Are Arsenal’s values synonymous with success?

By Kevin Whitcher

Or perhaps an excuse for the handbrake transfer window policy?

A friend sent me a interview with former Manchester United player Nicky Butt a couple of days back, and it got me thinking. There are a couple of things that struck me in it. So just to give it some context, here’s the interview in full for those that don’t want to read it on manutd.com

Nicky Butt has explained how Manchester United are working to breed a winning mentality and has challenged four first-team stars to ensure that it continues.

United's Head of Academy, who was part of the club's famous Class of '92, knows what it takes to come up through the ranks and turn talent into trophies.

In a fascinating interview with ManUtd.com, Butt gave an insight into the beliefs that he and his coaching staff are trying to instill, and says you have to be a winner to succeed at Old Trafford.

“I think it’s massive to develop mentally," he said. "Wherever it is, you’ve got to have the right mental attitude towards work and towards other people. You’ve got to be a good person, and I believe that, even though a few inevitably slip through the net as in any other walk of life, we produce good people here. Hopefully they work in football but, if not, they go on to do other things successfully.

“It’s drilled into you from an early age. It’s all well and good being a United player, but you need to be a winner. Ultimately, if you’re not winning things here, you won’t last long, and that’s a fact. The manager will look to someone else who can win.

"This club has built its foundations on winning, we’ve always won things and been successful. We’ve had dry spells, like any club, but we always get back to winning. If you’re not a winner, if you’re not brought up with that winning mentality, you’re going to struggle in the first team."

Asked about the club's wider ethos, Butt said it's up to Academy graduates Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba, as well as new club captain Michael Carrick, to carry on those traditions, particularly when it comes to new signings.

“People like Marcus, Jesse and Paul, people who know the system, they have to carry the club now. As well as Michael Carrick, who knows the place inside out. These young players who come in for a lot of money might not know the club or the environment or the area, so it’s up to those guys to incorporate them into United and instill those beliefs.

"They need to be introducing them to Kath on reception [at the Aon Training Complex], letting them know how long she’s been here at the club. They have to know about how many players she’s seen come through those doors down the years and decades. They need to recognise the laundry people, the canteen ladies, the chefs, the groundstaff and security lads – they’re part of our family and you need to say 'good morning' to them every single day.

"When you come to United, the players are the superstars and the ones everyone wants an autograph from but, when you come into this building, we’re all equal. We all have a role and, without one, we don’t have a team. Without the kit guys or the bus drivers, without the security guards and canteen staff, there wouldn’t be a football club. It’s important for the players to let the new lads know what Manchester United is all about."

So, the couple of things that struck me were the stuff regarding the importance of winning. “If you’re not a winner, if you’re not brought up with that winning mentality, you’re going to struggle in the first team.” Brought up with that winning mentality. It was absent at Arsenal for many seasons after the clear out of the Invincibles, and the notion that finishing in the top four should be something celebrated with great vigour after beating the likes of West Brom and Newcastle United away on the final day of the season to finish a distance behind the champions. Simply put, the bar at Arsenal seems to be set lower.

The other thing that resonated was the idea that the canteen staff at the training ground had equal value – when everyone turned up for work there – as the superstars. That spells to me a real sense of values. Humility and respect rather than arrogance. I am not saying that the Arsenal players necessarily do not value the London Colney staff in the same way, but I get the feeling the United playing staff may be more grounded, possibly in less of a comfort bubble than at Arsenal, where people do not seem to be so accountable for falling short, if one believes the club should be challenging for the top honours. It’s the reason that United have changed managers three times since the departure of Alex Ferguson. Domestic cups are good, yes, but not enough to save your job. If United do not make a title challenge this season, Mourinho will be out on his ear. The Europa League victory bought him time.

I often hear the manager and the CEO talking about Arsenal’s values, so did a Google search to see exactly what these were defined as. Two of the highest results seemed to link these values with not spending money on transfer fees, which was enlightening.

First up, in the summer of 2013, a few weeks before the opening day defeat at home to Aston Villa and the outcry that forced the club into spending big on Mesut Ozil, we have this from Arsene Wenger:

"The fans, the players and everybody is reassured by big names. But what is important is that we don't need numbers, we need quality. For years we were out of the race for the top-level transfers but we are coming back now because we are in a better financial situation and also because of Financial Fair Play. That will give everybody a bit more even ground. We must rely on the quality of our work, on the style of our play and the fact we develop our own players. We will only use financial resources to bring in one or two players who will give us something more. It's very important that we keep to our strengths and what managed to get us through this period.”

So, to break that down, the strengths (or values if one reads the headline) are as follows:
The quality of our work
The style of our play
The fact we develop our own players

Ok, so wouldn’t the quality of the work be reflected in performances, results and points? Has the quality of the work improved at all since the move from Highbury over a decade ago? Surely it needs to or Arsenal will never win another title.

The style of our play is an interesting one. Arsenal matches can be entertaining for the neutral because so often the side will play attacking football at the sacrifice of defensive solidity. So goals both ends (or when facing a better team, plenty at one of them), open football and drama. What's not to like? Nothing if you have no interest in the Gunners winning trophies.

As for developing players, let’s take the current assumed first choice eleven. Bellerin came young, so fair enough. Any others? Ramsey was developed by Cardiff and played in an FA Cup final before arriving at Arsenal, so he can’t be claimed. Where are the values here?

Anyway, let's move on to these words from last summer

“I believe that despite all the money a club is about identity. Identity is about values and values have been carried through the generations through somebody. Is it the chairman, is it the manager, is it some players who stay for a long period at the club? I hope it will always be the case. It’s not only about spending money or sacking the manager. Football has to be a bit bigger than that. That’s why I believe the big clubs worry about values and identity. We have to be conscious that that is important as well.”

Hmmm… if the big clubs worry about value and identity, why do they jettison unsuccessful managers then? It looks to me like the retain their identity regardless of who is in the dugout. What, to me, would symbolize the concept of values is being more straightforward with the messages given out to the supporters through the media. So the statement that Alexis Sanchez is not being sold will look pretty hollow when he actually is. If the values of the club are symbolized in Arsene’s affirmations, then they are not worth too much.

Steve Bould came from an Arsenal era in which a winning culture predominated. As did Jens Lehmann. The lack of influence Bould seems to have had in improving the team’s competitiveness does not augur well for Lehmann doing what the team seems to need. So I would change the core values that the club require to the following –

Prioritising a winning culture
Making people accountable for failure to reach the standards expected of a club of Arsenal’s stature
Going onto the pitch with a determination not to lose as the default position
Demonstrating humility rather than arrogance or denial when things do not go to plan
Spending all available funds to maximize the chances of success
Bringing in more backroom staff with experience of what it takes to win titles and allowing them to pass this onto the players by allowing them greater influence

Because currently, to me, the Arsenal values espoused by the manager seem to be used as an excuse for failure.

27th July 2017 10:13:30


Comments and Reaction

User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.

Bard  12:21pm 27th Jul 2017

Terrific article Kev. Gets right to the heart of the issue. There is a major problem though. If Arsenal were to change their philosophy and make it more like Utd then there is no place for Wenger and thats the rub. He is now a mediocre manager and we are a mediocre team. All the other stuff is about justifying failure. Its like being beaten 6-0 at tennis and then the loser saying he was more interested in the quality of the backhand than winning. In truth Wenger opts out competing by trumpeting the fact that he has higher ideals. its total b*******. - Post No. 108591

Aylesbury Gooner  12:38pm 27th Jul 2017

Great article Kev, We use to have that mentality too but as pointed out by Butt after the invincibles it all went to pot and we all know why.Bard spot on with your post. - Post No. 108592

DJW  12:41pm 27th Jul 2017

Bard: Exactly, it is like the settling for second place for the next twenty years quote. What other club would enter a competition that have no desire of winning. Wenger has bred a culture of mediocrity and Stan is happy to indulge him as long as the money comes rolling in.............. - Post No. 108593

TonyEvans  12:55pm 27th Jul 2017

They are not Arsenal values, they're Wenger values, no more, no less. The style over substance, spin over fact, and arrogance over humility culture at Arsenal is all Wenger - purely and simply to suit his own agenda. I would love to see the values in the final paragraph of this article at Arsenal, but will have to wait until the cancer of Wenger has been totally removed from the club. - Post No. 108594

Exeter Ex  13:28pm 27th Jul 2017

Wenger has tried to blur the lines between himself and Arsenal, and as we've seen for example in some of the comments we get on here on occasion, he's been at least partially successful. The 'values' talk is part of that attempt to make Arsenal and Arsene as one. What Wenger actually means by 'values' is 'I should be manager forever with no sporting expectation, criticism or accountability, only unconditional worship'. - Post No. 108595

jwe1981  13:45pm 27th Jul 2017

The values that Kev suggests are all totally against what Arsene stands for: Prioritising a winning culture X Making people accountable for failure to reach the standards expected of a club of Arsenal’s stature X Going onto the pitch with a determination not to lose as the default position X Demonstrating humility rather than arrogance or denial when things do not go to plan X Spending all available funds to maximize the chances of success X Bringing in more backroom staff with experience of what it takes to win titles and allowing them to pass this onto the players by allowing them greater influence X All boxes are not ticked but crossed under AW. The only true core value AW has is this: DO ANYTHING AND SAY ANYTHING I CAN TO KEEP IN MY OWN JOB WITH MY SALARY COMING IN TO MY BANK ACCOUNT EACH MONTH Tick Tick Tick!!! - Post No. 108596

Paulward  13:52pm 27th Jul 2017

Agree with everyone above, didn't hear too much about these values when we were winning league titles that's for sure.Those of us above a certain age who followed the club long before Wenger arrived will know that our club was always respected, if not loved, even by rival supporters, and known for having a touch of class. Wengers lame attempts to leave his own legacy of different values just do not wash, quite frankly the sooner we can all move on from our manager the better, it's beyond stale now. - Post No. 108597

Big Andy  13:55pm 27th Jul 2017

Excellent article, Kevin. As usual, there is a strong anti-Wenger feeling on this page, but the real problem isn't Wenger but Kroenke and the Board. Wenger should have been handed his P45 at least five years ago. The recent demise of Arsenal is due to the lack of leadership at the very top of the club. The difference between Arsenal and Chelsea is the difference between Stan Kroenke and Roman Abramovitch. - Post No. 108598

Exeter Ex  14:12pm 27th Jul 2017

Note in particular the lines: " Identity is about values and values have been carried through the generations through somebody. Is it the chairman, is it the manager, is it some players who stay for a long period at the club?" Here Wenger is saying Arsenal's identity is carried by him. If he goes, Arsenal lose their identity. The ego is galactic. Funnily enough though, I see it exactly the opposite - Arsenal have lost their identity under Wenger. - Post No. 108599

TonyEvans  14:12pm 27th Jul 2017

Big Andy - yes the board and Kronke are not blameless by any means; an Abramovitch type would have sacked Wenger years ago. Wenger is still a huge part of the problem though. - Post No. 108600

Yes its Ron  14:15pm 27th Jul 2017

Good stuff Kev and spot on. Wengers values are a bit of a smokescreen really used to cover up ours and his limitations and to quell any upsurge in the desire to win needed at the top level. All Clubs have values. Ours arent any way superior though Arsenal and Wenger will have people believe that they are. AFC have always been a snobby Club due to the he old etonion traditions there. Its served them ok really, though creating a winning machine as Butt mentions has never been on the agenda there. GG brought such an approach of course between 87 and 91 and its that which marks him out as having been a better Coach than AW in my view. I think Wenger is disturbed these days by having the types of personality around him that demands success and such types threaten his fiefdom. The types he has had of that ilk were inherited by him. Others who developed such an approach have been sold off. Ive termed Arsenal for quite some years as a 'social Club'. Corinthianism has its place but in modern day sport, its a luxury only and not a major facet of a football Club. The trouble with Arsenal is that Wengers so called values have permeated the Club from top to bottom. The culture of the Club could take quite a few years to cure. Arsenal are just a 'nice' Club. Nice comes last though im afraid. Much of the modern day support have bought into it though, hook line and sinker. They re the lifeblood for the continuance of this wretched regime. - Post No. 108601

mbg  14:46pm 27th Jul 2017

Absolutely not Arsenal's values are more synonymous with the values of the old past it arrogant egoistic weasel of a manager they have managing them, Failure. We want wenger out. - Post No. 108602

Moscow Gooner  16:06pm 27th Jul 2017

The point is well made above by others: Wenger is talking about his own personal values - not Arsenal´s. Playing pretty football for example was never part of our DNA: we used to sneer at Chelsea, Spurs and WHU in the 70s for playing nice football while we won games and trophies. Keeping a tight defence; a 'backs to the wall' mentality; showing fight and commitment - these were all core Arsenal values that could be traced from Copping through Mercer to McLintock and then through to Tony Adams and Martin Keown in more recent times. Virtually all of that has now been washed away. We are left with a business entity that focuses on flogging merchandise and the ´match day experience' to tourists. Take a look at our match day programmes from say the late ´60s: you would see letters there with quite trenchant criticism of players, manager and board. Today we have an overpriced, glossy, propaganda sheet - with dissent ruthlessly scrubbed out. The price of progress.... - Post No. 108603

Yes its Ron  17:04pm 27th Jul 2017

MG - Dead on correct . The Clubs culture is all designed shaped and honed and perfected to suit the sponsors and the 'corporatisation' of the Club. These whiter than white values are accompanied by the effeminate kits the Club has had for the last 10 years too. The bastardization of our kit is one of the clubs biggest sins in my view. - Post No. 108604

mbg  17:32pm 27th Jul 2017

Ah yes the Financial fair play, we all remember it, and what it was going to do for us, lauded and used for excuse after excuse by TOF and his AKB luvvies at every opportunity, (and even funnier believed by them)where did it ever go ? and what did it ever do ? did it ever happen ? lol, it did exactly what fans like myself and others on here said it would way back then, would and didn't make any f*****g difference, if there was any such thing at all. wenger out. - Post No. 108606

mbg  17:55pm 27th Jul 2017

Bard, yes remember the AKB's who used to spout it's not about the winning but how we play/played, lol, after being stuffed 3 or 4 while tippy tapping all over the place, You couldn't make it up. wenger out. - Post No. 108607

Seven Kings Gooner1  18:34pm 27th Jul 2017

Great piece Kev : for me the real missing factor that made Arsenal so different was Highbury, leaving that hallowed plot has torn up all the things that made Arsenal a special club. The Art Deco design, the marble halls, the glass house where the managers and coaches sat, our floodlights were not hundreds of feet in the air but fixed to the fascia of the east and west stands. Not an advert in sight at the ground or in the programme, and what a programme, the best in the league with it's photos from the previous weeks action. A marching band - at West Ham the band would stroll out carrying their instruments and a folding chair, plant themselves into a corner of the ground in rough circle and more or less in time would proceed with "bubbles" then finishing on roughly the same note the "musicians" would trapse off to the four corners of the stadium to polite applause. We had a precision marching band for god sake, then at five to three Constable Alex Morgan would perform his magnificent rendition of "My way". We had an underground station named after the club, a club crest that belonged in ancient heraldry and a succession of great captains who knew and understood why Arsenal were so different. The club had a commissionaire on the door and lords in the boardroom, when a Blackpool player thought he was being funny, as he was ushered into the temple of football, by asking if "his lordship was attending today's match" with a straight face our uniformed greeter told the player "that his lordship only attended important matches" said player visibly shrunk a few feet! We had so much at Highbury and then to crown it all we played a whole season undefeated in the league. Now at "the Bird's nest" it is just about the money, no characters in the team, strong personalities discouraged by current manager and a club captain is no longer required. We are run top to bottom by the boss's mate who has thrown away all his love of winning trophies for vice like control and has developed a propaganda dept that would make Pravda look like amateurs. If I had a time machine I would set for a Saturday afternoon in November, sometime in the 1960's at 5 minutes to three just to hear "My way" sung by a policeman who means more to me about Arsenal in singing his party piece than the whole current management and board put together. Highbury RIP. - Post No. 108608

Exeter Ex  21:18pm 27th Jul 2017

No defenders of the status quo daring to show up in the face of all these great comments, but the comment by Seven Kings Gooner is worthy of being an article by itself. - Post No. 108609

mbg  2:04am 28th Jul 2017

S K G1, good post, and of course the old weasel wenger knew all that/this, the history traditions of the club etc, etc, and was fully aware of it/them, and when he started to taste success and get above his station thanks to George Graham was f*****g jealous of it, and hated it, so set about destroying it all, air brushing all that you say and was Arsenal out of history and turning it all into a mirror image of himself with his failed ways, ideals, and philosophies an arrogant egoistic failure and has been aided and abbeted all along the way by his AKB wengerite supporters, and how he has succeeded, all that is now gone, his dirty fingerprints are everywhere you look, not a tradition left (even a relativity simple one like having a great defence) all airbrushed out, possibly never to return, we're a nobody, also rans, a laughing stock,all because an old arrogant egoistic c**t who is nothing more than a dictator high on power was allowed his way. We want wenger out. - Post No. 108611

markymark  6:32am 28th Jul 2017

SKG - probably the best post at least in the "I want my Arsenal back" genre I've read. I suppose things move onward but a continuity has been broken with very little thought as to what made us tick. The Wengorisation of Arsenal seems constantly determined to undervalue the Arsenal past. In that regard Wengo has something in common with Lenin or Stalin. Though I've recently detected more Kim Il Jong. - Post No. 108612

The Knowing One  10:28am 28th Jul 2017

Great post Seven Kings Gooner1 Totally agree about Highbury feeling a cut above, when I first went back in the seventies each ground was unique and it was only when you went to other grounds that you really appreciated just how special Highbury was this couldn't always be seen from the telly but behind the scenes and in the entrances and stairwells, it was then you realised other grounds like Leicester, West Ham, Coventry were little more than nailed together tin sheds, Old Trafford and Anfield had something about but Highbury was far and above anything else and the club should have tried to incorporate some of that into the new stadium, but you only have to look at the awful away kits and the cartoon club crest to realise the club sold it soul long ago - Post No. 108613

Alsace  22:00pm 28th Jul 2017

Got it in one. We aren't trying to win. We are pretending to try and win. How very European. How absolutely demoralising. How thoroughly worthless. - Post No. 108619

!No Pasaran!  8:16am 29th Jul 2017

Seve Kings, great stuff. Those of us who remember those days cannot read what you have written without a heavy heart. Back then the words 'no individual is bigger than the club' had meaning. Now the AFC corporation relies on us not having a memory that goes back further than three weeks. - Post No. 108620

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