Time to Go

Two quotes from Sun Tzu's Art of War to begin today:

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle.

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

It pains me to have to write this - the extent of which I can hardly explain to you. I have been an eternal optimist about this club for the entirety of the last 5 seasons. In each one, I would be one of the last Gooners standing before conceding that we could not win silverware that season. As long as we've been mathematically in the title race, I have believed because I believed in the manager. I cannot thank Arsene Wenger enough for the heights that he has carried this team to in his tenure as the Arsenal manager. Even beyond Herbert Chapman and George Graham, Arsene Wenger is clearly - far and fucking away - Arsenal's greatest-ever manager. He deserves our thanks, our praise and our respect.

With all of that said, it's time for him to go.

Please don't assume that this is said in haste, the flashover reaction from a few bad defeats on the trot. I assure you that it is not - as I said above, I am and will remain one of Arsene Wenger's biggest fans. For me though, the argument comes down to a few salient points:

  1. Should a club of our size and resources win trophies with at least a modicum of consistency?
  2. In any other line of work, would a manager at any level retain their job if the faults in their process or with their team of workers remain the same, unheeded, for five years?

I think we all know the answer to both of these questions. At this point, if you believe that Wenger is still the man for the job, then the burden of proof is on you at this point to explain how that belief can co-exist with these self-evident truths. That, or it is your belief that finishing 4th and making the knockout stages of the Champions League is a reasonable limit to the club's ambition. If you hold that view, that's fine...but I do not.

That said, there's another aspect that is even more important to me than results. Whenever a player pulls on an Arsenal shirt, I want him (or her, I won't leave out the ladies' team especially since Emma Byrne is my future ex-wife) to fight to the death to defend it. I want them to realize that they are part of a chain that goes back to Tony Adams, to Martin Keown, to Perry Groves, to Eddie Hapgood. I want that player to hurt when he loses...I want him to lose sleep over it. I want him to burn with rage at the prospect of some lot of no-fucking-hopers like Spurs coming into their home and embarrassing them. I want them to look with disdain on the TENTH-PLACE FUCKING TEAM IN A SHIT LEAGUE - not the arrogant disdain of someone who thinks they just have to turn up to win, I'm thinking more the disdain that Cao Cao had for opposing armies...the supreme confidence that there was nothing they could do to stop him.

I disagree with many people - I think Cesc Fabregas does have all of those qualities. I don't know if he's a vocal enough leader or has enough gravitas to be a captain, but I do believe that he is a winner that is hobbled by injury and the fact that this club has far too many passengers. But, we are at a point now where our erstwhile holding midfielder, Alex Song, is often up in the opponents' penalty area looking to score goals. We are at a point where our Maginot Line of a back four cannot defend attacks that wouldn't pass muster in a Sunday pub league. We are at a point where a guy like Denilson is continually abused by opposing offenses, be it through muscling him off the ball or taking advantage when he lazily jogs back after the attackers pass him...and there are never any consequences for it. Some of the blame for these things, no doubt, belongs to the players themselves.

At the end of the day, though, it is the manager who buys them, the manager who selects them, and the manager who disciplines them...or not.

If this were season 2 without a trophy, I would not be posting this right now. It would still be within a reasonable window of rebuilding the squad. Players that seem great on other squads can turn into a pumpkin when they put on your shirt...it happens. The rub of the green can go against you - posts can be hit, referees can make mystifying decisions, opposing keepers can turn into Peter Shilton for a night. It's happened to every top manager at one time or another, and what counts is their ability to recognize the problems, adapt to them, and make the necessary changes...hence the bit about knowing yourself as well as your enemy.

The problem is that Arsene doesn't know himself and he does not know his team any longer. You know, I think I get it with him. I really do. He believes so much in this group of players, he wants to win with this lot so badly, he is blinded to the fact that they perhaps have the talent but they do not have the ability. It's plausible, isn't it? He sees these kids in training a few years ago and falls in love with the occasional flashes of brilliance that they show. He sees the example of years back when Fergie's kids gelled into the Manchester United team that destroyed everything in its path once they got going, and could see the possibilities in his youngsters.

Here's the thing, though. When those kids were coming up, there were more of them than just the Nevilles, Beckham, Scholes and Giggs. Ferguson identified the ones that not only had the talent, but the indomitable hunger to win and to be the best. Some people have it, some don't...it can't be taught. Like I said, some of these guys do have it...Fabregas, Eboue (oddly enough), Walcott and Sagna come immediately to mind. I absolutely believe that they badly want to win every game. I believe Arshavin has it but has been beaten down by the lack of it from those around him.

The problem is, you have guys like Diaby, Denilson, Bendtner and Vela who just don't. Even worse, veterans such as Rosicky, Squillaci, Silvestre, Almunia, and others have been brought in who also lack that killer instinct, that fighting spirit. It's one thing when you have kids, where there's an element of not knowing what you have until they've been thrown into the fray. When you're buying a guy from the Bundesliga or Ligue 1 with Champions' League experience, you should have a much better idea of what the finished product is made of.

Now, there are definitely times where he has been right and all of us have been wrong. Despite his recent proclivities, the manager was right about Song. Increasingly, it's looking like he was right about Fabianski. Even here though, there's the counter argument that he could have been right about them while they were on loan to Hannover or St. Etienne or Osasuna, while experienced stopgaps were installed to ensure that we could fight for trophies in the meantime.

Here's the truth. For 5 years going on 6, this team has not been able to defend. Famously, Martin Keown was not retained as a coach because Wenger didn't like his style (that can only read as Keown actually disciplining them, surely?). No replacement that we know of has ever been named. For perhaps 3 or 4 of those years, this team has had a clown in goal. For 5 years going on 6, this team has shown a remarkable fragility in instances where strength of character matters...in Old Trafford, in Stamford Bridge, in holding a lead against the Middlesbroughs of the world. For 5 years going on 6, there has been costly personnel decisions - bringing on William Gallas and making him captain, giving significant playing time to the indescribably milquetoast Denilson, benching Jens Lehmann when he still had several good years left, letting Mathieu Flamini go just as he was coming into his own, letting Gilberto Silva leave when he's still good enough to play for the Selecao, on and on and on and on. Like I said, every manager makes mistakes, but I challenge you to come up with a list for Ferguson or Mourinho or Hiddink or Ancelotti or Guardiola that rivals this in length and scope.

I stress again - I love Arsene Wenger. I really, really do. I agree with him on many things, ranging from the shocking tackling at times in the English game to the desire to play attacking, attractive football. I also love the fact that we as Arsenal fans have largely been patient during this time, certain sections of the blog commentariat at places like Arseblog and Le Grove aside. But, I think we are in danger of letting our appreciation for this man mask the fact that he has not done a good enough job at knowing his team, he has lost his famous ruthlessness that saw him drop Keown and Adams and Bergkamp, that saw him sell Merson and Hartson and Wright and Seaman.

I hate to say it...it fucking KILLS me to say it. But I don't particularly like this Arsenal team. I will still watch them and support them because I am Arsenal through and through. This is my club, in good times and bad. But, I don't respect this lot's lack of hunger and fight. I think they are spoiled, cossetted children (either in age or in maturity, as with Bendtner) who can't understand why teams won't lay down and die for them because there's a cannon on their shirt. I cannot understand how they can hear and read the things said about them and not want to give the whole world the v-sign and prove them the motherfuck wrong. Look, I don't care if we win trophies every year. It's always nice and I wouldn't ever turn one down. But, I care infinitely more that maximum effort is given in every game that this team plays. Even last season when we went out to Barcelona, I wasn't that upset - I felt that on that one instance, the team did try their best...they were just standing on the tracks when the train came through. Sod it, it happens to the best of us. What I can't abide is the arrogant home displays where they turn up expecting a walkover, or the stark naked fear they show in matches against the other big clubs.

I don't know if Arsene Wenger is capable at this point of realizing that something is rotten in the core of this team. I don't know if he can adjust his methods enough to be able to motivate them to change, or to get rid of the hopeless Denilson cases. I don't know if he can adjust to the realities of the English Premier League, where even Arsenal needs a Lauren and a Patrick Vieira and a Tony Adams. I don't know if this squad can ever learn to win like Manchester United has.

I don't know if Arsene Wenger is the right man to lead this team anymore. It's sad and it hurts, but it's true.