There was a running joke in our Arsenal-mad family that when you used to appear on TV, one of us would always say: “Quiet! God’s talking.” And the room would fall silent as we’d listen to your pearls of wisdom, hanging on every word.
I remember one press conference in particular when a reporter tried to draw you into a slanging match with Alex Ferguson. Fergie had claimed that van Nistelrooy was the best striker in the Premiership and the reporter asked if you thought Henry was better. You thought for a moment and said with a humorous grin: “Everybody thinks he has the prettiest wife at home.”
Journalists chuckled and I marveled at your wit. You were my hero.
But that was a long time ago and I don’t drop everything to listen to your interviews anymore. Instead — and I don’t remember when this started — I began questioning your decisions. As one trophy-less season blurred into the next and you kept allowing our best players to leave, I eventually started to think the unthinkable — are you the right man for the job anymore?
To an outsider it’s a ludicrous question. Non-Arsenal fans say to me: “The man’s kept you in the top four on a shoestring budget for years while making money for the club, paying off your stadium and playing superb football.”
Yes that is true and I want to thank you for that. You were indeed a genius in the transfer market, picking up rough diamonds like Fabregas, van Persie and Song, polishing them into exciting, wonderful players. You took the sensible route of spending very little to create a young team before selling them on for a profit. Financing the Emirates move wouldn’t have been possible without you at the helm and you will be remembered for your part in it.
But almost two years ago Gazidis said: “The debt that we’re left with is what I would call ‘healthy debt’ — it’s long term, low rates, very affordable for the Club.” It’s an affordable debt now — fantastic! At last, I thought, our patience has been rewarded and Wenger will take this club forward to where it should be — challenging for trophies.
So I’m baffled as to why you are still selling our best players every summer and refusing to buy adequate replacements. Where is the sense in weakening the squad year after year if we no longer have to?
I’m not saying go out and spend recklessly like Chelsea or Man City, but surely we could’ve spent just a bit more each year? The Manchester clubs and Chelsea haven’t been miles ahead of us on the pitch (until this season) so it is very frustrating to think that with just a bit more investment we could’ve afforded our repayments and challenged for the title in the last few seasons. After all, we’ve got £100m in cash reserves so we’d hardly be on the verge of adminstration.
But it seems to me you’re no longer focused on winning titles anyway, or any trophy for that matter. Instead, Champions League qualification is your sole objective. You refuse to spend a penny more than you have to in order to finish 4th.
Many of your supporters think this is because your hands are tied by the board. If so, please say so and shame them because I’d hate to lay all this blame at your door if you’re just toeing the party line. But what else can I do given the lack of information coming out of the club?
You insist money is there to be spent, but don’t spend it. You insist Fabregas and Nasri will stay, but they leave anyway. You frequently allow star players to enter the final year of their contract. You claim that 4th place is a trophy when you know full well that most fans would trade our annual last 16 Champions League exit for some real silverware.
You buy the players, you pick the team, you choose the tactics, you make the substitutions, you take the coaching, you are responsible for motivating the players and you don’t have a plan B when things aren’t working.
How can I ignore all of this and just blame the board?
And anyway, if you really are being hung out to dry by Kroenke and greedy shareholders, why the hell are you standing for it? Any manager with a modicum of self respect would’ve walked away by now. I know you are a loyal and principled man, but I can’t believe you would bend over while the board shafts you as your legacy crumbles through no fault of your own.
No, there is something more to it. I believe you are equally as responsible for the poor running of the club as the board and concur with the misguided direction it is headed, otherwise you wouldn’t accept such shoddy treatment.
To compound matters, your once flawless judgement seems to have slipped in the last few years. Some of your recent buys just haven’t been good enough — Gervinho, Park, Santos, Chamakh, Squillaci to name but a few. And your inability to admit you were wrong is also costing us. For example, why is Fabianski still in the squad? We haven’t signed a decent goalkeeper since Lehmann and you put us in the position of having to play Mannone, whose errors cost us points, because you refuse to address our goalkeeping situation. You are not stupid, you must know Szczesny is our only reliable keeper, so why has nothing been done about it?
Diaby is another example. He may well have become the next Vieira were it not for that horrific tackle at Sunderland all those years ago, but why have you persisted with such an injury prone player? Your loyalty to him is touching, but he is taking up a valuable squad place and considerable wages.
Speaking of which, what’s the deal with the wage structure? You experienced a system in Japan whereby every player is paid roughly the same so there is no jealousy and a harmony exists within the squad. So you tried it at Arsenal, putting dross like Denilson, Almunia and Squillaci on high wages not commensurate with their abilities and paying world class players like Fabregas, Nasri and van Persie less than the going rate, thus causing resentment.
You furthered this resentment by refusing to buy established players to play with them, instead stubbornly pursuing your youth policy even when there was no need for such frugality anymore. We are not cash strapped Wigan who must make money from player sales to survive — we are the fourth richest club in the world for goodness sake! So we steadily accumulated over £100m in cash reserves while our best players grew tired of playing for 4th place every year with people like Bendtner and Eboue and left in pursuit of trophies and glory.
I don’t blame them for one second — I blame you.
How could you let that happen? Did you really think they were going to give the best years of their careers to an unambitious club focused more on profit than silverware? Only now are you buying more experienced players, but it’s too late — Nasri, Fabregas, van Persie, Clichy and Song grew tired of waiting and are winning trophies elsewhere.
The blinkered fans you’ve managed to brainwash with your spin say: “Na$ri and van Per$i€ moved for the money” totally ignoring the fact that star players at other clubs don’t move on. Man City offered John Terry lots more than he was on at Chelsea but he turned them down. Then they tried to unsettle Wayne Rooney, but he eventually signed a new contract for less money than he could get at the Etihad. You couldn’t persuade those players to stay not because of the extra money on offer elsewhere, but because they no longer believed in you.
And you didn’t even try to keep Song, who was tied to a long term contract. You and the board bit Barcelona’s hand off when they offered £15m and to hell with buying a replacement, Arteta can play there.
Which brings us to the present day and that woeful performance at Bradford. I wasn’t even angry when we lost — I just sighed when Vermaelen hit the post. You and the board have driven me to the point where I don’t really care anymore whether we win or lose because I’m so disillusioned.
I don’t want to resent you anymore Arsene — you are a club legend and I don’t like seeing you squirm as a cocky reporter from Sky asks you humiliating questions. It saddens me to watch you ranting and raving on the touchline, moaning to the fourth official as your clueless, poorly motivated bunch of bottlers lose to a League Two side. I don’t like that you are looking gaunt, unwell and stressed all the time.
Don’t tarnish your reputation by staying too long like Brian Clough did at Forest. I want to tell my grandchildren about the 2004 Invincibles and how they were assembled by the greatest manager in Arsenal’s history — an innovative, intelligent man who transformed the game for the better in this country. I don’t want to have to add that you stayed past your sell by date and made increasingly bizarre decisions like playing clumsy wingers up front, or praising our spirit and mental strength after every game when it’s perfectly clear we have been severely lacking in both for some time now.
So please, enough’s enough. The game has moved on. Resign and let somebody with fresh ideas take over because this just isn’t working anymore. We haven’t won a trophy in seven years, the players don’t seem to be playing for you and we don’t even play exciting football like we used to.
Do the decent thing for everybody — especially yourself — and go while your legendary status is still intact.
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