It's not that my opinion on the matter is drastically different than it was fifteen months ago - it's just that I read this, followed by this...and then was passed along this by my roommate. Then, that was followed by a discussion on Facebook with some of the Blind Pig regulars, in which I started to outline the basic premise of what I'm going to talk about here.
I posit that the problem isn't down to the players...the personnel in place should easily accomplish fourth place at the bare minimum. No sir, for me, the root cause of our woes comes down to one man and one man only...Le Boss.
Again, (and it's tedious that any criticism has to come with this caveat attached like a remora), this doesn't mean that I don't appreciate everything he's done for the club, and it doesn't mean I think it's right to call him a see-you-next-Tuesday like the dimmer members of our fanbase do in these troubled times.
It just means that I don't think he's the right man for the job anymore.
There's several different factors occurring in parallel here, so for simplicity's sake I will tackle them one at a time:
A Remarkable Talent for Putting Out Fire with Petrol: Exhibit A here is the first link I posted. I honestly don't know at this point if we're being trolled or if this is his actual belief. It's a matter of perspective - were this The Modern Black Cat or The Modern Villain, there would be an exponentially deeper level of truth behind the idea of fourth place as "a trophy". I keep coming back to it, but a club of our resources doesn't have the same standards applied to it - especially in this day and age of financial segregation. Put more succinctly, you don't get to charge the highest ticket prices in Europe on one hand and on the other trumpet...well, not even fourth place, but the increasingly-remote possibility of finishing there.
I mean, Jesus bloody wept.
Here's the thing with that...this isn't the 1970s anymore. Back then, you could spend a few years in the footballing wilderness and still be within the power of the right manager or the right few players of a return to the happy end of the table. Case in point: In 1969-70, Arsenal finished in 12th place, 24 points behind the champions Everton (remember, it was 2 points for a win in those days). The very next season, the Gunners walked away with the First Division trophy.
For the most part, clubs competed on a even playing field financially. The European Cup was a nice side adventure, but it did not mean entry into a completely different footballing strata than your peers.
These days? It's calcified to the point where there are almost insurmountable walls between the VIP part of the club and the common rabble. Returning to the decade of my birth (just), there were 6 different league champions in the 1970s (if you count 69-70 and 79-80). If you expand that to the top three, that adds 7 more clubs for a total of 13. Compare that to the entire Premier League era, which goes back to 1992-93: 4 clubs have won the title, and a further 7 have finished in the top three...11 in all.
Let me reiterate that: two fewer clubs made it even into the top three in the last 19 seasons than there were in a random 11-year stretch back at or near the 70s. The bouncer working the door just got a whole lot meaner, folks.
With that in mind, to claim for what is not the first time that fourth place is a trophy...bloody hell, mate...it's not a trophy, it's a trap door. One step away from the precipice. Don't look down, Wile E. Coyote.
Beyond that, how many times do we have to hear about mental strength and handbrakes and our poor sods having to play a couple of games in a short period of time (you know, like every other major club in the world) before it starts to become self-parody? And those quotes about how it would be hard for any team in the world when Abou Diaby has played no games...how can you hear that without steam coming out of your ears?
Some of it is protecting the players...I get it. But if I thought for one second that any accountability was meted out to this lot behind closed doors, I'd feel infinitely better about it. I remain skeptical that anything of the sort is happening. So, what we're left with is an increasingly-infuriating reel of soundbites that is poking an already fractured and agitated fanbase with a sharp stick.
What's the value in it? Is it tone-deafness or something else? And not to pile on, but those other quotes popping up along the lines of "I'm getting advice from people who've never managed a game"...sure, there's an element of truth to it. But, how many other major managers bust that one out? How does it not come across as defensive to the point of vulnerability? Sometimes I wish he'd let Ricey do the talking.
The Likelihood That He's Been Passed By Tactically: The second link I included in the open was one of those rare pieces from the land of mainstream journalism that cut through the "ZOMG CRISIS CLUB" level to present a cogent and frankly frightening case that Arsenal don't have an identity, tactically speaking.
On some level, it seems that we emulate the Barcelona tiki-taka approach. I admit to not ing Barcelona much on the grounds of my undying hatred towards their football club. But, the little I have seen has shown a team that attacks with purpose and with a flurry of movement off the ball. What we have is a glacially-paced possession game that allows lesser sides to pack everyone including the tea lady behind the ball, with nine dudes standing around while the man with the ball futilely decides what to do with the two or three defenders pressing him.
Also, we don't exactly have Xavi pulling the strings for Leo Messi.
I've leveled a similar charge towards Chelsea in the past - go back and read the 3-5 match report if you disbelieve. Needless to say, it's not shocking to me that they're in a similar place to us right now. The league's on to them too, which is the only reason why I think we still might sneak into fourth place.
It used to be that we could get down into the trenches and win a tight game on a counter-attack or via a more direct route if the showpiece stuff didn't come off. Now? There's a Plan A, and if that doesn't work...well, did I mention we have a Plan A?
I mean, he's never been known as a manager who is on the cutting edge of tactics. The inimitable Red Geezer had that sussed out back in 1998:
And us? Well, we’ve come to realise that Wenger doesn’t really cut his cloth to fit. He plays his best team and lets everyone else worry about tactics. It’s taken us lot a season to realise what he does.
Here's my theory: While he started in 1984 with Nancy, Arsene really cut his teeth with Monaco from 1987-94. The midpoint of that run was 1990 - which was perhaps the apex of shitty, awful, boring and defensive football in the entire history of the game. The World Cup final that year is arguably the exact antithesis of Wenger's footballing philosophy (and also arguably the single worst high-profile game ever played).
Back then, the idea of committing to attack itself was a novel idea. Don't get me wrong - I'm not trying to detract from his sparkling career overall, or his persistence in dragging the sport away from the idea of post-match pies and pints. What I'm saying is that the lads from Zonal Marking wouldn't have had a whole lot to work with back in 1990 - it honestly was a much simpler game back then.
His stint in Japan lends itself further to this theory, I believe. While I don't claim to be an expert in Japanese football, I can tell you that most of the guys who have gone on to have European careers - Hidetoshi Nakata and Shinji Ono spring to mind - have been attackers or midfielders. I have a decent knowledge of the game, but I cannot recall a single Japanese defender that made an impact on the Continent.
These days, that won't fly. Even the mid-table sides that used to roll over for us are largely winning the tactical battles - everything is uphill now. That isn't even getting into the substitution patterns, the lack of flexibility (still playing a high line at Old Trafford even after they had already scored 5 or 6) or the other bizarre foibles such as playing central strikers out on the wing.
Spend Some Bloody Money: This one's been done to death. It's still no less true. Maybe one day the Politburo veil of secrecy will finally be pierced and we'll know for certain that we either had no money, or our last bunch of transfer windows were really one man's howling at the moon of the game's new economic reality.
Until then, I'm working off of the assumption that we can't afford a Sergio Aguero type, but we could bring in capable, professional reinforcements if we wanted to. Still, I think that's only a small part of it in the end...
A Chronic Failure to Make the Best Use of What We Have: Yes, really. Yes, I include people in this that you might be surprised to here.
The most obvious point here lies with the defense. For me, Wojceich Szczesny, Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sagna are a class above most Premier League defenses in ability. But, we still give up ridiculous, schoolboy goals and still cannot defend simple set pieces. We conceded 43 goals last season, and 41 the one before that. It's only getting worse - we're at 35 already this term, which would put us on pace for 53 goals against.
This isn't headline news - Arsenal's defense is as much of a long-standing punchline as Newcastle's used to be. It would be one thing if we had First Division-level journeymen cloggers in there, but the fact of the matter is that we make mistakes that, say, Norwich never would. One can only imagine how many more points we'd have this season (and how many trophies we might have won in the last 6 years) if we just had some basic fundamental solidity among our backline.
I mean, no one is asking these questions. We know Sebastien Squillaci sucks now, but what turned a capable Champions League-experienced international defender into the shambling mess we have now? What turned The Verminator into the guy pratfalling all over the San Siro turf the other day? Why has Johan Djourou gone from a promising young center-half who occasionally had tremendous games to a guy I wouldn't trust to defend my seat at the bar while I went to take a piss?
It's not just the defense, either. Why is it that Andrei Arshavin can be a potent attacking force for Russia but a disinterested passenger for us? Why is Theo Walcott so maddeningly inconsistent, and why is a guy whose pace is his only weapon playing in a team who as mentioned operates at such a glacial pace? Why can Marouane Chamakh show flashes of predatory ability early on his Arsenal career, and end up a broken shell of a man?
Look, I'm not saying that there shouldn't be some accountability towards the players themselves. Hell, I'm the first one screaming for it here on a regular basis. But, who is the guy who pays them insane wages before they've accomplished the square root of fuck all? Who is the one who puts them straight back into the team after a bad game (don't tell me "because there is no one else" - that may be true, but if anything it's another damning indictment on the manager). Doesn't it seem telling when it's not just one or two players whose confidence and form is in free-fall, but the whole side barring RVP (who is cooling off himself, since we're on the subject). Isn't it incumbent on the manager to help bring a team out of the doldrums by means of the hairdryer or the arm around the shoulder when needed?
We'll never know what's going on behind closed doors...but the table doesn't lie, and it hasn't for six years.
Inevitably, anyone with an opinion like mine is going to be told the old chestnut that "no one else out there is better". Like fun, there isn't. The elephant in the room is that Jose Mourinho is likely a goner in Madrid after this season. You can call me anything you want, but the truth of the matter is that I'd cut off my right goddamn arm to have him manage the club next season if that's the case. He'd sort out this locker room in about six-tenths of a nanosecond, I'll tell you that much.
I honestly believe you could throw a rock at the Bundesliga and hit four managers who could do this job.
I honestly believe David Moyes would be brilliant with this club...especially if the financial constraints are as bad as rumored. The fact that he's kept that ragtag batch of misfits up around the decent end of the table despite a transfer budget that wouldn't get a meal at McDonald's is amazing to me.
Of course, no new manager (Mourinho included) would be a certainty. I'll tell you what is a certainty though - every season for the last six years, we have slowly circled the drain as we've lost faith, lost games, lost finals and lost players. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well? What are you expecting will be different? Will "no, really, next year we're totally going to do it" ever really be the case? It's been next year for six years, with no sign of stopping.
If we're going to be kicked out of the VIP section of the club, I don't want to go so damned meekly. I want us to smash a barstool over someone's head and insult the bouncer's mother on the way out. Why not hire Mourinho and see what he can do? Why not hire Moyes and see if he can work his magic at a slightly higher level (let's not fool ourselves, it's not that much higher these days).
It can't be worse than where we're at now...you know, at the dictionary definition of insanity.