Before every Champions League game, there's a press conference with each manager. This press conference is usually the mundane tedium of soccer and of sports - "we will try our best to win", "no easy games at this level", "so-and-so is injured and won't play", and a million other yawn-inducing cliches that normally I pay absolutely no attention to, because I value my nine remaining brain cells and don't want to kill them.
But Wenger, in yesterday's press conference, was in a more expansive mood, and he talked a bit about the financial state of Europe and of European soccer as it currently stands. He touched on the farcical Spanish TV deal a bit, and he talked about how Arsenal have to play catch-up with the richer teams and how this season in particular will be a challenge for Arsenal as they rebuild their team.
About the economics of the game, he also said:
"Football is not untouchable. We live with people going to the stadiums as well and from advertising from people who buy products. All our income could be a little bit under threat in the next few months. Football is not only about money. We believe in ourselves that we can compete with them but it's as simple as this."
Which I think is a realistic assessment. Arsenal don't have the money to compete with the oil tycoons' playthings and the Spanish duopoly; there's no shame in that, because almost nobody does. But Wenger admitting it publicly is an interesting step. It used to be that the party line from Arsenal was "we won't compete with them financially", and now that seems to be turning in to "we can't compete with them financially".
Which brings up a question. By saying this now, do you think Wenger is front-loading his excuses for not succeeding this year? Is he surrendering before the fight even starts? Or is he just being realistic and setting expectations at a level that makes sense given the club's finances and resources? I think it's the latter - as much as Arsene "I Didn't See The Foul" Wenger is prone to make excuses to defend his team, this sounds different. This sounds like acceptance of the modern soccer world.
You can reasonably divide the Premier League into a few mini-leagues: the top four, the next six, and two groups of five below that. The top four are the ones with the money - they'll always be in Europe, they'll always get the best players, and thus will always have an advantage. The next six are the up-and-comers - they're the ones with aspirations of joining the top four, so they can spend a bit and they may be in the Europa League a few years running, so they're in decent shape.
The next five are the no-mans-landers. These are teams who are safe, they're not in any relegation trouble, but they're also not going to crack the top 10 with regularity - think the Sunderlands and Newcastles of the world. They play, but nobody really notices them. Then, we come to the bottom five, the relegation scrappers, who are just desperate to keep getting Premier League money as long as possible.
At this point, hearing what Wenger said yesterday, it would seem that Arsenal are positioning themselves to be the best team in the next six. That's not to say that they're giving up trying to win the league, and win in Europe, but by saying that there are effectively four teams that can compete for the biggest trophy in Europe, he is setting expectations for the fan base that they may not want to hear, but are true nonetheless.
So, your Tuesday poll: