Arsenal FC and their manager Arsene (no one ever mentions that his first name could be a legitimate short form for the team name!!) Wenger have been a favorite and easy subject for many sports writers since the summer. To be fair, the majority of the scrutiny has been deserved. But by the same token, if you ask me, a lot of it was for clicks. Everyone knows that Arsenal has the largest online following of any EPL team and their fans are the most engaged fans online.
That said, there were some truly strange goings at Arsenal this summer. To every single person who watched the EPL last season, the evidence that the team did not have any quality in their defense was beyond dispute. Wenger himself said as much. And they knew Clichy was leaving (not that he was a world beater, but still…). The puzzle of all puzzles is that the Club did nothing to address the problem. They could have gotten any number of players early. They didn’t. It took the worst defeat in a century to get them to do something. And even then what they did was puzzling. They could have gotten a center back bully like Chris Samba, something Arsenal sorely needs. They could have gotten Cahill if they had made a decent bid (surely he must be worth more than what’s that kid’s name they signed from Costa Rica?).
Then there is the curious case of the Fabregas and Samir sagas. Everyone with half a brain knew they were leaving. Fabregas checked out of Arsenal mentally before last season was over. He made it so clear to both Arsenal and Barcelona that he wanted to leave that Arsenal had no choice but to give him up for half his value. Why didn’t they try to get Alcantara in a straight up exchange? Or could it be that there is a sly deal around him for next season? One hopes. They diddled around with the Juan Mata deal and watched helplessly when Chelsea made a decisive move for the Spaniard.
So what is the problem with the brain trust at Arsenal? It is the ownership. It must be. Wenger has bought great players before and won title. But Kroenke? No. Kroenke is not known for being adventurous. He does not have a natural and internalized understanding of the player acquisition mechanics in international football (soccer). True he owns Colorado Rapids and they won the title last season. But that was because in the MLS, they use a playoff system and the Rapids lucked out in the playoffs. Importantly though, the acquisition mechanics in the MLS are pretty much standard American professional practices – trades and off season free agent signings. The kinds of rapacious buys that attend, say the EPL if you want to win is something to which Kroenke is a stranger. You have to understand, you have to be stone cold focused and decisive – all things we did not see at Arsenal in the summer, the responsibility for which must sit with the guy who signs the checks. It is an easy bet that if Usmanov was the majority shareholder, Juan Mata, Cahill, Samba and a host of other top players would be Gunners today. If only! Oh, if only!!