A Perfect Storm?
By Peter Le Beau
The elements that have led to Arsenal’s current malaise
In the past few months I've started to ban subjects from conversation because they are just too tedious. First it was Brexit and then Trump, but in the last few months Wengergate has joined the list. In the circles in which I mix I am very well known as a Gooner and have not been slow in the past to give abuse in large measures to followers of other clubs, especially our near neighbours. The frenzy of speculation over Wenger and the almost epic mishandling of his situation by a supposedly competent board made me consider the other day just what has gone into this situation and produced this incredible period of humiliation for Gooners everywhere.
A perfect storm - we have a perfect storm of elements so toxic in their combination that it would be hard to invent such a dire set of circumstances. Discontent has been festering among supporters for a long time, but it has been held in check largely because of respect for Wenger's achievements and a feeling, held by many, that he has shown great devotion towards the club. That is not a universally-held view; many see this devotion as a selfish clinging-to-power and an obsessive unwillingness to change his position as the ultimate control-freak.
Perfect storms do however require more than one element to create them and we have in this situation a remarkable set of events that is driving us up the wall on a regular basis. It is hard to divorce Wenger from any of these, and I will revert to that, but these elements need to be isolated to analyse what exactly has gone wrong.
A team of pussycats
Until 1996, Arsenal had an image that was a combination of elegance mixed with a reputation for dour, effective football, characterised by strong defenders who never shirked a battle. McLintock, Storey, Rice, Adams, Keown, Bould and Winterburn were archetypal Arsenal players, hated by other fans but loved by us for their obvious devotion to the cause.
That image changed quickly after Wenger arrived, to encompass a focus on beautiful passing football that Arsenal had never enjoyed before. In Chapman and Whittaker's era they were reviled for being a side built on a strong defence and counter-attacking power. George Graham's two title-winning sides were a combination of power and attacking flair but, because they were founded on a rock-solid back four, the admiration for them was tempered by the old criticism of the defensive Arsenal Way. Who can forget the scene in the Full Monty in the Labour Exchange where the lads raise their hands in formation aping the famous offside drill of the Tony Adams side? I roared with laughter but also with pride. Arsenal were able to win through sheer character, a trait never more obvious than in Copenhagen in 1994 when we fought a patently more skilful Parma side to a standstill.
Of course there were the Invincibles, the culmination of a new Arsenal philosophy, initially utilising the old Graham back four but now changed in personnel and philosophy. Led by Vieira, a monster of a player and a hard, competitive captain, that team had Campbell, Lauren, Gilberto and Bergkamp, who combined quality with an inner steel. Contrast that team to the displays we have seen from the current team. Possibly the two second halves against Munich were the worst examples, but the capitulations at West Brom and Palace were in their way just as awful. Take Koscielny out of that defence and all hell breaks loose.
It is a trend that isn't new. The surrender of a four-goal lead at Newcastle a few years ago was another perfect storm of a referee sending off a player and then awarding two dubious penalties, combined with a complacency that tipped over into near cowardice against a modest Newcastle side. The surrender of a three-goal lead to Anderlecht at home was another example. But this season we've seen an inability to compete against the best teams married with defensive disorganisation and a surrender mentality that shames the club to its core. There are many reasons, but the most obvious is the oft-observed lack of leadership and the contempt for the role of captain that had been fulfilled with such distinction by Hapgood, Mercer, McLintock, Rice, Adams and Vieira. Now our designated club captains don't even play in the first team. To choose Theo Walcott as skipper (thoroughly decent lad though he is) is to cast scorn at the contribution made by those great captains of the past.
The result is a team that plays without drive or seeming pride in performance. One that sulked its way through the home leg against Bayern where Adams and McLintock would have exhorted the team to fight for respectability. My grandson's Saturday team (he is nine) genuinely displays more fight and pride in performance than the current Arsenal side. I've seen Arsenal sides comprehensively outplayed and outclassed but none that throws the towel in so readily. Allied to the worst-drilled defence I've ever seen at Arsenal (not the worst individuals, the worst-drilled) it leads inevitably to regular beatings and ritual humiliations. I literally dread the Semi-Final and the North London Derby. This team on those stages could take us to lows we didn't know existed.
A craven and incompetent board
I met Sir Chips once. He bore the expression that I would bear at a dressmaking circle that was scheduled to last three hours. Boredom laced with apprehension. It was a supporters’ Christmas bash and he escaped massive interrogation because few people knew who he was. He struck me as an amiable man, at home in City boardrooms and perhaps on the grouse moor. In that sense, he was a worthy successor to our previous Chairman who always gave me the impression that he wasn't entirely sure what was going on and rather resented these working-class johnnies who had attached themselves to the club.
The role of a football club director needs to combine an understanding of finance (which we have in spades) with a real appreciation of what football is about, the politics of the game and the ability to network with other clubs. Love him or hate him, David Dein understood the game so much better than the current board. Much has been written about Kroenke. I won't call him 'Silent Stan' because that's an almost affectionate nickname for someone for whom I have not got a shred of affection. Here is a man who has bought an organisation that has appreciated in value by almost 100% since he took over, without the slightest contribution to that growth on his part. Small wonder that, despite a bit of aggravation 5,000 miles away, he has no wish to part with it. Kroenke has a record of never selling any of the teams in his empire and, in Wenger, he has had a man who could guarantee a stable earnings-pattern in an industry where the pickings were getting better every year and who showed a remarkable willingness to act as a lightning-rod to protect the board and owner and give us a highly credible presence overseas as a blue-chip player in a rapidly-expanding global business.
Nevertheless, after the decline we are seeing, it is inconceivable that we are even considering whether Wenger wants to sign a new two-year contract and that his future is within his gift. That is not management, it is abdication of responsibility. I sit on four boards and none of them would allow a CEO the incredible power and isolation that Wenger has. The lack of a Plan B has come back to bite a Board who must have realised that, with a 67-year-old man in charge, they needed a ready contingency plan.
I desperately hope Kroenke decides to sell. Certainly a Simeone/Kroenke type of partnership would look destined to fracture before long as the manager demands funds for team-building but is also unwilling to deflect so much criticism away from the board.
I'm old enough to remember the last year of Billy Wright's tenure. Appointing him was akin to appointing Steven Gerrard to manage Arsenal - an iconic player, associated with a rival and with no managerial experience. In his last season, we axed our two best players and they left the club (sound familiar?). It was a ghastly time that culminated in that tiny gate against Leeds when bonfires were lit on the terraces. Even then, Wright wasn't sacked until the end of the season. So despair is nothing new but it's heightened by social media and a tabloid radio/newspaper focus that is unflinching. That was absent in 1966, and thank goodness it was. Now we have a scrutiny and focus for debate that is intense and unyielding (but can still probably be ignored 5,000 miles away if it doesn't impact on the balance sheet).
Social media is in meltdown and those like me who sow will reap umpteen fold. I have a meeting today with a Palace fan who has been waiting twenty years to bait me! This new focus can enable you to lose perspective but the existence of ArsenalFanTV and the Black Scarf movement is a reality that no-one can ignore even if they don't approve of them. It's not a crime for someone paying what we pay to watch Arsenal to complain, in fact it's his right in our consumer-centric world. Arsenal handle this by employing Gazidis, a cool and impressive public orator but not a man who seems able to take the decisions he needs to without substantial reference. It's almost as if he was handed his job by Wenger - but that couldn't possibly happen…
That media scrutiny will just continue to intensify. Many enemies of Arsenal smell blood and are not prepared to swim away from a flailing carcass until they've devoured it.
Wenger at the centre of the storm
I've left Wenger until last although he is really the catalyst for everything that is happening. The team is one he has assembled, the defence is one he has failed to coach, the character is missing because he has assembled a team of questionable fortitude and mentality. He has a position that only Ferguson in recent years came anywhere near to occupying. The Board are so in thrall to him they have enabled him to design the club in almost every respect as the model that he feels works best. While he was a breath of fresh air in the mid-90s in English football, twenty years later he is doing the same things, with largely the same staff and the result is currently chaotic. Ferguson constantly reinvented himself, a sort of footballing Bowie. Wenger plods on relentlessly, believing it will all come good if we believe hard enough. The Invincible season was his zenith; the current one looks likely to be his nadir unless he gets the contract extension he craves and is ready to undergo two further years of abuse. In the meantime, views vary from gratitude for his ability to navigate us through the move to the Grove to a feeling that, for £8 million and wage expenditure way beyond many others, his achievements are only moderate, especially in Europe.
I can't and won't forget the joy of his early years and the great football we created. But I and so many others willing to stand by Wenger in the past will go crazy if this situation is allowed to go on. The end of the season is the perfect time for change. A season out of the Champions League is not terminal to a club and can aid your title-chances, especially if you can finish badly enough to dodge the Europa League as well, even if that costs Kroenke money. An announcement now probably won't help a team that needs little excuse for folding under pressure but we could then look forward to another era and at the end of the season give the thanks to Wenger many people feel he deserves. He merits a positive legacy, but the perfect storm that has brewed up in N5 may well wreck it if action is not taken. The easiest way would be for Wenger to step down with dignity and class but one feels he has no intention of leaving yet. If he doesn't, I genuinely fear for our club with an owner and manager who won't let go and a team that has forgotten, or may have never realized, what our club is about. That storm may be circling overhead for some time and perfect storms usually end in disaster.
16th April 2017 08:41:05
Comments and Reaction
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markymark 9:38am 16th Apr 2017
Really really thoughtful piece of work Peter. I hold this in comparison to Tony 'Goebels' Attwood who despite spending a career writing (as he boasts) flounders around saying don't change the manager, offers no explanation how we got where we are apart from referee conspiracies and has a weirdo in Walter to back up his world view. Anyway onto your piece. The only glimmer I might see is the potential frustration of Josh Kronke who like most young guys probably doesn't want mediocrity and is going to be more social media centric. Josh has been reported as fumbling his way to find a solution (Henry) this solution may well be wrong but at least it's an attempt. Next point is that the social media backlash will not play well with Puma. Ultimately a sporting brand doesn't want to be linked to a 'Mugabe' style old git of a manager. Doesn't really portray the right image. Finally Kronke likes things just fine from 5 thousand miles away. If the board get rebellious and start making we're walking threats. He may have to act as a major legal case and losing board members in the UK probably spoils his rather nice but dull life . Of course I am relying on the board growing some balls so perhaps forget this option. - Post No. 106387
RobG 9:47am 16th Apr 2017
Excellent article. This - and especially the conclusion - are exactly what I think. And Yes - Ferguson was a sort of footballing Bowie. - Post No. 106388
Paulward 10:20am 16th Apr 2017
Good article Peter, hard to disagree with anything. All I would say is that to some extent all modern players are pussycats and I don't see a great number of leaders at any of our rivals to be honest. If Arsenal and Tottenham swapped managers , we would not be 17 points behind them I'm sure, and look how different this seasons Chelsea are to last. Leadership on the pitch is secondary to coaching and clear thinking off it. - Post No. 106389
Guernsey gunner 11:45am 16th Apr 2017
Good stuff Peter hard to disagree with any of it. As I have posted here before if clueless oversees the summer (Sanchez gone and a few others probably) dross coming in, no tactical changes next season will be a total shambles with humiliation heaped on humiliation. I am beyond caring if he signs as what I have stated above will happen if he does and he will be out by Xmas. Shame he wants to go out this way but it's his decision - bizarrely. - Post No. 106390
Yes its Ron 12:04pm 16th Apr 2017
A truly excellent post Peter. i suppose bizarrely the present storm and doubtless the one to come next Season if nothing changes is the most exciting thing to happen at Arsenal for 8 or 9 years at least. This regimes biggest crime is that they've made Arsenal boring again and tedious in so many ways and for so many reasons that the Howe years and GG s years of 93-95 could only have ever imagined. The Clubs as stale as that left over loaf that i return home to that gets left in the breadbin before i go away for a week! Ian Wright called for Kroenke s head yesterday. So true and so needed. All of these demos have left Kroenke out of the loop and shdt have done in my view. - Post No. 106391
Rippy 12:11pm 16th Apr 2017
The only thing left to do now is sack Wenger. Why give him another deal ? His gone past it finished. Not sure if this is a sign but sead kolisinac was an allegri target for juve! Fingers crossed his on his way and is already preparing some ground work. We can but dream of having a proper manager rather than an egotistical maniac in charge! Even with the monster that is kroenke in charge. With the right manager we can be successful. Let's be totally honest. David from aside ( don't forget even he brought on kroenke) the board have always been small minded and prettty ****. - Post No. 106392
Moscowgooner 13:44pm 16th Apr 2017
I said under another article that the parallels with the end of the Billy Wright era in 1966 are quite clear - and can give us some hope! Your comment on poor corporate governance is spot on: we have a board that seems to have gone AWOL and a CEO who is scared of his key employee! If Arsenal were a listed company the share price would have gone through the floor. Unbelievable mismanagement or lack of oversight. And now we seem to be lobbing vast amounts of money at Alexis to stop him moving to Chelsea.... - Post No. 106394
mbg 14:10pm 16th Apr 2017
Here we go again (yawn)respect for TOF's great achievements, what achievements ? if there was any at all that were actually down to him (and they certainly weren't down to him alone) their in the dustbin of history now ruined, air brushed out of history, forgotten, just like he has done with all good things we used to have at this club. Respect for his great achievements ? don't make me laugh, if he'd arrived here eleven, twelve, years ago (and hadn't at his disposal what he inherited) with his record that he has now along with all the humiliations and embarrassments etc, would you and others still be saying that ? No, you'd have been shouting for his head long before you have now, and if your ex messiah was such a great manager with great achievements why hasn't he replicated them instead of becoming the laughing stock of Europe. We want wenger out we want the old fraud out. - Post No. 106395
KC38 15:31pm 16th Apr 2017
What an excellent read. Amongst all of the sad dynamics Kronke, Wenger, the old Etonian privileged despicable set up it's the actual performances or lack of them that is unacceptable. The constant defensive shambles, the lack of a cutting edge, a totally mediocre midfield. How any Arsenal fan can watch the sh1t on offer and not want a total managerial change is beyond all understanding. Kronke will lose money if this continues and that is my only hope that change can happen. - Post No. 106396
Bard 15:43pm 16th Apr 2017
Very good article Peter but i think you are missing a major ingredient. Stan is involved in a monster investment over in the US. I would suspect that he has used Arsenal with Wenger as its head as collateral. The question might be does Wenger leaving affect his borrowing capacity ?If it does then Wenger will stay whatever the results. My point t is that Arsenal's success or lack of it on the field is an irrelevance right now. As ever with Arsenal its all about the money. - Post No. 106397
Robert Exley 17:18pm 16th Apr 2017
Good piece. Amused at your story of meeting Sir Chips. Sounds similar to the time I met him, which I recounted in my last piece on this subject. Might well have been the same Xmas bash I was at too - Post No. 106398
Siddy 17:23pm 16th Apr 2017
mgb, I always look out for your comments. Your opinions seem to be very much in tune with my own. I don't have the heart to write articles about Wenger anymore, I've said what I think. Yes, with the benefit of hindsight, he wouldn't have won nearly as much had it not been for what he inherited. I've finally got to the point where I want us to lose matches just so W***er goes. Finish outside the top five is the price I'm willing to pay. All the joy of supporting Arsenal is being throttled by The Messiah. It's not even about winning or losing but just seeing the same cycle of optimism and failure season after season. I actually hate him now. Can't bear to watch his interviews, he's so full of s*** and everyone knows it. Dunno what else to say. Take a f***ing hint and get out of OUR club. - Post No. 106399
mbg 18:42pm 16th Apr 2017
Yes like i said yesterday on another article that's the problem with being a gooner now (and has been for a long time now)we haven't a leg to stand on any more when it comes to giving it to others, scousers, manc's, chavs, spuds, (jesus h even palace fans)to name but a few (remember when we could ? without fail)oh how the mighty have fallen, No we're now down there with all the rest of the also rans, and are now the team everyone else is slagging off, and laughing at and have become the butt of jokes for everyone and there's f**k all we can do about it, did we ever think that/this day would come ? and it's all down to, and because of, an old past it embarrassment of a manager. Go now wenger you embarrassment. @no new contract. - Post No. 106400
joebaker9 20:16pm 16th Apr 2017
This is a very commendable article; thoughtfully argued and right on the button. However, we have seen a great many articles lamenting the situation at the club. No one can sensibly dispute the rotten decline that has set in. But describing a disaster scene without trying to do something to clear up the mess doesn’t achieve anything. So far we have seen placards, aeroplanes, marches, and more recently an exhortation to write to the manager. Have these measures really achieved anything that has changed the status quo? I don’t think so. What we haven’t seen is a fulsome demonstration of opposition to Wenger within the stadium. When will the home crowd wake from their slumber? It’s no good fans voicing their concerns once a new contract has been announced. We hear a lot about the fans respect for Wenger, but where is Wenger’s respect for the fans? The time to act is rapidly passing. Wenger has to be made to feel uncomfortable on his own ground. Every fan in the stadium has a voice. When are we going to hear them? Ultimately, the only real continuity in the club is the fan base and they are the real owners. Without them the club is nothing. Therefore, they have a responsibility to do what is in their, and the clubs’s best interest. And that surely must be to make this man’s position untenable. The “perfect storm” alluded to in this excellent piece, needs to break out in the stadium. - Post No. 106401
KC38 20:57pm 16th Apr 2017
Joe - Excellent post, I have always thought that if enough fans at the ground continually called for Wenger to go he could not handle it. - Post No. 106402
mbg 22:30pm 16th Apr 2017
Siddy, we're certainly on the same wave length mate, like a lot of others too, it's got to the stage now I can't respect him for anything, he really doesn't deserve it regardless of what others say, it's way to late for any respect, fond memories or nostalgia, if he's have pissed off three or four years ago he probably would have gotten all that. TOF has been and is just getting worse over the Years/Months and every day/game that goes by and never once has he shown any difference or remorse or that he's going to learn (no matter what him and his mouth piece wally's spout)or any of this respect to the fans that people keep saying HE deserve, and that's what pisses a lot of people and fans off even more (look at this contract shyte) what respect is he showing us all ? as every day goes by every embarrassment, stuffing etc, etc, it's making fans worse, turning them against him even more, dare i say it fans like myself, yourself, and a lot of others on here who would never have been like that/this before but wenger and all his shenanigans, embarrassments, humiliations, stuffing's, lies, spin, lack of respect, etc, etc, has driven them/us to it, yes as every day goes by and i listen to TOF and all his bullshyte I hate him more, and want him out even more. #no new contract, wenger out. - Post No. 106403
mbg 23:58pm 16th Apr 2017
joebaker9, excellent post yes we all have a voice (that's one thing this weasel of a manager can't take from us or prevent) and it's something I myself have been saying and advocating for years now(and nobody seems to be listening)as much as all these marches and protests are welcome and long may they continue, it's inside the ground where they need to be, it's the only way, and constant, before it's to late, directed at wenger the directors box, no let up, we want wenger out, etc, etc, that will ruffle feathers and bring the haemorrhoids out on the soft seats big big time where it'll definitely be heard around the world, sponsors, etc, etc, there will be no hiding place he simply couldn't last, inside the ground is the only way, yes we all have a voice use it before it's to late, there's no good in complaining later, do we want him out or not. We want wenger out we want wenger out. - Post No. 106404
TonyEvans 8:06am 17th Apr 2017
Couldn't agree with you more, Peter, and to cap it all we also have the Spuds making a decent fist of a title challenge, with a league and cup double not beyond the realms of possibility. Come on Boro - do us all a favour and keep the pressure right on. As I said before it really is now or never for me so anything goes to rid the club of Wenger. - Post No. 106405
jeff wright 8:46am 17th Apr 2017
According to an Arsenal supporter journo on the radio earlier it is widely believed in Europe that Wenger is expected to be with us for the next two years .Perhaps these Europeans know something that we don't. Then again they widely believed that Brexit would fail so hopefully they have it wrong again with Wexit. I agree with many of the points in the article other than those regarding Keystone Kos .I find this view of the erratic can't head a ball properly Sunday Pub league class player Kos that the defence suffers when he is absent (this is usually when he sees the going getting tough and limps off) to be rather odd. It should be pointed out that this little bottler has starred in all of the worst defeats suffered in the history of AFC !So how the heck can our defence be worse with out him in it.All of those worst ever defeats have come on Wenger's watch .This alone shows that Wenger is far from being a good manager let alone a great one .Does anyone really believe that the old fool deserves another two years with us just because he has been in his well paid comfort zone job for twenty years. With Wenger loyalty comes at a price . And a heavy one at that. He needs showing the exit pronto and not being allowed another two seasons to inflict yet more misery on long suffering supporters .Every result went against his top 4 aspirations again at the weekend .There really does look to be an inevitability about him failing to win his 4th place trophy this season. Tonight's game makes no difference to that scenario even if Wenger wins it. No top 4 place this season really must be game up for him . - Post No. 106406
Up For Grabs Now 9:07am 17th Apr 2017
A perfect storm indeed Peter, with just one ingredient now needed to end it. That is simply for the majority of home fans en masse, to start calling for Wenger’s head consistently, regardless of whether or not during any specific game the team are winning or not. This, as it always has been, is the key. It’s as simple as that!! Forget supposed reluctance about doing that, out of some kind of respect towards Wenger, because if they don’t do this, Wenger will show you what kind of respect he has for the now overwhelming opinion about his future, by signing that new contract!!!! In other words, Wenger has zero respect for the fans, so why on earth do some still feel they should show it to him, despite wanting him out? If you genuinely want him out, you must vocalise that during home games, otherwise it will be more groundhog seasons to come, with a difference, we will be mid-table fodder!! - Post No. 106407
24th April 2017
Online Ed: Arsenal win FA Cup semi-final v Man City