At this point, it’s no secret that Arsenal F.C. is in a bad spot. The manager looks in over his head, the players aren’t up to par with the competition, lineups are a bizarre mish-mash, badly needed reinforcements are either turning down the club or priced out of the club’s range, the fans are out for blood after consecutive abysmal performances, the title is already looking out of reach after only three weeks, and European glory remains a longshot.
If this reminds you of the staggeringly depressing Banter Era of the club’s history, you’re not far off. For those who aren’t familiar with this time, Ted laid it out in a TSF piece from back in January.
As a rough timeline, though, let’s say that the Early Banter Era starts with the inaugural Emirates Stadium season (2006-07) through the sale of club captain Cesc Fabregas (2011), with the High Banter Era running from that moment to the acquisition of British Record Signing Mesut Özil in 2013, and the Late Banter Era continuing up through today, when Carl Jenkinson still starts matches in anger.
If you want a more visual example of this time, here’s a Banter Era XI as recently voted by masochistic Arsenal fans.
The results are in. YOUR Arsenal Banter Era XI. pic.twitter.com/njxXO0YtbM— wearethenorthbank (@northbanklower) August 24, 2017
Horrid doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Arsene Wenger even spoke about this period in a recent interview.
“For me, the environment changed between 2006 and 2015, because we were under financial restrictions, at a time when a lot of money was injected into English football.
“We had less money, we had to sell our best players, whilst other teams were strengthening… sometimes with our players. But the expectations were exactly the same.
Does this sound familiar to anyone? Yes, the current squad is head and shoulders superior to the Banter Era teams both in talent levels as well as potential. Yes, the club is in a better financial state having completed the construction of a stadium which handcuffed its spending ability during time of construction. Yes, the academy is still producing solid, promising talent. Yes, everyone at the club still expects to win at each season’s start.
However, if we dig a bit deeper we can see that many of the problems which plagued this club years ago still remain and, quite frankly, this is unacceptable after having been promised change and progress not only coming out of the Banter Era but as recently as a few months ago following a disappointing 2016-2017 season. I mean, just look at this piece and compare the quotes, signings and results from then to now. Players are underperforming, the manager looks absolutely lost in every sense of the word, the board isn’t doing enough in terms of recruitment and squad shaping, the fans are openly rebelling against the product, the rest of the world continues to find new ways to mock the organization.
At least when the Banter Squad was getting pasted 2-8 versus Manchester United fans could pull up the excuse that it was kids and mediocrity on the pitch who’ve been put in a no-win scenario due to the club’s financial circumstances. What could possibly be the excuse now that the club is in a healthier place and with talent far superior to that of 6-8 years ago?
The saving grace for this club is that 1) the window is still open in case the need for more signings arises (it has) and 2) it is still early enough in the season to turn things around. No one, no matter how good they look now, wins the league in matchday three and calamities will generally hit every club to varying degrees over the next nine months. However, the flipside of that is that this club has behaved like a headless chicken in the transfer market both in terms of signings and sales and nine months of the season left could just mean nine more months of inept, amateurish representation of a club that postures itself as some world leader of football when, in fact, results over the last handful of years paints a different picture.
I look at it this way: put yourself in the Banter Era, and ask yourself how many of those players would you keep in order to build a club around them. Maybe one or two looked like surefire squad players who you could envision having a decent future at the club. Now ask yourself the same question of this squad. Between guys on expiring deals (Alexis and Ozil), those who undeservingly want more money (Ox), those pushing 30 or past it (Koscielny, Mert, Cech, Monreal, Giroud) and those simply outperforming or not good enough (umm, almost everyone else on the roster) we can see that the future is more or less a carbon copy of years past. Who can this club realistically rely on to drag them out of this incompetence? And this is without even touching on the topic of Arsene Wenger leading a group of admittedly unprepared incompetents whose job to prepare them falls primarily on him, a man so proud and incapable of rolling with the times that one questions what exactly he does at this club that adds any value to the organization.
Other clubs face a much darker future ahead of them as Arsenal still remains a (mostly) premier location and power in the sport despite its struggles. That being said, the warning signs have been here for quite some time, and scenarios of years past seem to be set to play out again. Alexis will likely leave for cheap (or nothing) to a rival just like Robin van Persie did. Young, promising talent will be just that, promising, and most likely won’t pan out just like any number of past players. New signings will be misused and potentially leave after wasting their time at a club that can’t get the best out of them. The club will get linked to other talent only to not pony up the money in an attempt to use the financial austerity excuse. Arsene Wenger will talk about the challenges of the modern game and how it’s not always possible to give the fans what they desire. The board will remain quiet and content enough with the status quo. We do this again next year.
If this sounds like I’m repeating myself it’s only because I’m following the club’s lead. This may come off as hyperbole, but quite honestly, we’re past the point of knee-jerk reactionary commentary and easy to reach for doom and gloom. At some point, a point which we may have very well shot past ages ago, we have to ask ourselves will anything at this club change for the better or is the Banter Era still alive, well and here for the foreseeable future?