Renewing my vows – and why Arsene has to go

I used to write about Arsenal here all the time. I loved it. I did it for free and I did it for pleasure. If you read during those days, I remain incredibly grateful.

You probably haven’t noticed, but over the past couple of years entries on this blog have tailed off to an eventual halt. While I’ve continued writing, podcasting and vlogging elsewhere, I’ve found it difficult to find the time and energy to update this site. This, after all, was always a labour of love—and the sad truth is that much of the love has gone.

In many ways, this blog is a shrine to Wenger’s Arsenal. It was his teams that made he fall so hard for the game that I dedicated a significant portion of my life to writing about it. I’m now lucky enough to do that professionally. I cover Arsenal for a variety of sites, and I recognise it’s an incredible privilege. After years of graft, my work was my hobby. But over the past couple of seasons, it has begun to feel very much like work again.

The reason I’ve returned here is because when you’re writing for other people, you usually have to have a measure of objectivity. You have to be professional. This is not a professional piece—it’s a deeply person one.

Here’s the thing: I need Arsenal to change. I need a new story to get my teeth into. Part of the reason I haven’t been writing here is because I know you’ve read it all before. It’s increasingly difficult to find new and entertaining ways to say “we looked quite good then we absolutely fucked it”.

Arsenal hark on about stability, but continuity can prove the enemy of optimism. Turbulence brings about the possibility of change, and Arsenal fans are surely ready to welcome that now. I know I am – I’m fully aware that it might get worse before it gets better. Bring it on. I feel like I’ve watched 1000 episodes of Friends back to back and now you’re gong to randomly change the channel. Yes, we might land on Made in Chelsea, but at least it’s different. And we might get Planet Earth. We don’t know. Just change the fucking channel. What is elite sport about if not taking risks?

I’m beating around the bush, because I’m not sure I’ve ever said it in such plain terms, but Arsene Wenger has to go. It’s horrible to say because I’m such a huge admirer of his. Trust me, when you’ve sat opposite him in a press conference, it’s difficult to square this brilliant, erudite man with some of the vitriol and abuse he receives from his harshest critics. He isn’t ‘comical Arsene’, he isn’t a joke — he’s an incredible manager and thinker who has clung on too long.

Make no mistake, we’re in a real mess now. When Wenger signed his new contract in 2014, many assumed it would be his last. However, it feels like almost no plans have been to put in place to deal with the eventual succession. The board are paralysed, and players unwilling to commit. As a club, we are sleepwalking towards a nightmare of a summer.

Well, I feel wide awake now. It’s sad but satisfying to have some clarity. Arsenal need a new man to break this cycle of perpetual disappointment. I’m invigorated by the prospect of something different.

So I’ve come out of retirement to say that I hope Arsene Wenger will soon enter his. Or go to another club—genuinely, it would make me really happy to see him succeed elsewhere. I would love to see him complete his CV and win the Champions League. I hoped for a long time he’d do that with Arsenal, but I now recognise that isn’t going to happen.

I still think he’s capable. There are clubs and leagues where Wenger could still be a success, but unfortunately Arsenal and 2017’s Premier League are no longer one.

It’s almost impossible to break down where it all went wrong, but the simplest answer is that it never really went wrong—it went stale. Top level sport is about pressure and accountability, and those things have been uniquely absent at Arsenal. The manager has never been under real threat, and that comfy atmosphere has seeped into the playing squad. There has been pressure from the fans, sure—but never in the history of the club have the fans held less sway. There are tactical issues of course, but the fundamental problem is a lack of ambition and aggression. The owner and the board play a huge part in that too, and I hope some of the anger at Arsene is redirected at the entirely deserving Kroenke & Co.

Earlier this week, Wenger spoke of himself as a ‘masochist’. He’s entitled to his kinks, but as an Arsenal fan I no longer want to subject myself to this. Any algedonic pleasure has long since worn off.

I do love Arsene, but I love Arsenal more. For that relationship to work out, I need something to give. Change the manager, and maybe we can have a fresh start. Start again. Renew our vows. Maybe I’ll even blog here more often.

I’d love Arsenal to be fun again. I’d settle for it being interesting. Give me something different, Arsenal. Give me a reason to believe.

Reaction to Olympiacos defeat: “Are you free Thursdays?”

Dear dear. What a night. Here are a couple of written pieces in reaction to a truly awful result:

  • The Mirror: ‘Arsenal’s Champions League failure is down to attitude, not ability’
  • Unibet: ‘Why Arsenal can’t afford to be sniffy about the Europa League’

All very familiar. On to the next one: Manchester United on Sunday.

 

On the Whistle: Leicester 2-5 Arsenal – “Electric Alexis sparks Gunners into life”

What’s that? A blog post. I know, I know, I’ve been absent. Neglectful, even. But a lot’s gone on. I broke my arm, for one. I’m going to keep trotting out that excuse until it enters myth.

So here it is: a first post of the season on Gunnerblog.com. Feels appropriate really: after Alexis and Arsenal burst into life at Leicester, it feels like our 2015/16 campaign has finally started.