The Nine Of Pentacles – Arsenal Electric
“Prudence, safety, success, accomplishment, certitude, discernment…”
Well, another D-Day comes and goes. The shelling stops and the casualties are counted. After the grief and the licking of the wounds, time to regroup and take stock. The battle is over, but the war has just begun…
Arsenal was under siege on numerous fronts before winter's curtain lifted, and summer's silly season began. The brain confirmed what the heart suspected: we once again had top-ranking double-agents in our midst, turncoats lured to our greatest adversaries by the promise of silver and gold.
We struck preëmptively, and secured potential deputies. We put ourselves in advanced positions for vital reinforcements and acquisitions. We seemed to have the ammunition and desire to reverse our misfortune – but ultimately, for reasons beyond our control, the opportunities came and went, and we had to remain content to merely hold our lines, and trust that we had enough firepower to get us through the rapidly approaching hostilities.
“Prudence, safety, discernment…”
Once again, we have a fanbase up in arms about our transfer window (in)activity. Despite the overt criticism of last year's panicky deadline day shopping spree, the Goonerverse clamoured for purchases which, in the light of a new day, seem, well, silly… Dempsey? Essien? Really? While Dempsey had a fantastic season past for Fulham – I think with a Giroud, Podolski, Cazorla strike-force trio, backed by the likes of Walcott, Rosicky, Diaby, (Arshavin?) and The Ox – we have the opportunistic central attacking midfield/striker role pretty well covered.
And although Essien, in his prime, was more Song-like than Song himself – he is not the same player he used to be – and in all honesty, I don't think the midfield is an area we need reinforcing. It is my humble and plebeian opinion that an Arteta – Diaby/Rosicky/Ramsey/Oxlade – Wilshire/Cazorla midfield is as, if not more, powerful than last season's Song – Arteta – Ramsey combo. It is more fluid, more intelligent. And with an ever-stronger back four guarding our Sczesznyian sticks, I fancy some midfield dominance, and the chance of ample goals from our second row.
Nuri Sahin would have been a fine addition, but arch-enemy Mourinho saw to it that Liverpool lackey Brendan Rogers got a favoured deal for him. £11m for a one-year loan without an option to buy is not good business, even for a player of his calibre.
As has been established elsewhere on the intertubes – Arsenal has finished consistently higher than it ought to, considering the combined value of its players. Despite the disruption and setbacks we have endured over the last few seasons, due to injury, player poaching and the obvious disadvantages we have faced due to our extensive financial commitments and lack of sugar daddy ownership – we have consistently produced Champion's League qualification. This achievement should never be undervalued. It has made us an attractive destination for up-and-coming players, and established veterans throughout Europe.
We may not have won any trophies for the past 7 years – but we have come close. Season after season we find ourselves competing on 3 or 4 fronts for silverware, well past January – often out-performing the wealthier clubs. Close, but no cigar, I hear you say… But as desperate as the desire to win trophies may be, I for one feel that we need to be not only patient, but proud.
As I see it, Arsenal's philosophy is both revolutionary and admirable. And, along with the oftentimes exquisite style of football that we display, it is the reason that I am, and always will be a Gunner.
If the Premiere League was the Motor Industry, Arsenal would be Tesla. While the GMs, Fords and Chevrolets (assign as you see fit) are continuing with their wasteful, gas-guzzling, SUV ways – Arsenal has stayed true to its fundamental philoshopy of “Waste not, want not”.
When the unknown Frenchman, Arsene Wenger, joined our club as manager all those years ago, he brought with him a number of revolutionary ideas, honed during his Japanese league days, that are comparable to the essential tenets of the Electric Car movement: efficiency, sustainability, and technical proficiency.
Sure: his early successes were built on foundations laid by his predecessor – but Wenger soon began to exert true influence on the game by revolutionizing Arsenal's recruitment program. Unlike other clubs, which relied on the market to produce expensive “star players”, who were signed at their peak for longer periods than they remained useful, and soon became liabilities due to their exorbitant wages – Arséne used his discerning eye to identify players who were on the cusp of greatness, brought them into the fold, and developed them into the stars that attracted the attention of his competitors.
He bought them cheap, they gave him their best years, and then he sold them for massive profit. Often criticized for his ruthless recycling, it cannot be understated how vital his financial contributions were in helping Arsenal survive, even thrive, during its period of expansion. (Where other clubs have succumbed to the tempation of trying to milk the success of a winning team for one, two, even three more seasons – and then found themselves struggling with a squad of talented, long-in-the-tooth veterans, Wenger has always maintained a disciplined rigidity to his philosophy.)
As a stopgap for the inevitable holes created by this constant recycling, Wenger set up a robust Youth Program, hoping to produce an annual stream of young talent, that he could slowly introduce into the first team squad: “blooding” them alongside the more established stars. This “R&D” was the vital second-prong in his search for sustainability, (as it is in the search for a high-performance, mass-producible electric vehicle).
Ultimately, balancing these two elements proved to be more difficult than he imagined. The tightrope margins of error were often breached by circumstances totally beyond his (optimistic) control: the rise of the super-agent, the sudden injection of mega-money into the league, and extended injuries to key players.
Club loyalty was suddenly being trumped by unnatural market forces. Arsenal found itself being labelled a 'feeder club': the offer of outlandish financial rewards was too great for players/agents to ignore, and the new MegaClubs poached our top players before they had completed Wenger's recycle cycle. Their now-limitless funding allowed them to maintain their old-school wastefulness: they weren't dictated to by the restriction of selling-to-buy. For Arsenal, the concern was years-per-player: for the Mobsters and the Oilers it was players-per-year; efficiency and sustainability were trampled by an ostentatious display of hedonistic engorgement.
At the end of the 2010/11 season, this imbalance reached critical mass for Arsenal. The loss of major players – Fabregas and Nasri – to two of these 'überclubs', late in the transfer window, meant Wenger had to adapt or die. He was forced to introduce a third prong into his attack: introducing veteran journeymen into his acquisition model, to try and introduce some stability into his eviscerated squad. (It is to Wenger's credit that the players he managed to secure – Arteta, Mertesacker, Benayoun,
Park – with mere seconds remaining on the deadline clock, became pivotal players in the season that followed. Their combined contribution to our 3rd place finish was remarkable, as was the benefit to our younger players.)
As in the motor industry, where financially and environmentally unsustainable business practices led to the collapse of the Big Three, resulting in government bail-out and massive retrenchment – I believe it is merely a matter of time before the Beautiful Game reaches the same tipping point. Whether Financial Fair Play rules play a part in the overhaul of a system spinning out of control remains to be seen. But it is my belief that, as in Detroit, where the old guard is now emulating the business model of the Japanese and fringe car companies, and aspiring to produce the very technologies that they spent years suppressing – so too, will it be in football.
I see Arsenal as being well-positioned to lead the new wave of football clubs that will be born out of this realignment of business practice towards sustainability. We are ahead of our time. And it is my belief that this headstart will bring with it the success to match our passion and ambition.
Be patient, my friends. And proud.