In May it will be eight years since Arsenal Football Club won a major trophy (the Emirates Cup does not count). The club is currently under the stewardship of a board of directors so reactionary, rumour has it that, at present, they are No.3 in Boko Haram’s top ten list of “Inspirational Examples of Conservative Leadership In a Modern Institution”. These are testing times for Arsenal fans.
Stirrings of discontent characterised by rather polite upper middle class booing at the Emirates and a slightly more vociferous offering at away fixtures have been proferred in response to sloppily conceded goals and inconsistent performances. It seems that the patience of supporters previously satisfied by stadium debt repayment, the “trophy” that is Champions League football and a healthy bottom line has finally reached its limit.
No doubt helped on its way by the perceived failure to hold on to established stars in recent seasons. And who can blame them? Rising ticket prices, no trophies and obvious flaws with the team are enough to provoke the ire of any fan base, right? Wrong. It is time for Arsenal fans to look into the mirror.
Man for man, the Arsenal starting XI is the equal of any team in the Premier League. Depending on the weather and whether you prefer your Spanish playmakers clean shaven or slightly more grizzled, on current form a combined XI of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal’s best players would probably see three players make that list (Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs in case you were wondering).
To those who question player recruitment and retention policy, yes Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy have won the league with Manchester City but it would be unduly generous to describe either of those players as integral to such success. In any case, in the form of Kieran Gibbs and Santi Cazorla Arsenal have found themselves replacements of at least equal quality.
The sale of Robin van Persie has unquestionably strengthened a rival but transfers to rivals constantly happen in football - Luis Figo from Barcelona to Real Madrid or, on a slightly more mundane scale, Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea to Liverpool (Liverpool are going to finish above Chelsea this season by the way, you heard it here first) – and his goals have been replaced by Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott.
The transfer of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona can be equated to Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Real Madrid from Manchester United (it’s safe to say that no one accuses United of being a selling club) and the less said about Alex Song the better. No Alex, you are not Socrates reincarnate, defending isn’t a lifestyle choice for defensive midfielders and this is me definitely not laughing at your complete lack of impact at Barcelona.
Faced with the ownership structures of Manchester City and Chelsea the Arsenal board of directors found themselves with a stark choice. Incur massive debt on transient ever depreciating assets or accept that at this moment in time Arsenal simply cannot compete in terms of transfer fees and rely on the continued brilliance of a manager that has secured Champions League football 15(!) years in a row and created a culture within the club that will endure not just for this cycles’ Arsenal side but for generations to come.
Dissatisfied grumbling, booing and complaints simply reflects a failure to appreciate what Arsenal football club is today - a stable institution that has a culture in place with the potential to create lasting success in much the same model that Barcelona have done in Spain - and the, albeit less shiny and infinitely more ethereal achievements of the club. You may not be able to polish a footballing culture or stability but such foundations but they will be around long after the sheen has faded from the replica trophies sitting in Chelsea’s cabinet and Roman Abramovich’s super yacht.
Granted, no amount of positive support is going to endow Andre Santos with the ability to defend or Gervinho with the composure to deliver a killer pass or shot but it will take the pressure off an undoubtedly talented group of young players which in turn will make the end of that trophy drought sooner rather than later.