The Summer of Discontent, Part 2: Arsenal – Just Enough Hope
It’s been just over a year now since Arsene Wenger left Arsenal, and what might be considered surprising about those twelve months is just how similar they’ve felt to the last few years before he departed. With the start of the new season now less than a month away, Arsenal supporters find themselves in an extremely familiar position. An unhappy player who wants away is making the newspaper headlines, while the club continues to misfire in the transfer market and is telling fans to be “excited” about potential new signings without even going into any detail about who these new arrivals might even be.
Meanwhile, a joint statement released by a number of supporters’ groups which accused the club for being “an investment vehicle” for its owners has been met with a response from the club that amounted to little more than, “Well, this is the way things are at the moment so get used to it”, all of which hints at the probability that the new season will start with either protest or the threat of protest against the owners hanging heavy in the air. Still, though, Josh Kroenke – the Son of Stan – also confirmed that supporters should “get excited” over potential new arrivals this summer. Just enough hope.
For all of that, though, Arsenal remain capable of offering just enough crumbs of consolation to make the summer holidays feel like exquisite agony. They played their first match in the International Champions Cup last night against Bayern Munich and won by two goals to one. Could there be anything more Arsenal than playing one of European football’s giants in an utterly meaningless pre-season match and beating them after having conceded five goals against them in each of the last three competitive matches they’ve played them? Just enough hope.
Elsewhere, Wilfried Zaha still apparently wants to join them, even though their comically low – in the current environment – bid of £40m has been enthusiastically kicked into touch by Crystal Palace. Unless they up their offer significantly (and there’s nothing to suggest that they’ve managed to match Palace’s valuation yet), the selling club are under no obligation to sell, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to believe that Arsenal’s offer was designed to unsettle Zaha and make him staying at Selhurst Park completely untenable. He might yet go to The Emirate Stadium this summer. He might just be the player who proves to be the key to unlock the straitjacket that Arsenal have been wearing for the last ten years. Just enough hope.
Then there’s the Laurent Koscielny situation. The (presumably now former) club captain refused to travel with the squad to the USA for their pre-season tour, a state of affairs which led to a terse reply from the club which stated that, “We are very disappointed by Laurent’s actions, which are against our clear instructions.” Koscielny has been at the club for nine years and few would have previously doubted his commitment to the Arsenal cause. So, why this unnecessary and fairly public washing of yet another piece of the club’s dirty laundry?
It’s believed that his desire to leave the club has been some time coming, though, that he intended to coincide his departure from the club with that of Arsene Wenger last summer, only for injury to put a halt on that. More intriguing is the suggestion that Koscielny believed there to be a clause in his contract which allowed him to leave as a free agent this summer, or that the player is angry at the club’s current valuation of him at £10m (for a thirty-three year old with a recent history of injury) effectively prevents him from leaving the club before his contract expires next year. Still, he might patch things up and start the new domestic season as though nothing has happened. Just enough hope.
It gets said at about this time every year. Everything could yet change before the start of the Premier League season, and Arsenal winning the Premier League still isn’t quite as far-fetched as the club itself has frequently made it look over the last decade or so. But the truth of the matter is that this summer already looks just like all the rest. The club isn’t going to be coming anywhere near matching the supporter expectations of what it should be doing in order to end the cycle of torpor that supporting Arsenal long ago became. Another season of Europa League football on Champions League wages only seems likely to push the club even further adrift from the place amongst the elite that the club used to be able to assume would be theirs each year.
All of this is because the statement issued by the supporters groups is the truth. Arsenal is an investment vehicle. The Kroenkes have the opportunity to prove otherwise with each transfer window, but they never seem to accept it. Few Arsenal supporters would expect mega-club levels of spending, but there is a general acknowledgement that investment in the playing side of the club is necessary rather than desirable, and if this isn’t happening while the owners continue to profit from it, it’s difficult to know what other conclusion supporters could reasonably reach.
Another chance to properly rebuild the squad is being voluntarily spurned before their very eyes yet again, while the very emergence of the Laurent Koscielny this summer hardly reflects well upon the club itself, even if the player concerned has hardly covered himself in glory and left himself open to accusations of unprofessionalism by refusing to travel to the USA with the rest of the squad. The positions of both sides of this argument are understandable, in their own ways, but this doesn’t alter the fact that the current impasse doesn’t reflect particularly well upon either party.
Still, they beat Bayern Munich last night. Just enough hope. As ever.