Throughout Arsenal's recent history, there have been many voices who claim to understand and know what is happening at Arsenal. Despite that, there's one voice that has been, if not unquestionably pro-Arsenal, at least a voice that has been willing to both give Arsenal the benefit of the doubt and to cut through the narratives surrounding the club, in order to find out what is actually going on.
Today, though, that voice - Amy Lawrence, of the Guardian - published a piece that is as critical of Arsenal as she's ever been, while still maintaining her excellent journalistic standards. It's not a hit piece, at all, but it does question the relationship between Wenger and Stan Kroenke, and it lays the blame for Arsenal's failure to develop more or less squarely at Kroenke's feet. After mentioning Aston Villa's disastrous experience under Randy Lerner, she says:
Arsenal already have a generally absent and not palpably enthusiastic US proprietor of their own in Stan Kroenke. The sense of demise may not seem anywhere near as acute at Aston Villa's but the lack of visible involvement and ambition shown by both men creates a distance that is not helpful in difficult times when leadership from the top can be influential.
This is probably as near to a blast at ownership you'll read from Amy Lawrence; she's very measured, very rational, but it's clear from reading this piece that she's as frustrated as the rest of us are. Lawrence talks about Kroenke's appearance at the MIT Sloane Sports Analytics conference, in which he talked about the ownership model of clubs like Malaga, whose oil baron owners came and went within a couple seasons, and contrasted that with his ownership, which he says is built to be like "real industries and real businesses" and says "I have to have some reality involved". To which Lawrence replied:
But what of the owners who don't lose interest? What of Manchester City who have just appointed Pep Guardiola to take over from Manuel Pellegrini and spent heavily last summer to recruit Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling? What of Paris Saint-Germain who have just won Ligue 1 in record time and are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and desperate to push on? Arsenal, surely, have to at least attempt to measure their hopes alongside a Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain rather than the Málaga example.
And she makes a solid point. I know I thought that Man City's owners would be tired of their toy by now, but they seem to be just the opposite, and in addition to the Guardiola thing, they seem to be building an organization from the ground up that is built to support the first team. This doesn't seem like the actions of a group that will get tired of their toy any time soon.
In Lawrence's eyes, Wenger is basically Kroenke's fall guy right now - Kroenke is famously hands-off, so there's nobody for the supporters to vent their ire at except Wenger. And this, according to her, is the main problem right now:
The manager is thankful for the unquestioning support of the owner. The owner is thankful for a manager who understands economics and whose work suits his ideal of "real business". The stasis goes on.
When you combine her thoughts with those of Henry Winter in the Times today, which basically read like a litany of charges, it seems clear that the sands are shifting under Arsene's feet rather quickly. As before, I don't think he'll be fired now, but if Arsenal finish the season the way they've played since January - 13 points out of a possible 30, winless in the league since Valentine's Day, out of the FA Cup, all but out of the CL - the voices of dissent will probably force the board to act, whether the perfect candidate is available or not.
Things are becoming unsustainable at the Emirates, and the only question now is, how long will Kroenke and the board hold out hope that the status quo will suffice?