As a supporter I want trophies, but more importantly want the club to succeed over the long term. Despite disappointments since the last trophy, I believe the club has improved in many ways. The last trophy was the 2005 FA Cup and since that time the club has:
- Moved to a new stadium
- Has new majority ownership of the type that is in it for the long term.
- Remained profitable. Some foolishly dismiss profits, but profits are the strongest indicator of sustainability
- Built a new training facility.
- Remained relevant in England and Europe.
- Finished in the top four every year in the toughest league in the world. (Think that doesn’t matter? Ask Liverpool or Tottenham.)
- Retained the leadership and vision of Arsene Wenger.
Of all these accomplishments the most important is retaining manager Wenger. Sports fans are no different from the general population in being too quick to dismiss the value of leadership and vision. Folks often act as if success is simply a matter of buying or trading for that player or running the right play or playing the right 11. Yes, all of those tactics contribute to success, but leadership and vision are more important. Want some back up for that claim? Ok, go read Good to Great or almost anything by Michael Porter. What! Those are about business what does that have to do with soccer? The ideas in Good to Great or Porter’s articles have everything to do with soccer not because soccer is a business, but because leadership matters in every human organization. It matters in the military, at your parish, at your school, in your office.
Wenger provides leadership and vision and as long as he is in charge Arsenal will remain relevant.
Now let me also say, that the leader isn’t always right and sometimes the vision is not exactly right.
Before he worked in MLB Bill James once wrote (paraphrasing): to build player loyalty clubs should invest in their minor league facilities. Players will respect and remember that and become more loyal to the club. That is one of the more naïve things Mr. James ever wrote.
I think manager Wenger shared this same naiveté and the club has suffered for it. Wenger plucks Nasari, Song, Fabregas, Henry, among others from obscurity and turns them into first rate players. Then when their stars are established instead of showing loyalty they leave (with varying degrees of maturity) to another club for much bigger money and, as it turns out, usually for greatly reduced playing time.
So when I look back over the past eight years I believe manager Wenger made the wrong bet in 2005. He underestimated the impact enormous amounts of money would have on his ability to find, develop and, importantly, keep young players and that misjudgment has kept the club from winning trophies. Does this diminish his successes and historic status at the club? No, of course not, but his vision was incorrect.
Of course, the club has been close to winning. No one can doubt that if Eduardo had remained healthy the club wins at least one league title. Or if RVP had been healthy more frequently. Or if Bendtner wasn’t such a dolt.
So to compete for trophies it is my view the club should:
- Move out the dead wood. That is happening, just not fast enough for my taste, but I am don’t own the P&L.
- If a younger player isn’t going to be in the rotation then move or loan that player out. Young players have to play to get better. Coquelin and those young center backs come to mind. This is also happening and while I was sad to see Sanchez go, if he isn’t going to make it he has to go for his benefit as well as the club’s.
- Retain the right older players. Sagna and Rosicky need to be retained. Their mental attitude is valuable even as their skills and playing time diminish. I hope to see them both at the club six years from now providing leadership and experience like Giggs does at MU.
- Keep the keepers we have. Sure they made mistakes, but they all do. They also played great at times. Arsene has been right about this for a very long time: except for the greatest keepers, keepers are overvalued.
- Acquire the depth that allows the club to have essentially a first class “cup” team and first class league team and rotate all healthy players into the competitions.
- Acquire more offense. The club’s problem last year wasn’t defense, rather it was scoring particularly against the better teams. As well as a true defensive mid fielder the club needs another striker and if you can find him at the right price yet another scorer from the wing. Of course if Cesc wants to return you do everything you can to make it happen.
- Commit to an "everyone plays" mentality. , Bill Belichick famously said there are no free rides on the Patriots and every player plays. So no more hiding on the Arsenal bench. If you are healthy you play and if you don’t play well you are gone. Banishment to Sheffield is the ultimate disciplinary tool. Use it.
- Week in and week out rotate the players. Rotate Sagna and Jenkinson. Rotate Gibbs and Nachoman. Rotate TV, BG and Kos. Rotate the keepers. Rotate, Arteta, Ramsey, the new DM, and Jack. Rotate Oliver and the new striker. Rotate Santi, Jack, Ox and Rosicky. Rotate Theo, Gervinho, Podolski, and a new winger. Keep the legs fresh. Dead legs are a player’s biggest enemy and the most common cause of the little injuries that pull down a player’s performance.
So that’s it. Little old me, Darkandbloody, advising the great Wenger about what to do. What chutzpah, but like father always said, the great thing about opinions is everyone has at least one.