By Tony Attwood
Since we won the FA Cup that question has been more puzzling than ever.
It used to be that winning a trophy was doing well. But although the victory over Hull and the subsequent beating of Man C in the Charity Shield gave Mr Wenger some respite, it lasted little more than a week or two – if that.
Which really does raise the question – what does Mr Wenger, or whoever follows him, have to do to keep the aaa and their fellow travelling journalist colleagues off his back?
1. Win the league, defeating the oil billions of Man C and Chelsea, and the 30 years headstart on worldwide marketing that Man U had over Arsenal. That would most certainly be something. It is possible, but it is something that is going to take some extraordinary mix of input. A strong Premier League FFP would help us a lot – but for the moment it remains unclear if we are going to get that.
2. Win the Champions League – not only overcoming the oil billions of Man C and Chelsea, but the gas billions of any club Qatar throws money at and Real Mad with its seeming immunity from proper examination of its relationship with its local authority.
Fifa, of all people, have helped us a bit by taking on Barcelona’s appalling record with child transfers (so strongly lauded over the years in our national press incidentally), and Uefa has helped with FFP – but Man C did get their penalty reduced, and there is real uncertainty about Uefa’s approach to the multi-club ownership style of their board.
3. Win the league cup or FA Cup. But no. Seemingly that is not enough.
4. Stay in the Champions League. Again not enough given the endless tiresome commentary that fourth is not a trophy.
5. Become a dominant team playing with style. Well Arsenal were that in 2013 – we had the best record in that calendar year and certainly had the style – but that was clearly not enough, given the way the aaa narrative built up.
6. Signing big name players. This was a demand for a while – forgetting of course that our most successful players were signed when they were out of favour. Both Henry and Bergkamp came to Arsenal at times when their careers were hitting the buffers. But the attacks on Ozil show that big names and big spending are not enough. Alexis is a big name big cost hit, but I don’t hear Wenger getting any credit for this. The best I’ve heard of late is “imagine how bad Arsenal would be with out him”.
7. Develop young players. There we have been successful, but the criticism Ramsey took shows that this approach is not enough on its own. Ramsey, the Ox, Theo, Gibbs, Bellerin, Wilshere, Coquelin, Zelalem, Gnabry, Campbell, Martinez, Akpom all joined us young, but the criticism continues, so this is not enough, despite the fact that having 12 players who have come up through the club, in the first team of 30 or so players is very unusual.
8. Getting long winning runs. The 49 was a sensation, and might never be beaten. Another run like that however would not guarantee longevity for a manager – unless, as with Mr Wenger’s run, it also included winning the league.
9. Avoiding heavy defeats and lots of defeats. A heavy defeat loses the same number of points as a 1-0 defeat, but it seems to count for more these days.
10. Achieve things while not being affected by referee decisions. This is a hallmark of the aaa who tend to see the mentioning of increasing levels of referee bias against certain teams as making excuses.
So, working through it, it seems winning the Champions League or the Premier League is the only measure of success now. We’ve won the league 13 times in 109 years – the third highest achieving club in this regard. It seems whoever takes over next is going to have to up that ratio.
Of course it hasn’t always been like this. George Graham in his first season took Arsenal on a 10 match jaunt in which the club did not win a single game, and scored just two goals. But despite this, he ended his first season by being given a new five year contract.
The reason was that he won the league cup, and came fourth in the league and for a brief spell in his first season took the club to the top of the league. The story of that season is on the Arsenal History Society site.
But as we’ve seen none of this would be enough today.
That summer Graham brought in two new players – one from Leicester who were relegated that year, and one from Wimbledon – who had been signed by them when they were celebrating their rise from the fourth to the third division. Would that satisfy the aaa today? I doubt it. Which is unfortunate considering who they were.
My point is that by the exacting standards of today, George Graham’s success in his first year would not have been enough to get the aaa and the media off his back.
But then who would have been safe from the aaa? Herbert Chapman would have struggled, because he took five years to win the Cup (his first trophy) and six to win the league. But then in his seventh season Arsenal won nothing, and in his eighth season Arsenal were knocked out of the cup by Walsall. It was Chapman’s final FA Cup match.
As you’ll know if you have read your Arsenal history, the team were regularly booed after that, despite winning the league again.
So it goes on. It is now harder than it has ever been to win the league because of the fortunes that have been poured into Chelsea and Man C and because of the lack of strength shown by the Premier League in bringing their promised FFP regulations to fruition. But the demands on the manager imposed by the aaa and their journalist colleagues are now higher than ever: so much higher that I doubt that any of our managers of the past would have survived.
This is the problem that now besets the club. The aaa and the press have encouraged demands for regular success, and reduced the definition of success to winning one of two trophies, and they have done this at a time when the finances of football and the lack of rigiourous control of those finances have made it ever possible.
Ironically the only manager in the history of Arsenal since the first managerial appointment of Thomas Mitchell in 1897 who could survive this sort of pressure was… Arsene Wenger, who gave us the Double in his second season. (Bertie Mee is only other manager who came close, with a 7th, 9th and 4th and two defeats in league cup finals in his three seasons. George Graham in his second season gave us a sixth place in the league and defeat to Luton in the league cup final after winning the league cup in his first.)
So what we need is to sack Arsene Wenger and replace him with… Arsene Wenger.
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