Archive for May 15th, 2009

Shareholders meeting descends into a lovers’ tiff

4 comments May 15th, 2009

It’s horrible to see people who love each other very much fighting.  But then, when a relationship is in trouble, sometimes that’s what’s needed.  Brutal honesty can be difficult to bear, but from the inevitable conflict that occurrs, a greater mutual understanding can be arrived at, wherefrom problems can be overcome.  (I should at this juncture point out that I gained this knowledge almost entirely from watching Sex & The City with my ex, and have thus far been entirely unable to apply it successfully in my own life.)

In the wake of the crushing defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea, the bond between Arsene Wenger and Arsenal fans appears to under considerable strain.  Yesterday, at a Q&A between Arsene Wenger and shareholders, it seems to have descended into a full-blown blame-game.

I should point out that I have seen no footage of the event, nor was I there.  There is some suggestion that ArsenalTV will screen it tonight, though I am yet to have that confirmed.  These quotes are therefore without context, and it’s worth bearing that in mind when perusing my clumsy analysis.

The first bone of contention arose after a supporter questioned the players’ desire.  Arsene retorted:

“It is easy to sit in the stand and say that they are not up for the fight.  What they have done in this season in a negative environment shows what they can do.”

I would rather suggest that what they did (or failed to do) in the first half of the season went a long way towards engendering that negative environment.  He then compared the home fans with the away fans, stating:

“There is a massive difference between the away fans, who are absolutely fantastic, and the home ones. It is always that negative way of thinking, that the players do not care. If we do not get there next year [playing in this style] then I am responsible and will stand up for it. But what this team needs is people who are fans of the club.”

I am a fan who goes primarily to home games, but I have no doubt when I say that the away fans are (as a rule) more vocal and more supportive.  But this is true of every club in the league.  I don’t actually think our home fans are hugely more difficult to please than many other sets – look at the way Bolton fans have dogged Gary Megson, despite him doing an admirable job.  There are fans who will groan at the first pass that goes astray, but I remain convinced they are in a minority.

That said, the relationship between the fans and the players is as poor as I can remember it.  In the space of this season Eboue, Adebayor, and Bendtner have all been booed.  Bendtner and Eboue have escaped of late, but that in itself shows how fickle these reactions are.  Yesterday a shareholder labelled Silvestre “geriatric”, and Arsene was reputedly more than a little irked.  As Goodplaya and I discussed in conversation last night, I suppose the fan who did so would similarly complain about the lack of experience in the squad.

Arsene is keen to take responsibility, and so he should be.  But perhaps if he is that keen to protect his players, he needs to give them the tools they need to succeed.  And by “tools” I of course mean “additional, better players”.

There are disgruntled fans, but there is a simple way to appease them: trophies.  And winning a trophy – the FA Cup, say – does not always come at the price of bankruptcy– sometimes it comes at the price of fielding your strongest XI in the semi-final.  I think it is the underlying suspicion that prizes are no longer what motivates Arsene that leads to such frustration.  Is this a squad assembled to win plaudits or prizes?

The other major talking point from yesterday was Arsene’s comments on the future of Emmanuel Adebayor:

“I believe he was disturbed at the start by a little bit of bad feelings from the fans because he was close to leaving the club and it unsettled him a little bit.  And after, he had a big [hamstring] injury [that kept him out for two months from early February]. He looks now in training very, very sharp and back to his best.  I don’t want to go especially into any individual assessment of who we want to keep and who not, at the moment, and normally Adebayor is part of our plans for the future.”

It’s not exactly the kind of strong talk he has used when expressing his desire for Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas to remain at the club, and if there is interest at around the £20m mark, I expect Adebayor to depart this Summer.

It’s a situation that makes me sad, really.  Adebayor came here as a nobody and many fans fell for his boundless energy and fearless determination.  I remember several games where we were chasing goals and Adebayor would be running to get the ball and placing it for goalie to take goal-kicks.  He was a cult hero of sorts – not the most ability, but all the will in the world.

He is unrecogniseable as a player now – far more reliable in front of goal, but far more casual in style.  I firmly believe he is a less effective player for it.  In his former guise, he was the ideal foil for a goalscorer – I once hoped he’d prove to be the Heskey to Eduardo’s Owen.  Now, he acts the goalscorer himself, casually strolling about and waiting for an opportunity to come.  It does not make the most of his natural gifts, and it does not suit our team.  And, in terms of attitude, it’s just not on.

Arsene and Arsenal made him the player he was last season, when he terrorised defences and banged in thirty goals.  And then he got a fat contract and sat back on his laurels.  Maybe it’s because he knows he’s earning as much as he possibly can and no longer has the drive to improve.  Maybe it’s because he feels he can’t win anything in this Arsenal side and lacks motivation.  Maybe he really is just lazy.  Whatever it is, it’s not good enough.  I’d rather have the Adebayor we had in his first season – the one who missed two open goals at Portsmouth but covered huge expanses of ground – than his current incarnation: the supposed African Footballer of the Year and £30m superstar.

Amidst all the bickering, there was some fantastic news yesterday: Tomas Rosicky has returned to full training.  In many ways, the real test begins now, as we find out if he can cope with a heavier schedule.  All things being well (which, admittedly, seems unlikely), he could be on course to return to playing action in pre-season.

This blog has exhausted me a little.  Arguments are like that, I suppose.  I hope in the cold light of day Arsene and the fans can look each other in the eye and agree that we all just want the best for the club.  There is plenty of work to be done in the coming months and years, and I still believe Arsene is the right man to oversee that.  And for all his seemingly negative comments about those who fill the Emirates Stadium week-in week-out, it’s worth remembering to whom Arsene felt he owed the greatest apology after our Champions League exit: the fans.

This year has been a failure of sorts, but next year does not have to be.  In 2007/08, Arsene’s Arsenal showed serious potential.  We mounted a serious title challenge, in a year when nobody expected it.  We had, it’s worth pointing out, just finished fourth and sold our star striker.

Let’s believe it can happen again – otherwise, really, what is the point?

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