the club at the moment. What are their interests and motives? This is a big question, the answer to which will either make or break Arsenal, not just this season but in the immediate future.
Stan Kroenke, Ivan Gazidis and Arsene Wenger need to answer it carefully.
As they do so, it is probably a good place to sneak in Robert Frost's classic. (Indulge me please, readers.)
The Road Not Taken
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I have been “unavailable,” let’s just put it like that, but I have kept “my readers” in mind. (I do not “own” you guys, of course.)
Many thanks to those of you who either messaged me privately of left one on my Bulletin Board inquiring after me and urging me to keep contributing to the conversation.
I believe I’m back, and happily so. I enjoy our conversations and our ride together as Arsenal supporters.
Let’s hope for a victory against Manchester City this Sunday.