Gunners need a band aid, but do they know it’s crisis?

The Ox and Franck Photo: PA

ARSENAL’S implosion on the pitch is one thing, but the club is apparently in crisis mode, from the protesters on the streets to the laughing Chilean on the bench, if you believe everything you see and read, there is an emergency on planet Gooner.

But are Arsenal REALLY in crisis? Do they know what crisis means at the Emirates? We don’t think so, for Arsenal are one appointment away from solving most of their issues.

They only have themselves to blame if they feel under pressure right now. This is a club that has, for decades, run itself conservatively, prudently and with stability in mind. That was fine until the world of high-powered finance came along, TV started throwing huge sums of money their way and players started to run the code of ethics.

There is no denying that Arsenal’s performance over two legs against Bayern Munich was woeful and was so anticipated that it was a surprise to find there were more than 6,000 in the stadium, let alone 60,000.

Not only did this pair of mirrored defeats signal the end of Arsene Wenger as a credible manager at the level Arsenal aspire to, but it also underlined once more that the Premier cannot match the really big European campaigners. Arsenal have a stumbling block each year and it’s usually called Bayern. Most English clubs struggle to get beyond the last eight.

Not since 1959-60 when Wolves were beaten 9-2 on aggregate by Barcelona has an English team been so humiliated over two games.

Red-faced nights for England

1959-60 Wolves 2 Barcelona 5 – European Cup Wolves, already 4-0 down, were mesmerised by the ball-playing skills of Barca, notably the Hungarian Sandor Kocsis and Eulogio Martinez. Kocsis scored four-times, but the entire Barca team looked a cut above the English champions at Molineux that night. Aggregate score 9-2 to Barca.
1961-62 Nottingham Forest 1 Valencia 5 – Inter Cities Fairs Cup

Forest fell prey to one Hector Nunez, a Uruguayan international who later had a long managerial career. Nunez scored three times as Forest capitulated at the City Ground. They lost the first leg in Spain 2-0, so Valencia ran out 7-1 winners on aggregate.

1995-96 Nottingham Forest 1 Bayern Munich 5 – UEFA Cup Bayern went into the second leg with a narrow 2-1 lead, but Forest could not handle Klinsmann and co. 7-2 on aggregate.
1983-84 Sparta Prague 4 Watford 0 – UEFA Cup Having lost the first leg at Vicarage Road, Watford were over-run on a poor pitch in Prague. 7-2 on aggregate.

Most Arsenal fans know that the current bench regime is a busted flush and that once a manager loses the people around him, it is only a matter of time before the club’s management will act – if only to save their own reputations. But they also have to salvage Wenger’s reputation, too – he deserves that much. Street protests are not common in English football and it must be extremely upsetting for the Frenchman to witness such scenes. In order to preserve the legacy, Wenger needs to accept his time is over. To quote George Harrison, “All things must pass”.

Some of the comments on that standard-bearer of reason, social media, have been over-reactionary. “We are doomed,” is the message from some supporters who have never known anything but life in the top four and the last 16 of the Champions League. Given that Arsenal now average 60,000 people at their games, versus 38,000 at dear old Highbury, there are at least 20,000 people who have been spoilt silly.

It may have escaped some of the critics’ attention, but Arsenal are one of the top 10 clubs in the world. They have a solid financial base and they have a waiting list for seats. The only problem at the moment is on the pitch and just take a look at the league table – they are hardly staring into the abyss. You could argue that at the prices Arsenal charge, you might like to get a glimpse of silverware occasionally.

Managers – compare the records

  Peak period Lge Cups Euro Last trophy Win Rate Departure Last Lge title
Sir Alex Ferguson (Man.United) 1993-2013 13 9 3 2013 59.67 2013 2013
Bob Paisley (Liverpool) 1976-1983 6 3 4 1983 57.57 1983 1983
Sir Matt Busby (Man.United) 1956-1968 5 2 1 1968 52.38 1969 1967
Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool) 1985-1995 3 3 0 1990 60.91 1991 1995**
Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) 1996-2005 3 6 0 2015 57.40 ? 2004
Jose Mourinho (Chelsea) 2004-2007 3 4 0 2015 67.00 2015 2015
Bill Shankly (Liverpool) 1964-1966 3 2 1 1974 52.19 1974 1973
Stan Cullis (Wolves) 1953-1960 3 2 0 1960 46.80 1964 1959
Brian Clough (Nottm Forest) 1978-1980 1* 3 2 1990 46.70 1993 1978
Harry Catterick (Everton) 1963-1970 2 1 0 1970 46.57 1973 1970
Don Revie (Leeds United) 1968-1974 2 2 2 1974 52.22 1974 1974
Tom Whittaker (Arsenal) 1947-1953 2 1 0 1953 47.21 1956 1953
Bertie Mee (Arsenal) 1968-1971 1 1 1 1971 44.71 1976 1971
Bill Nicholson (Tottenham) 1960-1963 1 5 2 1973 49.03 1974 1961

*Clough also won the league title with Derby (1972) and Nottingham Forest ** Dalglish won the title with Blackburn in 1995

Arsenal have rarely experienced any sort of real crisis, so it is comparable to a pompous public schoolboy complaining that his starched collars haven’t been ironed too well by the maid. You want crisis, just look at some of Arsenal’s peers down the years: Chelsea almost went bust in 1976, Tottenham had a financial crisis in the 1990s, West Ham have suffered relegation all too frequently, QPR have tumbled and suffered, Manchester City went right down before rising to the pinnacle again and Leeds flew too high and saw their wings melt. And don’t forget, Manchester United haven’t always been the MUFC we know today.  And then there’s Leyton Orient, who might be in the National League next season. Arsenal, by design, have avoided many of the pitfalls of their neighbours and stable-mates and their supporters should be grateful for that. When you’ve stood on vast terraces with 5,000 people in the stadium, a decade after your team was one of the best in the land and discover that just five years after winning in Europe, they can barely buy a non-league goalkeeper, then you’ve got crisis.

Wenger has outstayed his welcome and Arsenal have tolerated second best for a few years now. Throughout history, managers have had their golden spells and they are invariably short windows. It is 13 years since Wenger won the league title, only Brian Clough (1978-1993) and Bill Nicholson (1961 to 1974), have had such barren spells after winning the top prize and still retained their position. Generally, the lifespan of trophyless managers at clubs that expect a level of success is much, much shorter. Just ask Jose Mourinho and Claudio Rainieri about such things.

Aside from their well publicised frustrations, Arsenal are in relatively good shape. They made a profit in 2016 and saw turnover increase to £191m. The club also has cash reserves totalling £ 110m. On the pitch, they are fifth and still in with a shout of UEFA Champions League football in 2017-18. But if Arsenal are to shake themselves out of their current condition, just qualifying for the premier European competition should not be enough. Neither should finishing fourth.

But Arsenal do not like sacking managers and sometimes, the relationship can go on too long and there is discomfort. This explains why, despite mounting pressure, the club seems to soldier on when things are sub-optimal. Bertie Mee, in 1976, stepped down five years after winning the “double”, but there had been rumblings for a while that he should leave the job. Terry Neill was sacked just a few months after being given a new contract, while George Graham made it easier for them when he was sacked after financial irregularities. Bruce Rioch left the club after falling into dispute with the suits.

Quite frankly, if a new man comes on board, and he should sooner rather than later, you would assume that he will be of the calibre of someone who won’t want to settle for 4th and the last 16. With their resources and potential, achieving both of those should be relatively simple for Arsenal.

The fans should not worry too much about the long term, but what should concern them is how feeble they have looked in Europe when it really matters and how they fail to compete against top quality opposition. That’s a concern that extends beyond the Emirates, because there’s a trend of under-performance that has stretched over the past couple of years among English clubs in Europe. It could change this season if City and Leicester can come through, but it is probably a forlorn hope.

What next then for Wenger and Arsenal? The club has to avoid fragmentation, but at present, they really don’t look or sound like Arsenal. For a start, there’s rumours of training ground issues which have been reported and denied and subsequently tabloided again. There’s suggestions that their prize assets, Ozil and Sanchez, will be leaving the club and that will seriously weaken the playing resources. Then there’s the supporter unrest, which is getting louder and more commonplace. It is, or it should be, in the hands of the Board to change this. One decision needs to be made and everyone knows what it is. Then it will be “crisis” over and look ahead to 2017-18.


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