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August 2020
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Arsenal must decide on one of these four

by Tony Attwood

There are four stories circulating about Arsenal.

Story 1: Arsenal are buying, and they are going to buy big.   This is the overall conclusion that one has from the fact that no less than 101 players have been tipped as being sought by Arsenal this summer.  And that before the transfer season has started.

Story 2: Arsenal are not going to buy anyone but instead will be selling.   Interestingly some of the newspapers and bloggers are flipping from story 1 to story 2 with gay abandon, sometimes carrying stories reflecting both positions on the same day.  I suspect the psychiatrists are preparing for a busy summer.

Story 3: Arsenal will focus on bringing in young players.  After the success of Martinelli and Guendouzi and with the three Arsenal youngsters we have noted as listed in the top 10 young players of the moment, this is an obvious approach to take

Story 4: Arsenal are going to wind up their youth teams in a cost cutting exercise.

The one thing that is missing, you may note, is that Arsenal will act reasonably and sensibly, going to no extreme but still being effective in building on what they have got.

Mind you no one is actually suggesting the notion that Arsenal has become something of a dilettante club pecking at a bit of this and a smidgen of that, with not clear direction at all.    That jumping from one position to another is rather similar to what the media does, so it is probably not an accusation that the media want to make at the moment.

But let us spare a second to consider the rather bizarre and unlikely Story 4.  Unlikely given the presence of three of the top ten young players in Europe in the Arsenal squads, as revealed in our recent story.

Story 4 got a boost this week when Caught Offside ran the tale that Barcelona has announced that they were cutting their scouting department in half – a story they picked up from Get Football News.  In fact a moment’s research shows that Get Football News picked it up from ESPN.

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Now ESPN is not known for its researching journalists, and indeed a moment’s digging shows that they in turn got the story from Ser Cataluyna (a Spanish radio station) on which an unnamed club spokesman said the overhaul “has been planned for a while and has nothing to do with the coronavirus pandemic, but the move comes as cutbacks are being made to deal with the health crisis.

An interesting distinction between “coronavirus pandemic” and “health crisis” which left those of us at Untold pondering when a pandemic is not a health crisis.  But we must move on…

That little tale has nothing to do with Arsenal, except… the Ser Catalunya piece on the radio was the source – a source which said that the reduction in staff was temporary and to do with concerns about health.  In looking at this you might also wish to note that Spain’s highly traditionalist extreme right-wing politicians are blaming a series of feminist rallies held in Spain in March for spreading the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 27,000 lives nationwide – a percentage of the population similar to that in the UK, and seen to be very much at the high end of the scale (when population is taken into account).

The point is that in Spain there were many mass gatherings in early March—from protests to football matches — but the right wing has selected the women’s movement for blame, and few of the mostly male journalists can be arsed to point out the nonsense of that claim.

So how did we get to coronavirus, from Arsenal winding up its youth team?  The same way that the far right in Spain gets from women’s marches for basic rights leading to a high level in coronavirus.  By letting prejudice and preconceptions rule instead of logic.

The preconception among many football bloggers and journalists – the equivalent to the notion that a high level of coronavirus in Spain is due to women’s marches – is that Arsenal is run by incompetents.  As for example when the Daily Mail tells us that Arsenal “will be cutting 10 scouts in a cost cutting measure which is understandable, but could seriously affect them in the long term.”

Several things emerge from that little extract.  One is the implication that the story is true, and given the Mail’s record on football tales, there is far more chance that it is not, than it is.  Another is that the club don’t care about the long term, and a third is that incompetence has got the club into this mess.

Caught Offside picked up on this theme, writing, “The Gunners don’t have the money to compete with the elite clubs so good recruitment is vital, and it’s going to be even more important in the next few years.”

True, Arsenal don’t have the funding that Manchester City have, Chelsea have had (and might have again), and Newcastle will have if the Saudi deal goes through.  But that was true in the late 1990s when we could be outmanoeuvred financially every day of the week by Manchester United and Liverpool.  So clearly good recruitment was vital then – and was delivered.

In 1996/7 and 1997/8 our purchases included Overmars, Grimandi, Petit, Upson, Wreh, Vieira and Anelka.

That’s how Arsenal built the second double winning side, by picking up a combination of low cost players like Grimandi who could fit into and do a basic job when needed and be Wenger’s ears in the dressing room, Overmars, Petit and Vieira who were astoundingly good, Anelka who was very cheap and in a couple of years could be sold for enough profit to pay for the new training centre, and Wreh who was cheap and brought a skill we didn’t have elsewhere for one year, and then could be moved on again.

But of course Caught Offside doesn’t focus on the fact that Arsenal have been in this position in the past and got it right.   Neither does it ask why maybe the squad does need an overhaul, as it claims (because of course it won’t ever admit that its simplistic “Wenger Out” message caused the club a lot of problems).  Rather it says,

“Their squad needs an overhaul and that means they need to identify the right players to fit into Mikel Arteta’s vision, and it could be a huge problem if they get it wrong.

“It’s not ridiculous to say that a couple of years of bad recruitment could complete Arsenal’s transformation into an average mid table side, and this decision will not help them.”

Well, yes maybe.  But why emphasise the possibility of failure without looking at the possibility of success?  Arsenal could equally get it right just as Mr Wenger did.

OK, we are going to be lucky to get to fifth this season, which is what had Rioch achieved before he was sacked (although losing every one of the pre-season games just before he was sacked didn’t help his position much).  But the club’s decline was not helped by the way Mr Wenger was hounded out of the club by the bloggers and journalists who led some of the crowd rather like the Pied Piper led the rats and then the children.

What the journalists always want to do is make us forget that they worked incredibly hard to get Mr Wenger sacked when he had only been in the job a few days.

I’ll have a look at what is happening on the youth side of the squad in the next piece.

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