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Death by a Thousand Cats: Thoughts on Arsenal

Ambassador Londo Mollari: But this – this, this, this is like being nibbled to death by… what are those Earth creatures called? Feathers, long bill, webbed feet… go ‘quack’…
Ambassador Vir Cotto: Cats.
Ambassador Londo Mollari: Cats. Being nibbled to death by cats.

By now every soccer fan has seen or heard of the scene that happened during this past weekend’s Emirates Cup.  In two different occasions, Arsenal managed to turn winning positions into draws.  That they happened during a preseason tournament of friendlies became immaterial.  That the second draw occurred against legend Thierry Henry’s New York Red Bulls was secondary.  The frustration that boiled over last season reared up again to strike:

You can hear the boos the moment the final whistle blows.

We now stand eleven days from the first competitive game of the new Premier League season (a return trip to Newcastle United, where last season, Arsenal capitulated in spectacular fashion and surrendered a 4-4 lead) and the signs are not good.   Consider that:

The club has made only one purchase that can affect the Starting XI – buying Lille forward/winger Gervinho for approximately 10 million pounds.  The other purchase, Charlton right back Carl Jenkinson, will not feature heavily this season unless Bakary Sagna is out for an extended period.  At most he will take part in the Carling Cup and early rounds of the FA Cup.  And that’s if Emmanuel Eboue is sold to Galatasaray as rumors say will happen.  

The protracted purchase of a CB has now entered into it’s eight month.  First it was Wigan’s Christopher Samba in January – before we heard that Thomas Vermaelen would return and be “like a new signing”.  Then it was either Samba or Bolton’s Gary Cahill who were the targets in May.  Now we are apparently bidding for Everton’s Phil Jagielka.  So far, the only accepted fact is that we did present a high bid for Wigan’s Phil Jones, but that he spurned us in favor of moving to Manchester United – the second time in as many years, we’ve been pipped by the red devil cnuts for a central defender.

Our biggest sale was LB Gael Clichy to Manchester City.  This isn’t a necessarily bad thing.  I had been of the opinion that Clichy had reached a plateau and needed to move to continue growing.  My concern is that there is no mention of interest on a replacement – Arsene apparently happy with understudy Kieran Gibbs as the new starter.  This in spite of the fact that Gibbs has yet to complete one full season injury-free and has, at best, shown only flashes of potential.  And that his immediate deputy is Armand Traore, who’s coming back after a poor season at Juventus and has the same amount of experience as Gibbs. 

Meanwhile, the following players have yet to leave the club: Manuel Almunia, Sebastien Squillaci, Emmanuel Eboue, Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela.  While I’m not crying out for any of them to leave, I do understand the greater point that others are making:  we can’t bring in new players because we can’t move our unwanted players on.  And we can’t move them on because their contracts are so rich that most clubs can’t add them to their wage bills – at least, not without a major discount in the transfer fee by the club.  That ain’t happening.

And, at the core of all the drama, lies the vortex that has dragged Arsenal’s summer into such a mess: the Cesc Fabregas situation.  This is the reason why Samir Nasri hasn’t been sold – because the fear remains that Cesc will go and there is a need for a replacement.  Look, I get it.  He wants to play for his boyhood club, Barcelona.  Barcelona want him to play for them – he’s Catalan, a World Cup/Euros winner and one of the five best central midfielders in the world today.  But after 2 years of tapping him up, the simple fact remains that Barcelona do not have the money to buy him.  Period. End of sentence.  The most successful club in modern football is so deep in the red that they cannot fund this transfer. 

Someone, whether Wenger or Gazidis or Peter Hill-Wood (who loves the sound of his own voice), should have come out and told them “Fernando Torres went for 50 million pounds.  Kaka’ went for 56 million pounds.  We’ll give you a hometown discount of 45 million.  When you have it, call us.  Otherwise, get lost!” 

But that’s the problem at Arsenal right now: a distinct and serious lack of leadership.    Who is in charge of our transfers?  Is it Gazidis or Wenger?  Who comes up with the valuations and the offers?  Who’s supposed to keep an eye out on expiring contracts like Nasri’s and Clichy’s?  If players will not commit beyond their last season, who makes the decision that a player should be sold?  Who makes decisions?  Who chooses and speaks for Arsenal Football Club?

Yes, a lot of what I described falls under the auspices of Arsene Wenger’s position as manager.  But he is not the President, Congress and Supreme Court of Arsenal.  There is a reason a club is structured to create checks and balances on every position.  And perhaps that’s the crux of it.  There just is no check or balance on any position of power within the club.  Who holds Arsene’s feet to the fire?  It’s supposed to be the board, but they’ve been comfortable in letting Arsene do as he will because his ways took little money out of the club while raising its overall value.  It is amusing to hear David Dein or Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith or Peter Hill-Wood talk about the club when, after all, they sold their shares to Stan Kroenke or Alisher Usmanov.  Who holds the board to task for not doing their jobs?   

This vacuum of authority can be felt everywhere.  By now, Cesc Fabregas should have been sold or Barcelona should have been told to get lost.  By now, Almunia and Eboue and whoever else was declared surplus to the cause at the end of May should have been sold.  By now, preparations should be culminating for the new season.  By now, Stan Kroenke should have spoken to the club’s supporters – it doesn’t have to involve a Q&A session with the AST, but an interview wouldn’t have killed him. 

I’m not worried about any transfers Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United or any other club make.  I don’t care what Tottenham or Liverpool do to catch up to us.  The fact remains that, for the last few years, Arsenal has been its own biggest opponent.  When there’s been a crying need for adding a bit more talent in January, we’ve not done it.  When there’s an opening for highly-touted players to step up and carry the team, they’ve shied away and let the team down.  When promises have been made, they have not been kept.

That’s what led to the scenes this past weekend.  This isn’t frustration over losing out on our own preseason tournament or drawing two games that didn’t count.  Every story and every failure has become a nibble that equals into a big bite of the support from many lifelong Arsenal fans.  As opposed to a major crisis like the one that brought Portsmouth or Leeds down or even a  midsized storm like the ownership of Liverpool by Tom Hicks and George GIllet, there isn’t one individual crisis or event that can be attributed as the cause of all these issues.  But the run of poor luck or poor decision making or poor leadership has given birth to a sense of anger, frustration and dislike for many of the people associated with Arsenal.  That there doesn’t seem to be an awareness of this malaise from within the club, or worse, a disregard for supporters’ feelings is a concern.  Maybe they think that everything can be changed or dismissed with a few wins.

For their sake and for the club’s sake, I hope they’re right.  No player, no manager, no one is bigger than the club.            

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