Our man inside the game says Arsene Wenger has fostered the kind of cosy, cushy dressing room that lacks the backbone to fight for his own future.
Is it just me or does it feel like a very long time ago since Claudio Ranieri was sacked? All that drama! The poor old messiah of the midlands knifed in the back by the mediocrities he had turned into champions. And then weirdly a man called Shakespeare entered from stage left and announced that, no, no, the fault is not in our stars. Hey presto! Shakespeare got the job and the stars all began playing again.
The world of football had a Princess Di moment over it all. While everybody waited for Elton John to recycle a ditty I tried to squeeze out a tear or two but I couldn’t manage it.
My shrink said I was emotionally constipated but the fact is that I once played in a side that got relegated from the Premier League. When it happened people lost their jobs; not players but admin staff, club shop staff. At our training ground we had a lovely old couple who’d been there for years. They cleaned the toilets and the showers and made us happy every day. They also lost their jobs. The kitman lost his assistant. They were all friends of ours, friends of the players.
How does it feel to drive into training in a nice car the day after relegation, still earning a fat wage and to see those friends coming in the opposite direction having lost everything. All because of you. It feels like pure shit.
We stuck with our manager at around the same time of the season as Leicester sacked Ranieri. It could have been avoided if the businessman at the top of the club had acted ruthlessly.
I’m not saying that the players at Leicester were great humanitarians. I’m saying we should pick and choose where our sympathies lie. Football is about winning. That’s why we keep score and give out medals.
Arsene Wenger has forgotten that. Somebody needs to put Arsenal out of his misery.
Funny, it’s about a year since Wenger made one of those statements which have become the landmarks of his sad decline. Talking about how he almost always sticks instead of twisting during transfer windows he basically blamed the old couple at the training ground.
“I’d spend £300m if I find the player and I had £300m,” he said. “Do not forget we are a club who has 600 employees who we have to have a responsibility to as well.”
Now I got relegated with a small club that hadn’t the time to grow big and strong on Premier League money. It was still wrong that ordinary people lost their jobs. Arsenal live on a different planet. Champions League qualification, disappointment, and money are a fixed part of their calendar and their budget.
When Wenger started blaming workers who earn a tenner an hour for his paralysis it was already time to go. Now a year on, he’s suffering death by a thousand cuts, betrayed by a weak dressing room which hasn’t the backbone to stand up and fight for anything in particular.
Whether you like the modern player or not (and being honest, the modern player doesn’t really care that much), at least the playing staff at Leicester this year and at Chelsea last year were decisive when it came to ousting Ranieri and Mourinho, respectively. They didn’t give press conferences about it or acknowledge their part in the coups, but when the writing was on the wall they made their feelings clear in the corridors of power. They were motivated by self-interest, not by worry about the old couple at the training ground — but self-interest is what professional sport is about.
Wenger is paying the price for his long-term policy of hiring nice chaps with no stomach for the fight. They won’t stand up for him on the field and they won’t stand up to him off the field. They stand for nothing. Sanchez is the only dissenting voice and also Arsenal’s only world class player. So the Chilean is like an exotic guest who farts loudly at a posh dinner party. Everybody just keeps on eating and pretending they haven’t noticed.
Wenger’s Arsenal have lived smugly within their comfort zone for so long that they have forgotten what it is like to be hungry for success and to be sickened to the stomach by failure.
For years they have snatched respectability from the jaws of triumph by folding the tents against the really big boys on days when everything was on the line. This year, though, they have been dropping points to the likes of West Brom, Watford, Bournemouth, Everton… They’ve been humiliated in Europe and are in sixth place now, with City, Spurs, United, and the dreaded away trip to Stoke still on their dance card.
Being a top-four club for a few seasons should have been the springboard to greatness in any club with genuine ambition. At Arsenal, balancing the books every year and charging exorbitant prices for season tickets has become the limit of their ambition.
Maybe Wenger is just satisfying the whims of his employers in settling for that every season. If that is the case, it is a sad and pathetic way for a once great manager to see out his days. If Wenger has had his ambition surgically removed by accountants and chief executives than maybe the old Mourinho insult about being a specialist in failure was closer to the mark than we all thought.
We’ll know more abut Wenger when Arsenal start the search for his replacement. I’ve been boring people for at least two years with my view that Diego Simeone is the logical choice to fix all the things that are wrong with Arsenal. For years, Arsenal have been physically inferior to the teams that they consider to be their rivals. Now they are spiritually inferior too. Arsenal look like an outfit where the players are relaxed enough about looking each other and their manager in the eye after those games when they have failed abjectly.
Arsenal need blood on the dressing room walls before next August. They need to put up their statue to Wenger and move on.
Right now Arsenal remind me of the last season of Breaking Bad. The episodes which showed the decline of Walter White’s empire began with an episode called ‘Ozymandias’. We all glossed over that poem in school didn’t we? The one about collapse and decay following greatness. The one about the statue to the old king.
“Nothing beside remains,” it said ( when I checked it on Google just now), “round the decay of that colossal wreck.”
Arsenal aren’t a colossal wreck yet but it’s time for them to go to Madrid and find a wartime general who can save them from themselves.
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