When you lose, reasons don’t matter, the little things that make up the loss, don’t matter. All that matters is the result, and the result often reflects performance; even when it doesn’t, you write as if it has, and if you don’t, others will.
But we won last night. We won after playing relatively average for most of the night, below average for spells, and allowing Anderlecht far more space and creativeness that we’ve allowed any team below the elite in my entire time as an Arsenal supporter. We won in the most special, emphatic, beautiful way: two quick goals in the dying moments of the game. I can’t even begin to imagine how it felt for the away fans.
It was the perfect birthday present for Arsene Wenger, who turned 65 yesterday.
I was delighted with the win. It was only Anderlecht, but it was telling that the squad absolutely needed it; they need to score goals and win the supposed “easier” games even when they’re playing badly.
I have a lot of sympathy for Arsenal at the moment, and Arsene too. After going on a 12 away win streak last season (a Premier League record) and showing incredible form for almost 12 months before faltering at the final hurdle and picking ourselves up to win the F.A. Cup, it seemed like Arsene had got Arsenal back to where many felt they belonged.
A new season starts and he decides to go with a new formation that accommodates Ozil, Wilshere and Ramsey in the same team. Two of them get injured and the formation appears weak. Suddenly everyone’s forgotten about 2013 Arsenal and 2013 Wenger, the F.A. Cup win seems miles away and disgruntled fans appear everywhere.
Since the season started, Arsenal have been missing a plethora of riches, Giroud, Ramsey, Walcott, Arteta, Debuchy and most recently, Ozil and Koscielny. When Arsene Wenger thinks about his starting 11 this season, Ramsey, Ozil, Koscielny, Arteta, Debuchy and Walcott are absolutely in it, almost always. One could also argue that an on-form Welbeck goes ahead of Giroud and vice versa.
It seems that in the Premier League, ignoring injuries is a norm, especially if the injuries are a norm. If Chelsea were missing any key players, it would have been mentioned time and time again had they dropped points, similarly to how it was when Man City were missing Yaya Toure when Arsenal drew them earlier in the season.
What’s more depressing is that the big spenders in the league have become the norm. The ever exciting, ever buying, the ever cost inflating clubs have become the norm at the top of the league. And the non-conformist to this elite club, have always been made fun of for not spending at their level, or for not conforming to a business strategy that involves spending half a billion over three years.
Arsenal have just started to catch up slowly in this elite spending level. They still aren’t even close to building the type of football purchasing empire Man City and Chelsea have built over the last 6 to 10 years, and aren’t getting closer to what Manchester United are as a spending power. It takes some years to catch up to the fact that you can compete for players financially, but contract-wise, you cannot directly compete until you raise your clubs wages over time. Should Arsenal offer twice as much as Chelsea in fees, the player himself could opt for Chelsea purely because the contract is triple the amount Arsenal offer without breaking the wage structure or style like it would at Arsenal. The quality of players Arsenal have now are far better quality than they had 2 or 3 years ago, the quality of players being purchased have increased, yet it still needs reminding that there’s a reason why Arsenal aren’t quite in that elite market yet.
The bigger picture is (if you even care for it), Chelsea have spent more than Arsenal every year for the last decade, more on wages, on managers, on players, on pretty much everything that needed funding from Roman Abramovich.
It is no surprise that they get the players they want with a chequebook like that. Even with FFP, it’s evident how loans/buy back fees cleverly circumvent that. Lukaku is a brilliant example of this strategy. They wouldn’t be the club they are now if FFP was introduced in 2004; they’ve built a great base where they can get around these things and survive in a *harsher* climate.
Whilst the basic Gooner asks for more spending, Arsenal just went through a summer breaking all kinds of records, and still came out as one of the middling spenders in the top tier of clubs this summer. Even with that, they still didn’t buy all the players required. Our budget is at the top tier of middle weight; it’s no surprise that we’ve failed to reach the faux promised land.
Many have argued that Arsenal had £120 to £160 million to spend this summer (including wages), and after spending between £80m-£100m on players + wages, does it really matter that there’s £20-40m left untouched? No wise club spends every last penny to catch up, but it hurts the fans to see players like Arteta/Flamini not being upgraded on, or replaced because they are vital positions on the field. Even if we had spent that last 20, 30, or £40m (with the assumption that no deal in January is in place), would it have guaranteed us better performances if ultimately the balance of our attacking players is lacking? After all, Flamini, for all he can offer (many would say, not much at the wild old age of 30), has oddly been one of our most consistent players this season.
It is hard to argue that a 4th CB wouldn’t have helped us after we’ve decided to convert Monreal into a satan fearing man at first, and then central defender. We all know that we’re after another defender and that he will come at some point; the January transfer window will be filled with top notch journalism.
Then you also have articles like these, which showcase said top notch journalism. Essentially promoting the idea of spending, not buying the right player. These are so easy to write and require little to no research. After all, spending doesn’t solve any of the problems Arsenal have right now. All Arsenal needs to do is to avoid injuries, that should be the primary goal, but it is something that cannot be controlled, not completely.
When the transfer window was over, many Arsenal fans were adamant we were one or two players away from competing for a title. The elusive defensive midfielder, or the defensive midfielder that could also operate as a defender. Once you get a few injuries, that image changes, suddenly we needed 4 or 5 players, it doesn’t work like that with any club.
Arsenal have more injuries than any club in the Premier League.
Arsenal suffers more fouls than any other club, yet have the highest amount of yellow cards themselves.
It doesn’t all add up, does it?
There seems to be a lot of unanswered questions so early on, the loss against Chelsea was Arsenal’s first loss in almost a dozen Premier League games, but the mood is foul within the Arsenal camp, our chemistry and balance are not anywhere near what it feels like it should be after the summer purchases.
But isn’t that to be expected after many new faces and many new injuries?
I suppose it depends on who you are and what you’re willing to accept based on what proof you’re given & what you believe that you want from a team/manager/club.
The most urgent thing you could want at The Arsenal is that the players adapt to the new formation/style as soon as possible. If they can’t, the manager hopefully reverts them back to what works; he’s been doing it for decades, one just hopes it’s not too late. I imagine he takes it to heart that nothing is clicking at the right time and that the players are taking time to adapt due to the injuries. He knows the fault is his own, and also that his players are not executing his vision yet and it’s heavily linked to post-World Cup hangovers and the situations which cause the injuries. You can call it bad luck if you wish. When we play teams like Chelsea and have Ramsey, Giroud, Arteta, Walcott, and Debuchy out, it doesn’t seem to matter to people nor the media. No do circumstances like the early red card not given to Gary Cahill that could have changed the entire dynamic of the game and given us confidence to go on to win (or get even more injuries) at 0-0.
But none of that matters.
It doesn’t matter that what Chelsea’s squad costs, or has cost over the years and how far ahead of us in financial spending they are and continue to be, results are all that matters.
It doesn’t matter that Manchester United, Liverpool or oil rich juggernauts Manchester City have time and time again outspent us in the last transfer windows over the last decade.
It doesn’t matter that Arsenal are owned by a billionaire who refuses to put the club in debt out of a promise made to a dying Danny Fizmann.
It doesn’t matter that Kroenke doesn’t wish to pump his money in the club out of respect for the core Arsenal values or his financial gain. It just doesn’t matter.
Anything else is an excuse, and you’d be silly to remind anyone of it, because context means nothing when you lose, or maybe, maybe it totally does.