Arsenal: Panic On The Streets Of North London

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger looks dejected as he walks off at half time during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on August 28, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Wenger must not go.

The urge to act is one of the more powerful. It speaks to the very heart of human nature: something has gone wrong, so how do I fix it? How do I make things right? What can I do? Doing nothing feels like an admission of either helplessness or defeat. This is why patience is often seen as cowardly, whereas action has a perceived value quite distinct from the actual worth of whatever it is that actually gets done. Something beats nothing every time.

So, to Arsenal; specifically, to the increasingly tenuous position of Arsène Wenger, put-upon leader of a club beleaguered on both a micro and a macro scale. Most obvious, of course, are the day-to-day problems of a squad denuded by injury, ill-discipline and - in the case of the few senior professionals remaining - an embarrassing lack of application. Robin van Persie's first half against Manchester United was one long exercise in hiding in plain sight, while the imposter Andrei Arshavin's impression of the footballer Andrei Arshavin has gone beyond funny into depressing (or, if you're Phil Jones' shin-bone, dangerous).

While it has become almost taboo to talk of commitment or desire or passion in football, for fear ofbeing branded a reductive barbarian hopelessly in thrall to pointless intangibles - the kind of knuckle-dragging mouth-breathing moron who probably couldn't even spell "pyramid" let alone invert one - it remains patently obvious that footballers play better when they give a flying one. And while, of course, an observer can never really tell what's going on behind the eyes, Van Persie and Arshavin played like men who didn't care.

(And as an aside, Robin van Persie has scored 10 goals in 16 club games since returning from his last notable injury against Barcelona in March last year, which is outstanding personal form. However, Arsenal have only won three of those games. This is little to do with Van Persie, one suspects, and more to do with Arsenal conceding 23 goals over fifteen of those games, Sunday's shellacking aside. But a more mischievous writer than I - one more prone to speculative cod psychology, perhaps - might suggest that continually doing your job, only to be let down by those employed to protect the leads you make, could perhaps lead to a certain amount of disillusionment.)

On the larger, more structural scale, things are of course more cloudy. Amy Lawrence, writing in the Observer, has sought to spread the blame around the club, pointing to a scouting department that have failed to provide options for Wenger, a negotiating team who lack the nous or connections to effectively pull off signings with anything approaching aplomb, and a corporate structure divided between Stan Kroenke's majority shareholding and Alisher Usmanov's minority stake. On top of this she describes an unanswered question about the relationship between the board and Wenger: is he refusing to spend the money they're offering him, or is he taking the heat to disguise a genuine absence of either capital or liquidity?

Unequivocal answers to those questions are well beyond my capacities, of course, but they ring true. So there are the problems; some obvious, some intuited, some guessed. Injured, demotivated and callow players; a threadbare squad in need of refurbishment; a moribund scouting structure; a paralysed and suspicious boardroom. We can probably tack on the perpetual mystery that is the Arsenal medical department, a strange time-bending place where days become weeks, weeks months, and players can vanish for up to a season at a time. (A friend suggested that Arsenal might use the same approach to hiring doctors as they do players; promising teenagers with the potential to become world-class medics, but only currently in possession of shiny A-levels.)

The question is, therefore, how many of those problems are solved by the immediate resignation or dismissal of Arsène Wenger?

In the here and the now, for the next few months of the season, the only real answer is "possibly the motivational one". While the composition of the squad, the identity of the medical team, and other similar aspects of the club are to a greater or lesser extent Wenger's responsibility, three games into the league season and two days before the end of the transfer window is almost exactly the worst time to carry out serious surgery on a squad. Arsenal need to buy, it's true, and the fact there will be three or four names coming in mean that the one thing you don't want to do is mess anything else up. Firing any manager is a huge gamble; firing a manager as deeply embedded into the fabric of a club as Wenger is like putting all your money, your wedding ring and your trousers on zero, then crossing your fingers.

And it's not as though Arsenal really need to remove their trousers anyway. (Hastily abandons metaphor.) For all that Sunday was a startling and humiliating experience, Arsenal left Old Trafford with exactly as many points as they would have got from a brave and battling 1-0 loss. The spine of the team - Szczesny; Vermaelen; Song; Wilshere; Gervinho; van Persie - is comfortably capable of competing with Liverpool and Tottenham for the fourth spot and Champions League qualification. While no team has ever finished in the top four of a twenty-team Premier League having taken one point from the first three games, no team will ever be in a better position to do it than Wenger's Arsenal; it was only Wednesday night that their spirit, togetherness and capability was the toast of the press. One anomalous humping against the best team in the country doesn't change that; it simply contextualises it.

This is not to say that Wenger should stay forever; in the medium to long term, it might well be time for him to move on, or upstairs, or sideways. The season as a whole will reveal that. But Wenger's own appointment - the best in the history of the Premier League by a considerable margin - carried with it a very pertinent lesson about how best to go about hiring managers: think, then act. Identify the right candidate, then move, and ensure that they are given time in which to make whatever changes or improvements they have been brought in to make. As things stand, with no obvious high-profile candidate, and no sign that the board have been unearthing a hidden gem, Wenger's departure would simply be an act taken for the sake of action. A gesture. And gestures, while sometimes pleasing in the moment, are notorious for their futility.

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