By Tony Attwood
Arsenal by and large have done little (at least little that I have seen) concerning the protests of fans in the last three years or so. Before 2015/16 there were some fans who expressed dismay about the progress of the club, as the payment for the stadium came to an end.
These were undoubtedly encouraged by AFTV – with much of the protest focussed on the “4th is not a trophy” and “Spend some fucking money” groups. But I think the second-place finish in 2015/16, and the three FA Cup wins of 2014, 2015 and 2017 kept most fans away from protesting if not ecstatic.
When the placards came out against Wenger, nothing much was done about it by the Board, at least not much that I saw, although of course, I wasn’t part of that movement. The board just let it drift along, Mr Wenger agreed to leave quietly, there was a good send-off, Mr Emery came in and again departed with dignity.
The protesting fans got their way, managers came and went, players were bought at huge expense, and we sank down the League, as generally happens when clubs change their manager and spend lots of money on transfers. We did an analysis of the top six spending clubs last summer and each at that time was certainly underachieving.
Now of course fans of other clubs might have seen that as a warning – changing managers and spending money doesn’t normally result in taking the club up the league. At least not for quite a time. But not it seems West Ham. They’ve followed the same route – new managers, spend lots on transfers – and as the model predicts, decline will follow.
It used to be different in the old days of course. Decline did follow, but managers were given longer.
For example, Alex Ferguson joined Man U in 1986 and immediately took them to 11th in the League in his first season, with early exits from both cups. It was their worst performance in 12 years.
They bounced back to second in his second season, and then slipped to 11th and then 13th, his tenure only extended by winning the FA Cup in his fourth season. His first league title came in his seventh season.
Managers don’t get nearly so long these days – and that undoubtedly is why things do go so very wrong for a lot of clubs as they flip from manager to manager to… well, manager. It rarely does them much good, which is why I can’t quite understand the attraction of the process to some Arsenal supporters (and there are indeed some now calling for another change at the end of this season).
This sort of changing could be called, at the moment, the West Ham model. They have hired Slaven Bilić (June 2015), David Moyes (Nov 2017), Manuel Pellegrini (May 2018), David Moyes II (December 2019) and for all this and a stadium paid in part by myself, and other mugs like me who dutifully pay their taxes. WHU have ended up 13th, 12th, 7th, 11th, 13th and 10th in recent years.
This is clearly not good enough, especially when you have been given the stadium at a price that it means major taxpayer support every year for 99 years. And so a volunteer official flag-waver felt the need to protest by wearing a T-shirt that said “GSB Out” which is East End speak means David Gold, David Sullivan, and Karren Brady please go away. And now the gent in question who is a season ticket holder, has been banned for the rest of the season as if that will improve the team’s performance. Demonstrations are becoming commonplace.
By ignoring the card-carrying “Wenger Out” people for quite a while, Arsenal got it right in my view, but ultimately got it wrong by letting Mr Wenger leave and by spending a load of money last year. All the evidence shows that lots of money and changing managers is not the way to sort out a crisis.
But it kept the Arsenal whingers and moaners quiet for a while. The move by GSB at WHU will probably make fans even more determined to protest. But then, if Arsenal don’t win something either this season or next season, I imagine the protests will be up and running again in Arsenal Stadium.
There is a way to revitalise a team and that is to do what Mr Wenger did when he arrived. He took a team that had come 12th and 5th in the previous seasons, recognised its strengths, and then brought in a number of low profile unknowns. In Mr Wenger’s case the prime two at the start were Nicolas Anelka and Patrick Vieira. He also brought in his own man to be his ears in the dressing room: Rémi Garde and got rid of the deadwood. It is often forgotten but out went Merson, Hartson, Dickov, Morrow, McGoldrick, Hillier, Linighan and Jensen.
In his second season 1997/8 Mr Wenger didn’t move out anyone of significance – he had done that wholesale in his first campaign. No, he brought in new players – but that is the point. These guys appeared in year 2. They were not all superstars, but they were Wenger’s men, there to steady the ship and represent his philosophy. Overmars, Petit, Grimandi (who stayed with the club as a scout until Wenger left), Upson, Boa Morte, Manninger, Wreh… Some didn’t last long – but even Wreh did his bit in the cup final for the double.
That is how you do it. Get the hang of the place, give the players the chance, then buy in your team knowing the club would stick with their manager. Not the way WHU have done it. And not I fear the way Arsenal are doing it now – although we shall in the case of Arteta.
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