A Poor First Touch

A fan standing not more than 30 feet behind manager Arsene Wenger holding up a white poster with three red words in vertical succession saying ‘Spend Spend Spend’. That is the image etched in my memory from our opening fixture loss to Aston Villa. It is almost as though this Gooner predicted a catastrophic outcome and came prepared with his three words for the manager and decided coyly to place his message in the very colours that are synonymous with the club.


A Chelsea fan nudged me in the ribs on Sunday evening as his team proved their worth and asked me cheekily, ‘Do you still support Aston Villa?’ with a smug smile on his face. Meanwhile Arsenal.com sent out its usual email newsletter which is dubbed as the manager’s official statement to the supporters without even having the courtesy to change the text. The newsletter is but a collection of statements from Wenger’s post-game interviews explaining that the team cares about making the fans happy and they are disappointed when that doesn’t happen. The newsletter was copied word-for-word from several articles already published on the official Arsenal website. Disappointing, considering the manager says he cares about us but wouldn’t even bother giving us a few minutes to tell us what he really thinks; instead he tells us the same thing the rest of the world already knows. It’s amazing how much their supporters really matter to them.

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Several post-match interview videos outside the Emirates Stadium conducted by Arsenal fan forums show supporters terribly aggrieved; one aged supporter was moved to tears as he expresses deeply how the club is his life and the board seem to be playing with it without the slightest concern for anyone else. Another supporter expresses his discomfort with the fact that the board hasn’t allowed Alisher Usmanov, publicly declared the richest man in the United Kingdom, to take over the club considering that he actually is an Arsenal fan and wants the club to do well. Several other supporters who were interviewed reflect the views of the Gooner holding the poster inside the stadium as they break into chants of ‘Spend some fu*kin money’ and question why Wenger and the board never seem to make high profile signings in spite of claiming to have a kitty of 70 million pounds every transfer window.

Meanwhile, a visit to the official Arsenal website has a video of Adrian Clarke, a former Gunner, breaking down the game against Aston Villa and explaining why we lost. He attributes the defeat to a stellar display by Aston Villa coupled with a few poor refereeing decisions. Here is where I would like to weigh in. No disrespect to Villa because they played a good game and took their chances when they got them, but I refuse to believe that Arsenal losing have much to do with Villa’s superiority. Arsenal started the game with a squad of less than 12 match fit players in my eyes. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started the game injured and Santi Cazorla wasn’t match fit after international duty. But there should have been players who could have played in their place. Where is the depth in the squad? You can’t be a Premier League team starting a season with less than 16 fit players to choose from considering there is going to be countless wear and tear as the season progresses.

I must admit that I was impressed with some of the performances the players put in, but the problem was that it came down to individual performances. Tomas Rosicky, at the age of 32, still showed the fight and desire to play which made me admire him when he initially moved to Arsenal and played in the Czech national team. Even Olivier Giroud looked fit with a hunger and desire that I saw developing in the preseason games. As ever, Jack Wilshere put his heart and soul into every tackle and every bursting run; I’m glad he bleeds Arsenal to his core. Aaron Ramsey didn’t have the intensity I noticed in his last few outings for the club but he still runs on pure passion. But these were individual players. On the other hand, Aston Villa played as a collective.

I’m ashamed that Arsenal managed to lose their first opening fixture after 12 seasons, but I could see this coming. For the past 3 seasons, the team could manage nothing more than a draw on the opening day and this is a clear reflection of the steady decline of quality both in the squad and in the board.

The entire footballing world is aware that Arsenal has trouble holding onto their best players. Citing personal reasons, a desire to win trophies or the voice of a little boy speaking inside of them, most of Arsenal’s best players have – as we say in the football world – moved to greener pastures over the last few seasons. Arsenal are no longer the team that strike fear in the hearts of opponents, the fans no longer sing “One nil to the Arsenal”, their fluid passing game seems to be a thing of the past, they don’t seem the same team that we fell in love with once upon a time. As stated by one of the supporters in the above mentioned videos, you can’t go 49 games unbeaten and then claim the referee ruined the game for you. The referee did make some bad calls but you have to be prepared for that. If the team is exceptional, bad decisions will only be a small hiccup which would be overcome easily. But the truth is, the squad isn’t strong enough. The team right now isn’t worth their salt. Some want higher wages but aren’t putting in the performances on the field, while those who are happy to play for the club will accept anything that comes their way without a fuss. Wenger is having his own trouble bringing in quality players to replace the departing ones which is understandable. You can’t just transfer any oaf that doesn’t fit into the style of play; and many other factors also come into the picture. A couple of seasons ago Kolo Toure departed the squad not for more money but because he could not get along with William Gallas; goes to show how intricate it must be to manage a team.

Then again, we have the board. In 2007 then vice-president of the club David Dein had the foresight to predict the financial outcome of the football world and was in favour of selling majority of the club’s shares to Alisher Usmanov, a man among the top ten richest men in the world, who is today the richest man in the United Kingdom and whose estimated value surpasses that of Roman Abramowich. Dein knew that Usmanov was an Arsenal supporter unlike other rich investors and knew he would have the best interests for the club in mind in the event that he takes over the ownership of the club. The rest of the board disagreed with Dein and as countless red and white hearts sank across the world, Dein resigned from the board and sold his shares to Usmanov hoping he would be able to mount a takeover. Unfortunately the board decided to freeze him out and refused to sell him their shares. Since then Wenger has lost a strong friend in the board in the form of Dein who had countless contacts in the footballing world. And things have gone from bad to worse.

Arsenal’s opening day home game defeat to Aston Villa on 17th August 2013 was not a result of a single game. It’s been a long time coming. It’s the result of an arrogance and a discomfort that stems down from the men wearing the suits and ties in the conference rooms to those on the field wearing the red and white jerseys. A lot can be said about the game but the less said the better. Many fans are calling for Wenger’s head but the more understanding of those just want him to spend the cash and help the team. As for me, I take pride in the fact that the club I love and support is one among the few that does not have a single owner that pumps money into the system like a headless chicken and expects the returns on the field and in the banks. I don’t want the team to be sold to someone who doesn’t care about football and just cares about bragging rights with his friends on a Sunday afternoon. But if we must have a change then I would like to see it in the board and possibly in the ownership.

I have supported Wenger through thick and thin and will continue to do the same. The results on the field pi*s me off beyond measure but I would rather have that love-hate relationship and a feeling of being a part of a team that I love than have a team that mindlessly wins matches and silverware without fans being able to connect with it. Wenger is one of the reasons I connect with the club and it is his brand of football and style of keeping a club together that I appreciate. Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Sean is a part of the @Football_P family. You can follow him at @seanseq

Sean Sequeira

Arsenal supporter through thick and thin. Idolizes Thierry Henry. Considers football to be much more important than life. Other passions including movies and music.