I was amused, when a few weeks ago following a poor 0-0 draw with Aston Villa, Arsenal fans started chanting “we want our Arsenal back”. Admittedly, Arsenal’s form has not been great recently – winning only two of their last 5 games, and struggling to beat bottom of the table QPR. However, the season is young, and they currently sit 7th in the table. We can reasonably expect Everton and West Bromwich Albion to fall away, Spurs to once again implode and Chelsea to hire and fire another 2 managers before the season is over, giving Arsenal a free run at 3rd place.
The question I have to ask is “Which Arsenal do you want back?”. As a long suffering Spurs fan, I can only look enviously at how Arsenal have set themselves up as a club. All the things that are good in football: youth development, developing a nice playing style, sound financial management, and long-term faith in a manager, can be found at Arsenal.
People complain that Arsenal last won the Premier League in 2003/04 season, but it’s telling that this was the same year that Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea. Basically, Arsenal haven’t won a trophy since the Billionaires got in the game. This is hardly the fault of Arsene Wenger or the current board. Fingers point at money raised from sales not being spent on new players, but of course there is no obligation from any club to ever do this. Arsenal are currently one of the most profitable clubs in the Premier League – but a lot of that comes from property dealings in recent years, and this source of cash won’t be on tap forever.
Another complaint is that too often, Arsenal let their top players go. Again, this is slightly incorrect. They were offered top dollar for Robin Van Persie, their injury-prone aging star near the end of his contract. We won’t know for a few more years whether this was the right move or not. Cesc Fabregas was obviously itching to leave rather than Arsenal looking to sell, and the same applies to the $$ signs that appeared in the eyes of Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure and Gael Clichy. More often than not, Wenger gets it right – he can’t have much regret about making a pile off the sales of Emmanuel Adebayor and Nicolas Anelka. The bottom line is that unless you’re a rich man’s plaything, you can’t compete financially with the big 3 in England or the big 2 in Spain.
The one thing that would bother me as an Arsenal fan, is the battle taking place for ownership of the club between the American Stan Kroenke and Uzbek businessman Alisher Usmanov. Kroenke is the majority holder (and well known to US sports fans), but Usmanov won’t sell his shares and is actually a wealthier man by some distance. Usmanov has been critical of the lack of ambition shown by Arsenal, but not so critical as to try buying Kroenke out.
In one way, I hope the complaining fans get what they want. As a Spurs fan, I hope they get rid of Wenger and watch it all get much worse very quickly. As someone who likes football run the right way, I hope Arsenal can continue being the model for how things should be run.