Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures

During these austere times we are regularly informed of the “private concerns” of top British military 'brass' on the inadequacy of the country’s armed forces to operate.

The usual form is that Admiral Dave This or General Sir Jock That will, via the thundering columns of the Daily Telegraph, unleash withering invective on Her Majesty's Treasury for reducing the RAF to a squadron of box kites, and the Army to fighting the Taliban with shelled peas fired from elastic bands attached to classroom rulers.

Ironic, then, that the football team known as The Gunners finds itself in the same position. Yesterday, Arsenal Football Club sought to rectify the abject misery of Sunday's capitulative 8-2 defeat by Manchester United by offering rail ticket refunds for the poor fans who watched the wretched display at Old Trafford. Needless to say, Twitter and message boards were awash with comments along the lines of "We need Arsenal to spend cash on new players, not PR stunts". And they are right.

Arsenal fans have been amazingly tolerant of Arséne Wenger's profligacy, although his dogmatic refusal to break the club's wage ceiling has been equally admirable. Insisting on buying youth over more bloatedly overpriced experience has been genuinely refreshing, even for this Chelsea fan whose club has, at times, spent money like a Lottery-winning chav with a reluctance to take professional financial advice.

Sadly, however, the game has moved on. Worthy as Wenger’s stance may be, the Premier League’s elite has accelerated ahead in firepower. The pace has always been set by Manchester United. But with Manchester City spending like it’s going out of fashion - and clearly reaping the rewards - Arsenal has been left looking like a dilapidated high street, populated only by pound stores and charity shops while the supermarkets have moved out to ‘big box’ retail parks.

Sunday’s annihilation by United just didn’t seem like Arsenal. We’ve had some incredible encounters between these two teams down the years – the infamous photograph of Martin Keown monstering Ruud van Nistelrooy after the striker’s 2003 penalty miss capturing the rivalry vividly.

On Sunday, Arsenal looked broken. I’m sure there is many a Gooner who would have left Old Trafford satisfied – relatively speaking – by a 3-2 defeat. But no professional football team – least of all a club of Arsenal’s standing - should go down to a score closer to rugby union than football.

"There are much lesser teams with much less talent than Arsenal who will come to Old Trafford this season and make it doubly as difficult as they did today," observed Paul Merson on Sky Sports. 

"You have got to have tactics," Merson added. "You can’t just have a Plan A, you have to have a plan B. The way Wenger set up wasn’t good enough. You can’t put teams out all the time and just say ‘go and play the Arsenal way’ – that isn’t fair on the players."

David Seaman took a typically more blunt, Yorkshireman's view: "When I played for Arsenal," he wrote on Twitter, "we were expected to win trophies - this is not good enough."

So what now? Inevitably, with 48 hours to go before the summer transfer window closes, Arsenal has being linked with every Tom, Dick and Harry (or Thomas, Richard and Hervé). Wenger is sitting on a cash pile of £65 from the sale of Fabregas and Nasri.

So far this summer Arsenal has spent £26 million on Jenkinson, Gervinho and the exotically-named Oxlade-Chamberlain (a nightmare for the club shop’s replica shirt printers). The Manchesters have, by comparison, spent more than that on individual players.

As insane as that might be – and this coming from someone who thought Trevor Francis was overpriced at a million – the market price for quality has simply gone up. And Arsenal needs to match it. Desperately.

No comments:

Post a Comment