Making balls float is a start old pal...
In late August 2011, in the aftermath of the 8-2 drubbing Arsene Wenger’s forlorn Arsenal side had suffered at Old Trafford I received an email from a friend.
He told me his 10 year old son - an Arsenal fan - was in tears and swearing at him. Now, this in itself was quite an amusing scene to imagine. What wasn’t so funny was when he told me his son has never seen Arsenal win anything. Ever.
It got me thinking about Jamie the 18 year old kid who sits next to me at Arsenal. We spend most of the games gnawing each other’s ears off about various upcoming away trips, questioning how Arteta is expected to protect the defence and be a playmaker, wondering what our actual formation is and whether the size of Gervinho’s forehead drags him downwards via the force of gravity.
Jamie is 18. He doesn’t remember George Graham, the Littlewoods cup victory in 1987, the defeat to Luton in 1988, Anfield ’89, the title winning ’91 season boasting just one defeat and one of the meanest defences in league history. In fact he doesn’t even remember the Double winning season of 1998. He does remember the Invincibles season. Just. He was nine at the time.
Since turning 10 in 2005, he has never seen us win another trophy. He’s luckier than my friend’s son. In a way. He’s savoured the sweet taste of success at least. But it’s a taste that has now become sour.
Those who are old enough to remember - yes it’s become that serious - know that Arsene Wenger is a genius. Or at least was as genius. The lad just knows him as a miserly grey haired man with no control over his team, the zipper of his jacket or, occasionally, his temper.
But Wenger is a genius. That’s been proven. Now he needs to go out and show it again.
What he should do – and this is just my opinion, I’m not a footballing genius - he should go in to see Ivan Gazidis tomorrow morning and demand some money off him. Then go out in the summer and spend £60-100m on world class players. Money that is sitting there in the club’s bank account, as will be revealed in April when the financial reports show the stadium debt cleared. Money that the long suffering fans have been pouring into the club’s coffers for seven years in order to build this stadium that threatens to become a coliseum of failure. A symbol of ‘nearly-but-not-quite-ness’.
There are many reasons he must do this. It’s not simply the gulf in class we were exposed to against Bayern Munich on Wednesday night, not just the chasm in terms of physical size and strength, skill, composure, mental strength, quality of passing, tackling and shooting. It’s the mental wellbeing of the supporters that is now coming under threat. It’s simply not fair. It’s psychological torture.
There are practical reasons too. The board and Wenger are obsessed with the threat of the FFF (Financial Fair Play rules) that will come in in two years’ time. Apparently the reluctance to spend is borne out of this fear. This makes no sense. The rules have not come into force yet. While United, City and Chelsea are splurging now in order to build really strong squads while they still can, we are going for the bargain bin basement approach. This will leave us woefully short and when we really have to spend big money, we won’t be able to because of the FFF. Buy big now and then keep the squad together.
Wenger appears to suffer from an overabundance of politeness in the transfer market. Where he should be raiding clubs in the financial tier below us for their brightest stars (Cavani from Napoli, Fellaini from Everton, Diame from West Ham, Cisse from Newcastle), he sees that approach as morally wrong.
“What interest do Napoli have in selling their best striker?” he asked in January.
Frankly, Mr Wenger, who cares what Napoli want? It’s our club you have to worry about. Strengthening our club. Preferably at the expense of rivals, be they domestic or European. Year after year the richest clubs of Europe come and hand pick our best player(s). We are powerless to stop it. And yet when the opportunity is there to approach clubs below us and buy their best talent, we don’t act.
We have allowed countless players – Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Ashley Young, Gary Cahill, Jack Rodwell and so forth – to go from smaller clubs to giant clubs without once thinking ‘hmmm…maybe we should be buying them up’.
This is the modern world of football we live in. It’s ruthless. There is no shame in buying players from smaller clubs. That’s how football works and in fact has always worked. You want a player you go and buy him. It provides the selling club with much needed income. Somewhere along the way Wenger has lost sight of that and instead has looked far and wide for some very poor players from very poor clubs who are not going to be offended by our approaches.
Wenger has had many chances. He has to show us again what made him a genius in the first place. He needs to get tough. He needs tougher players. He needs better players. He knows this from the evidence in front of his eyes.
For many fans, some of whom do not remember the glory days, and others not prepared to live on memories anymore, it’s come down to a simple choice. Buy or leave.