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Arsenal: Unwilling Beyond Fourth

Perhaps a lack or ambition or maybe a failure to adapt to how football has changed, Arsenal have failed to convince in yet another Premier League season. Andrew Thompson voices his opinion and questions the London club’s aspirations.


Perhaps the timing of this is fitting, discussing just why, at least for me, Arsenal just do not have what it takes to finally achieve greater things in the Premier League more than the Arsene Wenger memorial fourth place trophy.  After success in the FA Cup in May and another mad dash to the final Champions League birth, we were all promised more…we were promised progression – it hasn’t happened.  What’s worse? It won’t happen this season either, but when will it?  When will we finally be apart of the Premier League elite once more?

So, why is the timing of this beyond perfect?  Recent news has boiled to the surface that Le Prof is nearing the singing of 17-year old Krystian Bielik from Legia Warsaw.  Who, you may ask? Well to be honest, I haven’t got a clue who that is, apart from our usual January spending that involves minimal financial resources being sacrificed, young player for the future being brought it, and MAYBE a loan-signing to add some semblance of added squad depth.  The problem is, this is more than inadequate, and has been for quite sometime.

It’s probably a little bit ironic that Bielik is a holding-midfielder, and considering that’s been the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle since Gilberto Silva left the club (and Patrick Vieira before him), why oh why is Wenger wasting his time on a youngster who will have no immediate impact?  Your guess is as good as mine, but many of us have stopped trying to understand the man, who arguably maybe does not even understand himself.

To wrap up the sentiments of many on the subject, I turn to a post I saw on Facebook earlier today that, quite frankly, hits the nail on the head;

“Our wafer thin squad is already at breaking point thanks to a serious lack of investment in key areas.  Our illustrious manager has neglected the defense, has yet to bring in a holding midfielder, and insists on thinking that the likes of Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck are strikers to help us challenge at the top. 

 For years we’ve had issues with buying young, lightweight, tippy-tappy players who just get bullied off the ball in massive matches, especially against our rivals.  We’ve gone and loaned out a key and experienced player in Lukas Podolski, our star man is being run into the ground, our most solid center-back’s fitness and commitment levels are coming under question, our number one keeper has the IQ level of an Amoeba and is currently on the brink of being frozen out of the first-team…

 But fret not!!! Wenger is currently negotiating to purchase a 17-year old unproven lightweight Polish midfielder.  Ahh…don’t you just love the smell of mediocrity in the morning?  WENGER OUT!!”

 Over the course of this season, you’d merely have to find your way onto Twitter, Facebook, or Arsenal dedicated fan operations such as Arsenal Fan TV to truly see just how fed up the supporters truly are.  Not only are we baffled, but we also don’t understand how the entire English footballing institution can see the issues going on at the Emirates, but somehow Arsene Wenger cannot.  In an article released recently, James Olley of The London Evening Standard quotes Wenger as insisting that Arsenal DO NOT need to sign anyone in January, and that the only event that would lead to activity would be questions over the fitness over Laurent Koscielny…and then people still wonder why we’re baffled?

In short, we will be stuck fighting for fourth for a while, and despite just touching the surface of the issues that contribute to our plight, lets delve in just a little further.

It was just a few weeks ago that I found myself in midtown Manhattan at the Football Factory with a few fellow Gooners for the Arsenal-Liverpool match.  While I’ll avoid the result and the fact that all of us there could see it coming from a mile away, it’s the profound words of my former midfield partner AJ that comes to mind as I write this.

“Arsenal are a fourth place side because they have been built and manufactured to be nothing more than a fourth place side.  Think about it for a moment, it’s the current model that is the ideal fit for our business profile.

 When you always aim to finish fourth, what does that do?  It keeps you in Champions League and continues to give you access to the cash flows that come via the group stage and reaching the round of 16 year in and year out.  It allows you to maintain a level of prestige that can attract talented players as well.  But most importantly, it insures that; 1. There is never pressure to win, and 2. It means you can always easily sell players on to elite clubs.

 How many top players have we sold to bigger clubs, with them citing that we lack ambition?  They come here because of our stature, play a few years, raise their stock and then they move on to big clubs to win things while we let them go to maintain our profit margins – it’s only ever about the money these days and I cannot see it changing anytime soon.”

 While AJ’s opinion is dangerously close to suggesting that Arsenal fix matches via their play on the pitch to engineer fourth place intentionally, the point I think he was trying to make was simply, why try to push on for anything better than fourth?

To further expand, consider what fourth means; just good enough to get into Europe and maintain your status as a top side in the country, but nothing more than that.  What happens if Arsenal finishes third or second? It would crease expectation, and the want of something even greater amongst the players.  To do so would then require spending far beyond what the club is willing because they’d have to officially compete in the transfer market with the likes of Chelsea, City and United.  Further more, any indication to the players that a title challenge was indeed very real, we’d no longer be able to sell players on to keep padding our coffers.  Whether it is true or not, it’s an interesting hypothesis nonetheless, and at this point, nothing can truly be ruled out.

But, let us dispense with theories and return to the facts.  When you compare our current squad to Chelsea, City and United, it’s difficult to see how we can finish above fourth not just this season, but seasons to come.

Current first-team best XI’s

Chelsea:  Courtois; Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic; Fabregas, Matic; Hazard, Oscar, Willian; Costa

City: Hart; Clichy, Mangala, Kompany, Sagna; Toure, Fernandinho; Nasri, Silva, Navas; Aguero

United: DeGea; Rojo, Jones, Blind; Valencia, Carrick, Herrera, DiMaria; Mata; van Persie, Rooney

Arsenal: Szczesny; Gibbs, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Debuchy; Wilshere, Ramsey; Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez; Giroud

The painful truth and the inevitable admission of being second class hit me a few seasons back, but looking at this list only confirms that sentiment.  If you take Arsenal’s best XI possible, only Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny have a realistic chance of being a guaranteed starter at our rivals, with a few others having to fight tooth and nail to maybe nail down a starting birth.  If you reverse the flow of traffic, mostly everyone at our rivals could come to the Emirates and walk straight into our best XI, it’s that simple.

You see, it’s not that we lack quality, it’s that we lack quality in sufficient numbers not only in key areas, but in depth as well.  Not only do our rivals have better XI’s, but their benches are deeper and contain better ability on the whole – our rivals are built to challenge, while we’re built to skirt by in their wake and take what is left…the harsh reality? Simple…it didn’t have to be this way.  Despite not playing into accepting the stadium expenses as a reason to curb spending and ambition, for the moment I will cede that point and discuss just the last two seasons.

Now that we are in an incredibly healthy financial situation that finds us as one of the richest clubs in all of world football, the notion of us “doing it the right way” still remains one of our min mantra’s…but doing it the right way only guarantees we stay where we are, not were we could be.  The unfortunate truth is that the Premier League has been a spenders league for years – if you have any ambition on winning, you have to spend to do it, and that is something that Stan Kroenke, the board and Wenger all are unwavering in their stance against large sums of cash being sacrificed to put us back in the conversation of true title contenders.  When you’re as wealthy as we are, putting the money to use rather than having it lay in state in our bank account is foolish at best – this is football, not banking 101, and it highlights what many players have been saying for years as they left the club for bigger and better things; we truly lack ambition to be winners.

Think back to the slew of top players we have had that all left to win things; it’s a variable who’s who of gifted footballers, talented internationals, and even Thierry Henry himself left for Barcelona because he knew we’d never match his ambition to win Champions League – when the darling of your club can say that, you should stand up and surely take notice.

As football evolves by the minute, so must your club, its owners, and the manager…it’s something we have not done and show no signs of considering.  Go back to the beginning of this piece and think on the 17-year old Polish midfielder we’re willing to spend 2million pounds on, but not giving Sporting Lisbon a ring on the telephone and dropping 25million on a player who would vastly improve us both now and in the future.  This is the mentality that remains at the club…constantly staring out the office windows at London Colney and thinking of what COULD be in years to come, rather than doing what is necessary NOW.

So, in closing, the answer is no my friends, no to the notion that Arsenal will break out of it’s fourth place shell any time soon.  Just like any venue in life where change is necessary, change cannot happen unless change is wanted, and wen it comes to our beloved club, there are no signs of anyone in a position of power who wants our status quo flipped on it’s head.  We make a ton of money, we finish fourth, we feature in Champions League – for them that is more than enough.  While other clubs focus on trying to win the league or conquer Europe, we’re too busy trying to figure out how to maximize profit and if we should raise ticket prices yet again.

So while we sit here frustrated, angry and feeling fed up and used for our hard earned money, they line their pockets and hoard our earnings in a vault reminiscent of Scrooge McDuck’s gold flooded piggy bank.  Football is simple…if you want to win, you go out of our way to truly find ways to put yourself in a position to do just that – our rivals do, we don’t.  It’s the harshest of realities…one that won’t be changing any time soon.

Written by Andrew Thompson

Andrew Thompson

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