On Arsenal's Position and Expectation

Following the excellent Fanpost about fan's expectation by bmasson11, I ran across this article in SB Nation's Fantasy Premier League Football Site, Never Manage Alone.

This piece was written by Neal Thurman, I take no credit for the content. I thought this piece was excellent and comes from a very logical perceptive. I agree very strongly with many of the points and just wanted to share it here, since it is very relevant to our site.

We have come to this point in each Arsenal season since the dawn of the Roman Abramovich Era at Chelsea which has seen them become Manchester United's main rivals for the Premier League title.

"This point" is that time during the season when everything seems to be falling apart for Arsenal and the cries for Arsene Wenger's head on a plate get louder. As we are all well aware, Manchester City has now joined Chelsea and Manchester United in the conversation at the top of the league based on their financial power and the talent it has attracted. This has pushed Arsenal into a position where 4th place is really their highest realistic finishing spot based on the resources they have available. Sure, a team above them could stumble like Chelsea did in the league last season but year over year, money spent on transfers and salary will predict where a team is likely to finish.

Assuming you believe the above, here are a few questions that naturally follow:

  • How do you evaluate the success of a manager if the ultimate goal of winning the league is exceedingly unlikely?
  • Which group is Arsenal realistically closer to when it comes to competing on equal footing? City, United, and Chelsea at the top or Spurs, Liverpool, et al a significant rung below?
  • Given that Arsenal's management have made a decision (one that would presumably apply to any manager that might replace Wenger) not to spend beyond their means, how is Wenger doing and what is the likelihood that a replacement could do any better?
  • If there were a manager sufficiently talented to do better than Wenger with the resources Arsenal are willing to spend, why would that manager be inclined to take the Arsenal job when he would likely be a very strong candidate for likely openings in the near future at all three clubs ahead of Arsenal in financial might?

Here's my quick take before we get to my player picks. Arsene Wenger was, in his day, a revolutionary manager who provided the club with a HUGE advantage by pioneering a variety of "advanced" methods and on-field tactics. He wasn't ever perfect but the advantages he provided early were sufficiently large as to paper over his faults. As tends to happen to such innovators, the rest of the pack learns the virtue of successful innovations through losing out to them and they start to copy them. Throw in an injection of "innovation" at some other clubs in the form of exceptional financial power and you find that your previous innovator has been passed by and all of the flaws that were so easily papered over before are laid bare for all to see. Wenger is probably a slightly better manager today than when he was winning championships - he strikes me as someone who continues to learn - but others have improved faster by learning and circumstance.

That brings us back to the question of where Arsenal fit in the Premier League and the root of the angst that Arsenal fans are displaying season after season. For me, they are in a mini-league with a few other teams - Spurs and Liverpool primarily with potential encroachment from other teams on an occasional basis (Newcastle being last year's example and Everton and West Bromwich Albion being this year's contenders) - for the fourth Champions League spot. Based on their financial power, Arsenal SHOULD win that mini-league most years. For me, the gauge of Arsene Wenger's success as a manager at this stage should be that success. After just over a quarter of the season Arsenal are four points off the pace in this "mini-league". Everton, West Ham, and West Brom are VERY unlikely to keep up their current pace. That leave Spurs and Arsenal - currently separated by 1 point - competing for that final spot.

If Arsenal are successful, I'd judge Wenger's season a success. If they are not, then you'd have to consider it to be somewhat of a failure. I completely understand and sympathize with the notion that, for a group of supporters used to competing for the league title, this isn't a very satisfying state of the world. I even share this dissatisfaction as someone who came to follow Arsenal when their place in the world was much stronger. That said, it is foolish to turn your head from reality and expect that the club can create miracles when they don't have the finances to attract the top players in the world to play for them AND continue to stay in business.

Like adjusting to a bad break-up or the loss of a high profile job (you know what I'm talking about General Petraeus), it isn't fun but adjusting expectations is very much necessary if you're going to maintain your sanity as an Arsenal supporter. Our rallying cry should be "At least we're not Liverpool!" because that's what COULD happen to our beloved Gooners with a weaker manager and less competent management team.

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