The rise of Arsenal’s authoritarianism, the decline of Arsenal on the pitch

By Sir Hardly Anyone, head of psychology at the University College Hospital of the North Circular Road.

There is an article in the Athletic which contains this paragraph concerning Arsenal…

“Newer staff talk of the need for a fundamental change in the culture and mentality at London Colney — that if Arsenal continue to exist in a comfort zone, they will continue to slide. They feel that standards have slipped over such a long period that bad habits have become ingrained and not addressed.”

It is easy to pass by such statements, but as Untold has often argued, it is statements of this nature that add together to create a vision of a club that is built on myths, daydreams and shifting sand.

So, let’s think.

“Newer staff talk of the need for a fundamental change in the culture and mentality at London Colney.”

OK that is fair enough, new people come in and say, things at the training centre are not going well.  Yes we can think that might be true because famously, when Mr Wenger came to the club he totally and utterly transformed the training regime, famously upsetting the old guard by refusing them their favoured food and instead giving them the sort of food that is right for athletes needing to performing from a standing start in two bursts of 45 minutes.

So ok, maybe Mr Emery and Mr Arteta have not had that sort of vision.  However what we need are details – what needs to change?

Except, wait a minute.  “They feel that standards have slipped over such a long period…”   But these commentators are  “Newer staff.”   Then how do they know that standards have slipped “over a long period?”  Only if they were older staff who were at the club when Mr Wenger was there would they know.  When you look at it, it makes no sense.  Which usually means, in journalistic terms, it has been made up.

And this is the Athletic, which has form in this regard.  As when it reported that ““Disgruntled Arsenal fans to launch breakaway phoenix club based in Surrey – Dial Square FC” telling us that Dial Square was the name of Arsenal until 1893, and that the club played in Woolwich (utterly and totally wrong on both counts, although I’ve never seen a correction let alone an apology).

So we can take all they say with lots of salt, as when the continue on the psychological theme with,  “These insiders feel that without a winning culture, without a different level of standards and expectations, Arsenal’s potential will remain unfulfilled. They feel that the training ground at Colney is a haven where outside noise and criticism doesn’t breach the walls when it should be an elite competitive environment.”

OK so that might be true, or it might not.  After all, what exactly is “a winning culture”.  How do you put one in place?  What stops one having a winning culture?   If they can see it so easily why can’t Arsenal.  If the error-prone Athletic can see it, how come Arsenal’s top people are so incredibly thick and stupid that they have missed it?  Surely, that is the real question here, especially as they have chosen to venture into the field of psychology.

Which is interesting as psychological factors were also the problem under Mr Wenger.  Indeed we heard about the psychology of the players all the time.  In 2013 Mr Wenger, after a game early in that season said, “Psychologically I felt we were more on the front foot.”

This caused uproar from those who had already started the Anti-Wenger war (which led to his being removed from the club, and the downward spiral that we have today) way back in January 2013.  Which led one irate reader to write into a blog saying, “The fact that there is a psychological problem is YOUR FAULT.   You train and motivate these players.”

Poor Mr Wenger was admitting there was a problem, and he had to deal with it, and was being helpful to his audience by admitting that, and so people started writing in and blaming him for not dealing with it.   And he often did talk about such issues as in December 2017, when he noted that psychological issues can often be overcome by not making them too big a problem.  As he said, we all get ups and downs, and footballers ultimately are human.

In fact Mr Wenger often talked about the psychology of his players, about how they could become nervous in hanging on to a lead and so let that lead slip, etc.   In fact some of the media even said that the problem he had with the zip on coat was a psychological trauma.

And if we go back 20 years we might remember the “psychological war” he was supposed to be involved in with Sir Alex Ferguson.

In fact a day didn’t go by without there being some sort of psychological analysis of Mr Wenger under way.  There was a time the team had jumped a “psychological hurdle”, (that was the issue of the 442 line up), and others when the players got a “psychological lift,” and ultimately even jumped on the bandwagon in 2016 with “We cleared a psychological hurdle”.

But if Arsenal always have psychological problems, as journalists and negative fans seem to suggest, what problems do we have now?

One we might guess at is Arteta’s authoritarianism.  Kicking out Guendouzi, one of our most exciting young players, and Ozil, a player of astounding ability, looked and looks like nothing but a case of needing to show who is boss.  Dropping the players while leaving them in the squad could have been enough.

The trouble is of course that all these discourses on psychology take place without any evidence: we don’t know what happens in the club, and the quotes we get are normally edited by the media before we get them.

But I do get a feeling of people who know nothing of psychology wanting to talk about it – which is very much a British pastime.   It is a bit like Liz Truss (the British Secretary of State for International Trade) suggesting (as she has this weekend) that Britain is in a mess because too many people have come under the influence of Foucault, a French philosopher who wrote about power and knowledge.

And that does indeed relate to football, because football on TV depends on men who have either never had power within football, or had it and been shown to be useless at using that power.  People like Souness and Merson who as managers have been failures, and yet spend their days telling others how to do it and what they are doing wrong.

So when the Athletic says, “Newer staff talk of the need for a fundamental change in the culture and mentality at London Colney,” that statement is meaningless without knowing an awful lot more about who said it and what qualifies them to say it.  Especially as it appears in a publication so prone to errors.

But if we assume that there is a cultural problem at Arsenal at a time when the manager has taken the unprecedented step of kicking out two prized player, then that does suggest the manager has overstepped himself, and in getting rid of these two, at least for half a season, he has made matters in the whole squad worse.  Power is a tenuous affair; one’s title and position can grant it, but it is only maintained thereafter by taking everyone with you, not by more and more authoritarianism.

2 Replies to “The rise of Arsenal’s authoritarianism, the decline of Arsenal on the pitch”

  1. And indeed a further question might be, who are these “newer staff”? Perhaps they are the cleaners or people who serve the meals. Both roles may be necessary parts of the whole but these would hardly be people who’s opinions are to be taken as of value in terms of the psychology within in the management and playing staff. Indeed, who within the club is qualified to talk of the need for a “fundamental change in culture” in terms of “an elite competitive environment”? I would suggest that a sports psychologist may be reasonably well placed to suggest this…….but then who would be responsible for sporting psychology within the club and if s/he felt that there was a problem beyond their control, why on earth would they see telling the media about it as part of the solution.

    This is all bullshit yet again made up by people who like to appear as though they are “in the know” but actually know nothing and are merely fiction writers. The thing that immediately struck me in this regard is the point you so rightly made at the beginning of your piece, i.e. how do the “newer staff” now that “standards have slipped over such a long period” when they clearly haven’t been there very long and had not witnessed the previous standards? What are those standards, what qualifies these “newer staff” to be able to identify them and if, by chance, they are qualified to do so, then why not mention the solution too?

    It was always a trait among the least effective/productive staff who worked for me that they could always tell what was wrong with a strategy for dealing with a challenge but could never come up with a better solution than the one on offer……a bit like all the fans who know how to manage the club better than the managers………………

  2. You have made several very good points made here. I agree completely with what you write about Arteta, Ozil and Guendouzi.
    There are parallels with Mee.
    Unlike Mee – Arteta if left in post will get us relegated.

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