‘The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history’. In Arsenal’s case it is untrue in the sense that from history we DO learn the inevitable cycle of our Arsenal supporting lives. However, it is untrue in that the Arsenal board never seem to learn the lessons of history in terms of the need to invest and build.
The most shocking realisation that came out of the Swansea game was that whilst the Arsenal team were below par they had inferior players to Swansea City in most areas of the field.
How have we made the transition from invincibles to … (please no swearing-Ed). The answer is simple every year we lose our best players and replace them with usually half decent but inferior replacements. The result is a gradual but inevitable diminution in the quality of the team.
None of this is new. The Wenger era is far from unique. The club can be characterised, in my time as a fan, as regularly building a decent team only to demolish it through lack of ambition, investment call it what you will.
The 1971 double team was functional and effective. For the couple of years that followed the club built on it but just as they started to develop into what may have become a really top side the club allowed the team to age, stars were sold and inferior players came in, sound familiar?
The team flirted with relegation for a couple of seasons, and then built again. This was the side of the three successive FA cup finals, of Jennings, O’Leary, Brady and Stapleton etc. They were talented but the club didn’t invest yet again. So whilst they could beat anyone on their day, they were never able to challenge for a league title. The squad was simply not deep enough. Again the best players were sold and as ever the inevitable flirtation with relegation followed. Those early eighties teams were awful. If you are too young ask someone how bad Hawley and Hankin were! Honestly they both made Chamakh look like Messi!
Then from the ashes another phoenix arose. Carling cups were followed by Anfield 89 and all that! The 91 team was a really good side and underrated by many. Docked points, they still won the league by a distance.
Again the club didn’t invest. See it isn’t just Arsene Wenger. Any manager that can produce a team on a shoestring is music to the ears of generations of Arsenal boards.
So the George Graham team also descended into a cup team built on a great striker and wonderful keeper and defence. Then came the usual flirtation with the wrong end of the table. The loss of good players, the buying of inferior ones. Hands up anyone who thinks Glenn Helder or Kris Kiwomya should ever have worn our great shirt…didn’t think so.
So to Mr Wenger, and the invincibles. And because it’s the Arsenal Board we know what will happen and …the inevitable is happening.
We are at the point in the cycle where we should now just about be ready to start the flirtation with relegation. Don’t rule it out. There are many worse teams than Arsenal in the league but some of our players have serious question marks against them in terms of character, belief attitude and so on. And where is the leadership? Thomas Vermaelen has a great attitude himself but doesn’t seem to be able to transmit that to others.
The answer of course is, as it always has been …investment. It doesn’t require Manchester City style spending. That would be nice but it isn’t going to happen. Get rid of the deadwood, buy a skilful but physical midfield player, a forward of real talent, and see where we are then.
Will the board learn the lessons of history? And even if they do will they choose to make the same mistakes again? The answer may well rest with the fans. Believe me Arsenal boards are no different from other boards. They react to pressure. The kind of pressure that the protest before the Swansea game is starting to exert.
I was standing with a large group of Swansea fans as the protest march went by. At first they offered their own rival chants but as the scale of the protest became clear they clapped out of a respect that decent fans always have for each other. And one of them turned to me and said. ‘They won’t be able to call that a minority for much longer’. No they won’t. Keep up the pressure so that we stop this board going the way of so many of its predecessors.
Footnote: Our thoughts must be with Peter Hill Wood and his family following his recent illness. The Hill Woods have given generations of service to our club. Whatever differences we have we should never forget we are all part of the same Gooner family.
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