An Open letter to Arsene Wenger
Cher monsieur Wenger,
Firstly, allow me to congratulate you on your 1000 game milestone. As custodian of Arsenal Football Club, you have overseen some of the most remarkable times in the club's long history, and I as a fan thank you for it. In my many years as an Arsenal supporter, never have I seen the club itself in a more robust state concerning our fiscal future, and as such, acknowledgement of the magnitude of such a feat is something of an obligation.
However, on the eve of my 40th birthday, I sit, festering in the ignominy of Saturday's defeat at the hands of Chelsea, and I am perturbed. At the beginning of this season, I felt sure this was the season where we finally slipped from the top 4. Before the arrival of Mesut Ozil, and more importantly Mathieu Flamini, I could see no way we could, like in other recent seasons, over-perform. Tottenham had strengthened, Liverpool were strong, Manchester United and City were, to use the football and gambling vernacular, top 4 no-brainers, as were Chelsea, especially with the return of Jose Mourinho. In fact, I fancied Chelsea to win the league.
Months have passed, and as we enter the last few fixtures of the season, firmly ensconced in the fabled Champions League places, and in prime position to acquire some silverware in the form of the FA Cup, given all of the above, you'd think that my overall demeanour would be that of positivity. After all, better than expected, has to be a good thing? Right?
If only that were true.
Much has changed in the dynamic of Arsenal football club since the start of the season. Our fiscal power has finally been realised, and a signing of a "Superstar player", which we the fans have bayed for, has occurred. Mesut Ozil is undoubtedly a good player. "World Class", is the moniker bandied around when describing him, and it's possible that it's true, However, his arrival changed many things. Wage discrepancies between players is one of these issues which, if we are to believe reports, are already playing their part in the protracted negotiations with Bacary Sagna over a new contract. Sagna has arguably been a far more influential figure in this season's squad than Ozil, and yet, the club is stalling on agreeing to pay him a wage which, again if you are to believe reports, constitutes about 50% less than the German midfielder/striker/number 10.
I was at one of Bacary Sagna's first games for Arsenal, in the Amsterdam Cup. In those years since then, he has been a permanent figure in our defense, consistently solid, consistently strong. I have no personal concept of the amounts of money per week these players earn, and yet, I cannot help but think, if I in his boots, and were I to see a new player waltz into the team, on what is effectively close to, (if not more than) triple my own current wages, and then be seen to be unprepared to exert himself in various games.... Suffice to say, I would certainly believe my own history and application, merited remuneration befitting to my own place within the team. Is half as much as Ozil really that much of an issue? On the same subject I can only speculate as to how Theo Walcott feels about things of this ilk, having negotiated a figure the press claims is around £100,000 a week, which appeared to render him, "The Main Man", at Arsenal, only to see his wages, which by all accounts he had to fight for forcefully, dwarfed in comparison.
That is not the only issue though, regarding transfers and contracts. You have, in signing Ozil, made mandatory through expectation, more marquee signings. The fans will no longer be content with making stars from rough diamonds. Arsenal's period of transition is complete. Now is the time to be winning things, because Arsenal is perceived to no-longer have financial constraints. Your business and economics prowess have born fruit, and thus, any player should be within our scope of purchase. To not do so, would send a message that, Arsenal Football Club is content to remain a club who finish 4th.
Therein lies the heart of the problem. There are 3 teams currently above Arsenal in the league. We have played them away and conceded an aggregate 17 goals. That needs reiterating. 17 goals. The game against Chelsea was arguably the biggest game of the season, but it was nigh on lost after 7 minutes, and a certainty after 20. An analysis showed that, in that game, the team covered less ground than any other team this year, each player averaging a full half a mile less than their Crystal Palace counterparts, that weekend, or to put it another way, if we were to factor in Arsenal's missing man, Palace would still have cumulatively run a full 7 miles more in 90 minutes. That's disgraceful, especially since Arsenal were chasing the game after 7 minutes!
Arsenal sit 4th in the league, and as I said before, this is better than I expected, but the league position is false. It is not a reflection of how good Arsenal have been this season, but a reflection of how bad Manchester United have been, and how underachieving Tottenham have been. If Manchester City win their games in hand, and also beat ourselves on Saturday, they will be 12 points above Arsenal. That, is far more reflective of our standard. It's also unacceptable from a club paying a player around £200k a week, and charging the highest season ticket prices by a country mile.
We also stand to win the FA Cup. Realistically, given the teams who are left in the competition, it is not disrespectful to believe we are firm favourites . Again though, this is a false position. None of the teams above Arsenal in the league are left in the competition. We could, and should, win it, because other teams have again underperformed. You can of course, only beat who is put in front of you, but the fact remains that, when the draw was made and Manchester City looked to be the next round opponents, there was a collective sigh of resignation which went something along the lines of, "there goes our hope of a trophy for another season.".
In truth, Arsenal FC have remained static again this season. The teams who think they can beat us, have beaten us, Comprehensively. Other games, we've won by the skin of our teeth, and because, teams are intimidated at the thought of playing Arsenal. Many a game has gone by though with barely a shot on target, and it has been fortuitous that, we have managed to have one of the best shots-to-goals rates in the division. The only positive I can see, is the return of Flamini. Strong and forthright he has shown passion, while also having enough about him to tell Ozil and others that they're simply not doing enough.
The whole of the rest of the team could use someone to tell them exactly the same thing. That should be your job Arsene. Either that, or replace them, with players who want to play for the shirt. You have the facility to do so. You have the fiscal power to do so too. This season has to be the last season where Arsenal Football Club stagnate, while clubs such as Liverpool manage to progress. I fear an FA Cup win will be used to say there has been improvement, when the reality is, it's been merely a drop in standards by other clubs which has left us in the position as favourites.
In your first 500 games at Arsenal, you were a revelation. In your last 500, captains and players have come and gone, often to our direct rivals, in the name of fiscal parity and piety. We the fans are left with a squad which, we know, would mostly not get into our rivals teams any more. We've paid for it, endured it, and watched with faith knowing that the day would come where Arsenal Football Club could compete once again with the "Big Boys" of English and European Football.
That day has come. The infrastructure is there. Now we require the leadership to move on. This means a change in attitudes from those over the last several seasons. It means buy ready-made stars as well as creating them. It means paying wages that are, while still ludicrous, the current going rate for players of that level, and it requires a manager who is not content with players who won't give their all for the team.
I believe, as do swathes of fans, that you can be that man. But you need to adapt with the team. Claiming the team we have at the moment at Arsenal are good enough to compete for the highest accolades is as ridiculous as Jose at Chelsea claiming they cannot win the league, only Jose's assertions can be viewed with humour, whereas stating Arsenal are good enough, is counting on our own belief in you to supersede the obviousness of the empirical evidence, and is bordering on taking advantage of a perceived naivety.
We are not stupid. Neither are you. Your way with Arsenal, worked for the first 500 games regarding trophies and success, because the Arsenal at Highbury constituted a different animal to the one for the next period of time at the Emirates. Financially, the next 500 games have also been a success, and speaking for myself, I have nothing but admiration for the accomplishment.
Now though, the beast changes again, and as such, requires a new strategy, and a new way of directing in order to make it the apex predator it once was in terms of success. I ask you, no, implore you, to think about this. Do you truly believe you can get rid of the values that were so much a part of the last 500 games, in order to do what you must to make the coming years successful? Much as in the same way a caterpillar morphs, to turn into a butterfly so must you, and so must Arsenal FC. Is it within you to alter what has become a way of life for the club?
Arsenal have the potential now, to become everything which was envisioned when the new stadium plans were drawn up. To do that, Arsenal cannot accept conceding 17 goals in 3 games as something which is O.K. Acceptable. Just one of those things. Once, is an anomaly. Twice, alarm bells should ring. Three times, and you have to acknowledge that, the discrepancies between that which should be, and that that is, is too large.
Things have to change. A team like Arsenal, with their history and resources, should not be coming into a game against Manchester City wondering how many will be conceded, and Arsenal fans should not have to be wondering if they will be embarrassed again to be wearing the shirt in public on the subsequent Sunday.
This year in football has changed everything at Arsenal Football Club. As a fan, who expected nothing from this year, to be in a Champions League position and favourites to win the FA Cup, is fantastic. Surpassing all my expectations, and as such I am pleased. But, I'm pleased for the wrong reasons. Fortune has favoured my team this season, not with injuries, not with fixtures, but with the misfortunes of others. As you're something of a linguist, I feel sure you know the word "Schadenfreude", but that should not be the basis of Arsenal fans joy. It should be tenacity, astuteness, skill and understanding, effort, and above all else, passion.
Please Monsieur Wenger, if you are to stay as custodian of this club, if you do nothing else, if we find that, even with our resources, we cannot match our richer neighbours and challengers, please Monsieur Wenger, promise us, the fans, that you will ensure our players have the above character traits, so that they uphold the traditions of our club, and instead of all we've felt after games against Liverpool, Chelsea, and Bayern, we will at least have our pride, and a knowledge that the people representing our club, from management through to the players, do it justice.
Yours in anticipation of a brighter future,
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