By Tony Attwood
We live in a world in which it is commonplace to see problems as simple, and thus open to one solution, rather than seeing problems as caused by multiple issues. In short there is a problem, and there is a single cause of that problem.
And yet history suggests over and over that the events we face have multiple causes, and that simple solutions don’t work. Occasionally such simple solutions can work, but most of the time the problem has multiple causes and thus needs multiple solutions.
So we can see that Arsenal have just gone four games without a win at the start of a year for the first time since 1995, and need to find a solution to that. Last time this happened the manager was George Graham, and he was removed from the club on 21 February 1995, although not because of the results but because of financial misdemeanours.
After the four games (two in the league, two in the FA Cup) without a win in 1995, the league table looked like this
We were 26 points off the top of the table and six points off relegation. We ended the season in 12th and eight points off relegation. The following season with the new manager we ended up fifth in the league – one position above where we are now.
As for the team that we had at that moment when George Graham was sacked, it included Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Davis, Adams, Wright, Smith, Merson, Bould, Keown, Parlour.
The argument then was about the manager’s financial affairs, now it is about a manager who some would argue lost the ability to bring in the right players and manage a team a long time ago. The criticism now seems to be not just that the manager has not brought in the right players but that he has lost the ability to manage the team that he has got.
So now the issue is different because the expectations are different from the last time this happened. We had played 24 and got 29 points. This time around we have played 23 and got 39 points, but the angst seems much, much bigger.
So the criticism this time is quite different; Arsenal should be higher up the league because we should be better than at least three of the times above Arsenal because… well, because we should.
If one argues that the team should be higher up the league because of the quality of players that we have then that does suggest that the management (not necessarily just the manager) is at fault. But if one suggests that we should have better players then we are into a different arena.
And this is worth considering because different players seems to be the main theme of the media today. The Guardian for example says, “In truth, there are weaknesses all over the pitch and it was hard to think of any Arsenal player who emerged with any credit apart from Jack Wilshere….The supporting cast around him, however, were a huge disappointment.”
But spotting better players and persuading them to come to a club is not quite as easy as many would suggest with the simplistic, “We should buy…” approach that some indulge in. Players might not wish to come to Arsenal for all sorts of reasons: because they see Arsenal as a failing team, or perhaps because they have seen or heard about the discontent of the fans. They also might not come to the club because they too agree that the whole team needs reshaping – and they don’t see that happening instantly. Or it could be because other clubs will outbid Arsenal, or because the players are concerned about the way Arsenal are treated by referees…
Looking at that list, it is clear that just changing the manager doesn’t guarantee either that the existing squad will pick themselves up and do better, or that other players not at the club will be willing to come to Arsenal. Of course it doesn’t mean that the whole list of reasons has to be active or accurate, but rather it suggests that if any one or two of them are real, Arsenal even under a totally different management, could struggle to bring in the players that, it may be argued, are needed.
So we can see that quite a few things are different today from when Mr Wenger came to Arsenal.
The first is the financial situation. Arsenal were not the richest club in the country in the latter stages of the last century, but the club was nowhere near as far behind the rest of the pack as the club is now, in terms of the money needed to bring in the very best players.
Second, Mr Wenger brought a unique knowledge of talent around the continent; players who could be brought in and transformed into superlative club members (Vieira, Henry etc) whom other clubs and other managers were not aware of, or whose talent they did not perceive, and thus not bidding for It is not like that now.
We will of course change the manager in due course, but I suspect that won’t by itself transform Arsenal into a team competing with Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City, all of whom have riches far beyond anything Arsenal can lay its hands on at the moment.
Finding a man who, like Mr Wenger, could spot extraordinary talent and buy it for modest prices, is very unlikely. Being able to compete with Chelsea, Man C and Man U is very unlikely. So finding a manager who can do better a lot better might be difficult. We might find a manager who will get us up to fourth, but then, as we know, fourth is not a trophy.
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