By Tony Attwood
Changing the manager rarely works at Arsenal
Nothing is ever certain in football, and there certainly is no way to guarantee success, but it does appear that having an expectation of an immediate upturn in form following the appointment of a new manager (at Arsenal or any other club), is generally going to lead to disappointment.
For changing the manager, although an approach often demanded by fans when things go wrong, is more likely to cause an immediate downturn than it is to cause an initial improvement in results. But the big problem is that the expectation that a new manager will improve the club’s position, continues to hold sway no matter how often it is proven to be false.
For Arsenal, since the second world war, only three managers have seriously improved the club’s position in their first season. Tom Whittaker was the first in 1947/8, taking Arsenal to the championship in his first season after a very mediocre mid table performance the year before.
But of those that followed (Jack Crayston, George Swindin, Billy Wright, Terry Neill, Don Howe) none of these gave the club success in their first season. George Graham was the next exception, giving the club the League Cup in 1987 at the end of his first campaign, but Bruce Rioch returned to form, with no trophies in his one year at Arsenal.
Likewise Arsenal Wenger failed in his first season, but he did at least improve on the club’s position in the league that year, and his main transfers in 1996/7 (Patrick Vieira and Nic Anelka) were both low profile but showed an immediate promise and proved to be amazing value for the small amount paid for them in each case.
Even later big buying rarely works
It is interesting how many journalists seem to feel that buying top name players is the way to turn a struggling team around. And indeed some managers do go for this approach. But it is obvious how and why this can go wrong. A big name player introduced to a team that is not doing so well, has a problem and causes a problem. The rest of the squad feel their own positions are under threat, and they resent the attention given to the newcomer. All clubs have cliques, and the new man is an outsider – it is not an ideal situation.
Introducing lower cost and lower profile players into the team in order to achieve gradual reform is often a much better approach – and indeed this is what Arsene Wenger did with the introduction of Patrick Vieira into the team while the manager was still working in Japan. Mr Wenger’s other purchase in his first season, Nic Anelka, was totally unknown and was given time to fit into the side. Given the lowness of his transfer fee little was expected of him, so every positive performance was a bonus.
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3. Angry fans
Because expectations with a new manager or a new high profile player are, at the start, generally unrealistically high, they are not normally met. Tom Whittaker avoided this by succeeding George Allison as manager in 1947/8 after Allison (who had previously won two league titles and the FA Cup as Arsenal manager), but he came in after the club had had an awful season in 1946/7.
4. Negative media
Fans often believe that a new manager should be an immediate improvement, and will often give the new man little time to generate an improvement, not least because they have been told by the media that anyone would be better than the last man.
What makes it worse is that, as we’ve shown before, Arsenal get a far more negative press than other Premier League clubs, no matter what they do. From “Arsene who?” upon the appointment of Mr Wenger, to the Times suggesting that a third of the way through the unbeaten season Arsenal fans were saying that this was the worst Arsenal side they’d ever seen, Arsenal are singled out by the media for negative commentaries.
The problem we now have is that Arsenal have had three managers in three seasons, have bought players at high cost who have been expected to deliver from the off, have some fans who seem to be angry all the time, and are ceaselessly being taunted by a negative media, and we have a relentlessly negative media.
What we need for success is a period of managerial stability, no more buying of new players but instead a period of allowing existing players to grow into the team, playing in front of a positive fan base alongside a deliberate policy within the club and among the fans of treating the media with the contempt they deserve.
We might get the managerial stability, and it is possible that despite over 110 players already being linked with the club for transfer this summer, the club could ignore every one of them, and continue with the squad we have got.
There certainly is, it seems, a growing willingness to ignore the media, even if they are not treated with contempt, which just leaves the need for a positive fan base. But that, I fear, is going to be the hardest to achieve, for there do seem to be many Arsenal fans whose main knowledge of Arsenal is a period of 10 major trophies in 20 years under Arsene Wenger, who feel that the “ten in 20 years” is a base level from which we should grow (rather than the best run ever) and that complaining and moaning is their role in life.
As long as that continues we are likely to be in trouble.