Sunday, May 26, 2013

Season Review: You Can Ask For More.

The end of the season is usually a time for reflection, but I wondered this year how much I really wanted to reflect on what had just come to pass.

Let’s be honest, this season was a bit rubbish. Yes, we again won the top-four trophy, and, yes, again, we humiliated Spurs in the process – but is this enough? I suppose it depends. It depends on what you want from football. Do you just want to use football as an excuse to socialize, develop friendships with people you otherwise wouldn’t meet, and sink a few pints in the process? If so, I suppose any season would satisfy you. Don’t get me wrong – I love all the gooners I’ve met around the world while supporting this club. But I also want to be proud of the club I support, not just the people with whom I support the club.

In that sense, I don’t think anyone can say this season is going to be remembered as any sort of triumph. Smashing Spurs again was obviously fun, and a 2-0 win against the now European champions at their home ground is also something to be savoured, even if occurred in a match that was, to all intent and purposes, a dead rubber.

We got to watch one of the world’s best players, Santi Cazorla, play for our team on a weekly basis, and he provided a host of magic moments that enlivened a multitude of otherwise dire matches. It was also nice to see the club rediscover the art of defending, although you could argue this was a necessity to make up for the lack of firepower at the other end of the pitch.

Beyond that, and a few other games, like Liverpool away or West Ham at home, it’s hard to take too many positives from this season. It supposedly gives us the basis from which to kick on – but have we not been in this position for some time? The stadium payments haven’t really gotten any more or less onerous this year, even if new commercial deals, and TV revenue, will imminently start boosting our finances.

I simply feel that, as Arsenal fans, we have been sold the future for almost a decade. We have been told to celebrate each top four finish in that period, as it supposedly allows the club to attract and retain the world’s best players. Instead, we’ve lost a host of top footballers, and done the bare minimum to paper over the cracks, and keep ourselves in the Champions League cash-cow.

For me, this season ended the moment we sold van Persie to our supposed rivals. The club hoisted the white flag before a ball had been kicked in anger, and we still haven’t entirely recovered from this rank act of cowardice. To those who say we scored more goals without van Persie this year than with him last year – please, get a grip. If we keep van Persie, and add Cazorla with either one or both of Podolski and Giroud, we score MUCH more than we did last year. In fact, I think we would have had an outside chance of the title had we kept van Persie. After all, look at how far United pulled ahead of City simply through the addition of one world class goalscorer. Instead we sold him, and the title, to a club that operates under some form of bizarre, kleptocratic regime, and yet still shows more ambition than us in the transfer market.

Our season was only saved by Arsene’s realization that we could only get the results we needed by grinding them out. And grind them out we did, with a series of almost unwatchable, narrow wins against the detritus of the Premier League. Yes we did it, but surely we can expect more from a club with our resources.

And this is what this season review ultimately comes down – you can ask for more. Setting aside all blame for the moment, we can ask for more from the club than we currently get. We can ask for a club that treats the most prestigious domestic cup competition with respect. We can ask that the club, as a bare minimum, challenges for the title, even if it doesn’t win it. And we can certainly ask that our best players are not sold year-in, year-out, to teams that we are supposedly competing with for the highest honours. The failure of the club to do all that led to this mess of a season.

And this is where we do have to start playing the blame game. Because someone is primarily responsible for this mess. Is it Stan Kroenke, our absent owner? A man who doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude of responsibility that he has as owner of THE Arsenal Football Club. We are not some two-bit franchise – we are one of the world’s most historic social-cultural enterprises, a sporting institution that deserves an owner that at least regularly attends matches, and pretends to understand why fans might be a bit peeved by his refusal to say anything to us about his intentions for the club, beyond the usual, bland corporate statements.

Is it Ivan and his backroom team? Are they dropping the ball when it comes to closing deals? How many other Juan Mata’s are there – deals we should have completed, but failed to do so?

Or is it Arsene? And ultimately, it perhaps has to be Arsene. He is the one who makes ludicrous statements about the top-four “competition”. He is the one that chooses to let us meekly slip out of the FA Cup, year after year, despite the fact that he must know how much this trophy means to the fans. And he is the one who was critical to the sale of van Persie, taking a call from his former Scottish nemesis when he should have hung up and told Robin to shut up, and get back to work, potential transfer fee be damned.

Some fans will read this post and criticize me as negative. Fair enough. But I simply feel that many of those fans that are deemed “negative” are actually optimistic. They believe that Arsenal can do more. That this club can actually compete on all four fronts each season. That we don’t have to consistently sell our best players. That we can be more ambitious in the transfer market without going into some Portsmouth-esque spiral - and as side-note, even if we did, if the club came out owned by the fans, would that be so terrible?

So Arsene gets one more season. One more season to prove that he still has the guts to be ambitious, and the guile to change his approach and make us competitive again. I hope he has it in him. With Chelsea, and both Manchester clubs in flux, now is the time to go for it in the transfer market. Because if he doesn’t, and we’re here again next season, celebrating fourth place like a trophy – it’s time for him to go. Let’s hope that it doesn’t come to that. But let’s also forget that no one is replaceable. Given the number of top players sold during his tenure, Arsene surely knows that more than anyone else.