Arsenal Franchise Club

Yesterday’s performance and result was bad enough, and the prospect of reliving that didn’t exactly have me leaping out of bed this morning. It seems almost pointless to do so now in light of the European Super League announcement, but while I still intend to isolate the match, I can’t really gloss over this one.


The European Superleague

I’ve always despised the level of media neglect afforded to the likes of Chelsea and City, and their unjust rise from irrelevance. Their achievements are lauded with barely the slightest hint of balance in the discussion as to why they are where they are. Take this season for example; City are walking away with the league but how many times has it been attributed to their obscene squad value and their ability to rotate players from a pool that could form two first XIs?

City’s squad value (5 appearances minimum)

Player£m
Ederson35
Nathan Aké41
Kyle Walker45
John Stones47.5
Oleksander Zinchenko16
Aymeric Laporte57
Benjamin Mendy52
Joao Cancelo60
Ruben Dias58.5
Ilkay Gundogan21
Rodri62
Kevin De Bruyne55
Bernardo Silva43.5
Fernandinho34
Phil FodenN/A
Raheem Sterling49
Ferran Torres20
Gabriel Jesus27
Sergio Aguero31
Riyad Mahrez60
Total814.5

You could point to Herbert Chapman being guilty of getting the ball rolling on this front. He was the first manager to pay over £10,000 for a player in David Jack, and broke the British transfer fee record again 10 years later to the tune of £14,500. These are for individual players, and you could argue that such fees were inevitable thanks to inflation anyway, but the point remains that Chapman raised the bar. The manner in which it was raised is where any defence of Chelsea or City unravels, and that’s before you consider their respective rebirths are thanks to an oligarch who illegitimately seized control of a country’s natural resources and another backed by an oil-rich country with an appalling human rights record.

Herbert Chapman’s signature of David Jack in 1928 was thanks to ingenuinity, with Bolton Wanderers originally asking for £13,000 – almost double the record at the time. His solution was one of the oldest tricks in the book:

We arrived at the hotel half-an-hour early. Chapman immediately went into the lounge bar. He called the waiter, placed two pound notes in his hand and said: “George, this is Mr Wall, my assistant. He will drink whisky and dry ginger. I will drink gin and tonic. We shall be joined by guests. They will drink whatever they like. See that our guests are given double of everything, but Mr Wall’s whisky and dry ginger will contain no whisky, and my gin and tonic will contain no gin.

Unsurprisingly, representatives from Bolton were a lot more supple by the end of the negotiations and Herbert Chapman got his man, who, despite being signed at the age of 30, went on to score 113 goals in 181 games for the club. None of this 1-year extension for the over 30s malarkey.

What Chelsea and City have done to the game is a mockery of every traditional merit that otherwise make a football club tick. FIFA, UEFA and the FA are just as complicit in this overhaul for never taking Financial Fair Play (FFP) seriously, with nothing more than a slap on the wrist for even the most flagrant violations. My sympathies are non-existent for them because they’re no better; World Cups in Qatar and Russia, Europa League finals in Baku, forever incongruous with fans’ best interests with kick-off times designed to benefit TV viewership at the expense of fans in attendance. Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini, Franz Beckenbauer all guilty, among many others, of bribery and corruption.

In Arsenal’s case, they at least tried to do things properly. After the successes of Arsène Wenger’s early reign at the club, both he and David Dein conceptualised a strategy to safeguard the club’s future and give it a cutting-edge on the foundations of those successes. The Emirates Stadium came in on time and under budget, with a smart development of Highbury and the surrounding area to offset the considerable outlay. There’s a caveat there, and the hypocrisy isn’t lost on me that Arsenal have been sponsored by Emirates since 2006 – the same Emirati money tree that City have flourished under.


This is where it gets worse for Arsenal, because despite being taken over by a man of similar wealth to Roman Abramovich, their reputation and ability continue to slide against their competitors. After a bungled transition from Arsène Wenger, the ensuing power vaccuum saw leeches like Ivan Gazidis and Raul Sanllehi muddy the already-murky waters of Stan Kroenke’s stewardship. The warning signs of such decline were already there if the rest of his sporting portfolio was anything to go by, and trusted custodians such as Lady Bracewell-Smith and Danny Fiszman hammered home the final nails in the coffin when they decided to sell their decisive shares, giving KSE the power for a majority takeover. Danny Fiszman died two days later.

Under KSE, their support has only ever been the bare minimum. Wenger was given little to work with because he was able to keep Arsenal in the Top Four until he wasn’t; exemplified by a string of lacklustre transfer windows, ceding titles thanks to gross negligence and ineptitude in squad building.

His successor was another quick fix, only intended to find a shortcut around qualifying domestically for Europe’s top competition. For all his faults, Emery was also treated with contempt when Arsenal overruled the wishes of the head coach and bought him Nicolas Pépé instead of Wilfred Zaha. The eye-watering deal obviously didn’t add up and Raul made way after an “internal review”, which would point to some kind of malfeasance. While not related, Arsenal also lost one of the “good ones” thanks to Raul after Sven Mislintat came out second best in discussions. Francis Cagigao was also made redundant during Arsenal’s “streamlining”, which saw 54 others also part ways. Cagigao was involved in the signings of players like Fábregas, Van Persie, Lauren, Cazorla, Reyes and Hector Bellerín but apparently, others were better suited to take the club forward.


Where we find ourselves now is in a position of further decline with an unclear future, until last night’s announcement.

Arteta has undoubtedly underperformed domestically, despite the troubling times, and without European glory, Arsenal are unlikely to even qualify for a European competition next season. I’ve spoken at length about the need for meritocracy when it comes to players, so the thought of Arsenal being one of the “Founding 12” at this point is nothing short of laughable.

Ignoring the obvious financial benefit from having a seat at this table, the thought of watching Arsenal get ravaged on a weekly basis by Europe’s elite is not an exciting prospect. I watched from the stands as Arsenal lost to Bayern 5-1 on my birthday a few years ago. Who wants to watch that every week? To those that think it will make Arsenal more competitive, I would simply ask – how? Arsenal won’t be getting any more revenue than the other founders and they’ve already proven to be less shrewd than most in the transfer market. Any domestic gains will feel hollow and undeserved, and that’s if they’re not thrown out of the Premier League entirely – which I wouldn’t begrudge. Arsenal’s inclusion in the group is only marginally less embarrassing than Spurs’- nothing more than a balance sheet application through the lens of profit maximisation.

It’s a giant leap in the wrong direction for football, exacerbated by a steady and wilful acceptance for the sport to be governed by money over merit. Given the unity in announcements, withdrawal from the ECA and reaction from all governing bodies affected, it doesn’t appear to simply be a case of posturing and hot air either. At this point, government intervention seems to be the only port of call, and relying on the British governing party to do anything right is a tall ask.


My personal sentiments are pure alienation. A club that once stood for something, that had the honour of the first ever televised match, the first foreign manager to win the Premier League, the first and only to win the league unbeaten, among many other commendable achievements on and off the pitch. I had already begun to feel distanced from the club when Kroenke arrived, only 2 years after I’d mocked United fans at the 2005 F.A. Cup Final with chants of “USA, USA, USA”. The first step towards the transition from a club with identity to “just another franchise”. Defending the club when friends would make jokes, their own clubs in lower divisions maintaining a relationship with fans.

Besides hardly ever even seeing Silent Stan, fans also had to suffer the indignation of listening to his unqualified, layabout son act as if he had anything worthwhile to say. Arsenal are nothing more than a portfolio segment to them and they’ve taken the easy road to get their returns.

Their stewardship has also coincided with grotesque hypocrisy off the field, with Arsenal supporting communities like LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter while burying their heads in the sand over China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims, even going so far as distancing themselves from Mesut Özil when he publicly criticised their treatment – all to satisfy the Chinese money train. Laying off 55 staff a year before securing a £350m windfall, after already boasting the most expensive tickets in the Premier League with no on-field return on investment for match-going fans.

After a mostly frustrating season, Arsenal were just showing signs of promise again with their progress in the Europa League, which has now been tainted and may even see Arsenal thrown out of the competiton, although the legal precedent for such a move may still protect them. Even if they were to go all the way and win, it’s going to feel hollow and meaningless when the Super League takes off because those efforts were ultimately pointless.

Looking beyond club football, this even threatens what is, for me, the pinnacle of the football “experience” in international competitions. It’s hard to say how serious FIFA and UEFA are when they threaten to ban players from competing in future competitions, but splintering the playerbase (under the assumption that affected players would form their own international tournaments as well) would be disastrous. It’s moving the goalposts of what to look forward to as fans, and the aspirations of players.


Today should have been a good day with José finally getting the boot (again), but he’s only walking because Daniel Levy is no longer worried about paying him off.

Closer to home, Arteta claims to have been out of the loop, and Jürgen Klopp has always opposed the idea. I can’t speak of the rest, but presumably anyone taking a stand against the proposal is going to get the boot. I’d be very interested to know what the players made of it, and I’d imagine the threat of international bans would be the biggest deterrent but who knows what the club is telling players behind the scenes. All I would urge in the mean time is to stop buying merchandise, cancel memberships and stick to piracy to get your Arsenal fix until everything becomes clearer. I doubt it’s possible to nip this in the bud before it takes off, but there’s not much else to do in the mean time.


Fulham

This seems like a distant, unpleasant memory at this point and it’s almost pointless to relive but I’ll give it a shot.


I remember being pissed off at VAR for the umpteenth time this season. Ruling out more perfectly acceptable goals under the same pretenses that allowed Fulham’s penalty to stand, which just so happened to be one of the most egregious dives I’ve seen all season. Not one but two professional officials failed to see the man take flight with both feet. Gabriel was clumsy to have two stabs at the challenge but never in a million years was that a penalty.

Arsenal had more than enough chances to win the game, as stupid and infuriating as VAR was, and this tells you all you need to know:

It was another case of being punished for not taking our chances. The cutting-edge that ripped Slavia Prague apart was gone and Mohamed Elneny came in to do this against a team battling relegation:

I really wish he couldn’t keep doing this. No one cares if you have 99% pass completion when they have all he conviction of a wet blanket. It really tells you all you need to know.

Lacazette was also struck down when his hamstring went, and the timing really couldn’t be better as Aubameyang continues to recover from malaria. Eddie Nketiah was finally able to wet his beak again and despite the fact that he’ll no doubt be leaving the club in the summer, will probably be getting some minutes in the coming weeks to attract some suitors.

I think that’s just about enough.


Featured image courtesy of Tim Stillman @Stillberto


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