There was a lot of discussion a couple days ago, and there has been a lot of discussion recently, about change at Arsenal, and people's attitudes towards that change. I think we all agree that some sort of change is needed; where we diverge, and where there's room for discussion, is what that change should look like. What does "change" mean? What do we expect to be the result of that change? I can't answer that question for the whole staff, but I can answer it for myself.
It took me a long time to come to the realization that I want Arsene Wenger to gracefully ride off into the sunset, and it still kills me that I got there. But the stasis of the last three seasons has finally gotten me to the point where I don't see how Wenger can improve on what he's done in those seasons. Every year since 2013, we have heard a variation on the same themes:
- If only Arsenal could stay healthy
- If only Coq/Theo/Ox/Flam etc. would be more consistent/better
- If only Arsenal didn't have a two month dip in form
- If only Arsene would have bolstered the squad a bit more
And every year, nothing substantive changes. This Arsenal team, and the teams of the last two or three years, has had holes in it - holes that Arsene himself has recognized not just this season but also in previous seasons! - and yet Arsene, who is responsible for plugging those holes, has not done so, for reasons of stubbornness, faith in what he's got, or something else.
In the last three transfer windows, the list of incoming players reads: Gabriel, Petr Cech, Mohamed Elneny. That tells me that Wenger thinks what he has is good enough, or that what he has is, in the case of the most recent window, one Mohamed Elneny away from title contention. Problem is, what he's got is not good enough to win the league, or advance deep into the Champions League - that has been proven three years running.
Given that, why would he not at least try to address those holes? And by "try", I don't mean "just sign anybody" - I understand that that is hard to do, and that it takes a lot to get a player in the door, and that there's probably a lot going on behind the scenes of which we are not aware.
That said, though, let's pick on one position of need - if you look at the list of transfers from last summer, you will find a couple dozen defensive midfielders that changed teams. I fully get that not all of them would be a good fit at Arsenal, but my point is this: there were (and are) almost assuredly players on the market that are better than the DM options Arsenal currently have, and Arsenal have the resources to, in baseball parlance, take a flyer on a mid-level talent and see if he would be better than what the team currently has.
For me, at least, doing nothing solely because of the fear of failure stemming from doing something ("so-and-so may turn out to be worse than current player") is not an option - if that were Arsenal's governing philosophy, Francis Jeffers would have probably enjoyed a 10 year Arsenal career, because someone else might have been worse.
The only way to improve is to evolve. I'm not talking dumping the whole squad and starting over, but again, can you honestly tell me that there was no DM option available last summer, at a price Arsenal could afford, that would have represented an improvement over Mathieu Flamini or Francis Coquelin?
Arsene's faith in his players is legendary and laudable, until it gets in the way of the team actually improving; that's where I see Arsenal now. There's something to be said for having that faith in your team as you built it; there's something else entirely to be said for recognizing your team has shortcomings and actively working to address those shortcomings, and not relying on saying "if everything goes right" with an admittedly thin squad in order to succeed.
Here's the thing: Arsenal have the means to acquire players that might make the team better, without breaking the bank or destroying their famous cash reserves, and yet they rarely if ever do. And that, to me, is all down to the manager - the board has repeatedly said he has money to spend, and yet, when Arsene spends these days, he typically spends once on big buys and then fills in the rest with whatever he finds lying around the shop.
For a club whose ambitions are to win the league and the Champions League, this has proven over the last three years to not be enough, so in answer to my question, this is what change means to me:
It means that Arsenal need to be more active in the transfer market, not just for the sake of doing it but for the sake of trying things that could improve the squad, even if sometimes they don't.
It also means that Arsenal need to be more committed to playing within a system - I don't care what system, I'm not about to get into the nerd-ass minutiae of 4-2-3-1 v. 4-3-3 v. 4-4...oh dear lord no please kill me now - but it's been made clear over the last couple seasons that Arsene's philosophy of "get smart players, let them be smart on the pitch, and nobody can keep up" has gone about as far as it can go.
When that was first done, Arsenal revolutionized the modern game; the modern game has caught up, though, and what used to be a competitive advantage is now a handicap, as Arsenal players come up against stout defenses and can't break them down, partly because they don't have a system to rely on, and partly because at least a few of the players Arsenal do have aren't necessarily talented enough.
Most importantly, here's what change DOESN'T mean. Change DOESN'T automatically mean "Arsene out". If he's willing to adjust his style and philosophies to recognize the operational reality of the Premier League in 2016, I'd happily have him stay until he was 100. Problem is, he has shown no inclination to make those adjustments, despite a growing body of evidence that they need to be made.
However, if Arsene goes and Manager X comes in, it DOESN'T mean that I think all the above problems can be or will be instantly solved. It DOESN'T mean that Arsenal will instantly start winning every trophy that's in front of them, nor that I would expect them to. That's not realistic.
What it means, to me, is that Arsenal can get back to being what I want all my sports teams to be - always putting themselves in the best possible position to win a championship. Trophies aren't a birthright or the automatic end of a well executed plan, and they're incredibly hard to win; but if Arsenal just make a few adjustments to the way they currently do business, both on the pitch and off, I believe they can be talked about as title contenders regularly in April and May again, and not just in November and December.