Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday August 14 2009
A football club is worth more than the sum of its parts. Whilst the players on the pitch are the ultimate symbol of the team and the club, there are many other factors that feed into them. The most obvious link in that chain is the manager and his press conference yesterday afternoon; he admitted that this was a "massive season" for the team. Wenger spoke determinately about having eschewed the advances of Real Madrid to continue his "vision" as he calls it for the current side. He also acknowledged the negativity that has enveloped his project- at the end of last season he also pinpointed it as a reason that it stalled in 2008-09. Arsene seems to have developed a very cavalier and defiant attitude in the face of the naysayers and I applaud him for it. Like most idealists, Wenger is uncompromising and I do not believe he is deluding himself when he speaks passionately about his belief in this group of players. I honestly think he believes that they can deliver. His challenge is getting the players themselves to believe it. Ending the so called "trophy draught" will go some way to opening the floodgates I feel. A Cultured Left Foot wrote an interesting piece yesterday suggesting that perhaps taking the latter stages of the Carling Cup more seriously may well be the quickest and most attainable route of penetrating that barrier. The reality of the modern game is that finishing 4th is more glimmering pot of gold at the end of the rainbow than either of the domestic cups. For instance, in 2008, Portsmouth and Tottenham secured the respective domestic trophies- are we really to believe that neither of these clubs would swap their current position for our suicide inducing predicament?
But Arsene knows (see what I did there?) that trust in his project is fading. A lack of activity in the transfer market so far is seeing dissenting voices rise again, (certainly lack of activity in bringing players in anyway). Wenger is under no illusions that he needs to deliver this season, because faith in the project is wavering and critical voices are becoming hoarser and hoarser at the Emirates. Wenger is in the penultimate season of his contract and, to my mind, therefore in the penultimate season of his reign at Arsenal. For the second half of his premiership not to have been written off as a relative decline, he knows that he has to put something on the sideboard this season. Without doubt, this campaign marks his biggest challenges- to overcome his doubters and to instil belief in his team; he will have to create a siege mentality that turns his talented boys into battle hardened men. This is a big season for Wenger; he can usurp that negativity and stand triumphant in May, smiling and whispering "I told you so" or else face the music of the dissenters. This is where we, the supporters come in. This is a big season for us too.
We all know there are certain things about the club at the moment that probably leave a good many of us staring at the business end of a hissy fit. I really have no desire to rouse a sleeping dog once more, but inside our home ground at least, the home support has to stop behaving like such a bunch of spoiled whining pussies and start channelling their energy into getting behind the team. A wise man once said, "There is no logical reason for an intelligent man to think with the majority, by definition, there are already enough people to do that." Well there are already enough journalists and rival supporters banking on Arsenal failing without our own supporters deliberately and intentionally making things more difficult for their own players. We do not completely have to buy into "the vision" if we don`t want to, but I fail to see the point and increasing the chances of its failure by barracking our own players at games. If you do not want to vocally encourage the team, the best thing you can do is keep your mouth shut. At the risk of sounding like a whining pussy myself; the vocal malcontents are spoiling the enjoyment of home games for the rest of us, who do actually give a pitchers put about this team and will do long after the gravy train has pulled out of English Premiership station. Some home games are becoming a living battle and I sometimes exit the ground feeling the lines on my forehead deepening all the time due to the frustration of having to listen to the whingeing drivel some of our fans come out with. Whinge after the match, on the tube or in the pub, that`s what I do. But when the team is playing, booing them because they are drawing 0-0 at half time is hardly likely to help is it? The supporters were visibly and audibly against the team at times last season and for this team`s chances of success to increase, that is going to have to stop. So leave your egos at the turnstiles, put your dummies in the big wheely bin and you can collect them back at the end of the game. Let`s make life difficult for the opposition rather than becoming the opposition ourselves, eh?
Relative to the success of the team on the pitch and the happiness of the supporters, a corollary conclusion can be drawn to the Board of Directors. A mixture of a lack of placatory silverware and the media charm offensive of Red & White Holdings, has seen the current board come under fire. A trophy or some form of tangible success will go a long way to alleviating that pressure. Football fans are prone to drawing simplistic conclusions- had Didier Drogba spooned wide in front of an open goal at Wembley in April after rounding Fabianski, only to see Arshavin smash home a winning goal minutes later, many dissenters would have been more easily proselytized into their methods of running the club. Football is a game of very fine margins. The current battle for control in the boardroom will have to be resolved swiftly and satisfactorily, otherwise the team`s shortcomings will be solicitously seized by the circling vultures looking to burden the club with debt as sticks to beat the current regime with- thus ensuring the vicious cycle of negativity continues. The manner in which Usmanov and his erstwhile chums are conducting the media assault puts one in mind of a fascist regime- attempting to turn the civilians against the government with vituperative and self serving lies, all the time painting themselves as the knights in glistening white armour. It is clear that Arsene and Gazidis are advocates of the current regime, to usurp it now would be ludicrous.
Gazidis too has a big season ahead, his presence on how Arsenal conducts itself in the media has obviously been felt this summer. But Arsenal continue to lag behind the United`s and Chelsea`s in media management as well as in commercial expansion. I work in King`s Cross and not one single stall or outlet here carries a copy of the official club magazine- despite the fact that the Emirates is less than four miles away. On the shelf of the local newsstand this lunch time I could have bought the Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Celtic, Glasgow Rangers, Tottenham and West Ham official monthly magazines- but not the mouthpiece of the Champions League club within walking distance. A number of Arsenal`s sponsorship deals are up for renewal soon whilst the club`s TV channel is off air eighteen months after its inception with no sign of it reappearing in the near future. Gazidis will be charged with speeding up the evolution of Arsenal as a commercial enterprise in the next few months and it`s a very big job indeed.
So, in conclusion, it`s a big season for the manager, the supporters, the Board, the players and the CEO. The phrase 'make or break` is strewn around with an abandon that is all too liberal, but this campaign will see the conclusions of a few civil wars threatening to illuminate the club for the wrong reasons. Whether the natives are predominantly placated or disgruntled will be answered in May. For my own part, I cannot quite work out if I think Arsenal are a couple of small steps away from greatness or teetering on the precipice of mediocrity. One thing we can do as supporters is play our part at matches and actually, you know, will our team to win rather than sitting grumpily and waiting for it to fail. In the meantime, the Manager, the CEO and the Board are going to have to do everything in their power to up the ante and steer this team to the heights that have been promised for some years now. I think there has been a slight air of complacency about the club of late which the club`s most prominent figures are going to have to shake from the foundations, we can do our part by raising the roof.LD.
Date:Friday August 14 2009
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