Yesterday, in the wake of yet another calamitous defensive display against the poorest Utd team I’ve seen since last season, at which point they were then the poorest Utd team I’d seen in 25 years, I was castigated by the residents of Waco.
The reason for my hanging order, imposed by kangaroo court? I said I’d be happy to lose the last game of the season if it meant we finished 5th and therefore lost out on ECL qualification. Well, at least that’s how it was reported in best tabloid style by those who, shall we say require all vestiges of hope they can find to support their agenda and protect OGL.
Let’s take a step back and look at our record in the Champions League over the last 12 years, a period where we have qualified every single season, which is a very impressive record and one many clubs are rightly jealous of. From 2004 until 2008 we finished top of the group each year. In the following 8 seasons we have finished top just twice, in 10 & 12. This is despite being the top seed in the group for almost every one of those years.
For the last 5 years in succession, we have gone through to the 1st knockout round and been knocked out. In 09 we reached the semi, going out to Utd quite meekly, 4-1 on aggregate. 08 saw another semi defeat to an English club, this time Liverpool. 07 was a 1st knockout collapse at home to PSV, 06 I don’t want to talk about, nor 2004 as it’s too painful. 2005 saw yet another 1st round TKO.
Not a great record, other than the brilliant run in 06 which looked like the defence and 1-0 wins had been put together by a certain previous incumbent of the manager’s office. So it begs the question, are we actually equipped to win the Champion’s League under Arsene Wenger. I’d urge you to remember that next season, due to a change in the rules for seeding which actually rewards winners of their domestic leagues (quite rightly so too), we could find ourselves in pot 2 for the first time in ages.
So why do we put so much store in entering a competition it seems we need to vastly improve our performances in order to win. Filthy lucre, that’s why. There are other reasons of course; Attracting the best players (although Utd seem to have attracted a few this year), attracting sponsors and commercial deals and the fact that any club worth its name needs to be dining at the top table. I love those floodlit evening games as much as anyone too, especially when you are playing the likes of Barca, Milan or Bayern. During the period which shall forever more be known as the ‘Austerity Years’, when we had little money to spend due to the move to the Emirates, the CL money was vital to our being able to compete. When I say compete, what I mean is staying in the CL. A rather strange little cycle if you ask me; we need to stay in the CL to get the money to enable us to, well, basically stay in the CL. Round and around we go!
So, back to the question put to me. “Would you want us to lose the last game of the season if it meant we missed out on Champion’s League qualification?” The tabloid reporters claimed my answer was a simple yes, mainly because it’s twitter, so it means you can easily just pick the bit you want to use, especially when it suited their need to hang me out to dry.
What I actually said was a very clear twofold answer. If finishing 5th meant that at the end of this season we would change our manager, then my answer was yes. The 2nd part was me stating that if that scenario was to happen, it would obviously not be the loss of those 3 points that had us
finishing 5th, my point being that there were 37 previous games that all contributed to our points total, so a loss at home to Utd, or away to Swansea, or draws at home with Hull and Spurs could just as much be held accountable as game 38. If we had lost at Newcastle, or WBA, or at home to Wigan, would it really have been because of those games that we failed to qualify? Do me a favour!
I am of the opinion that Arsene has taken us as far as he can. I think he should have gone on a high in May with one last trophy, although we could never have prepared properly if he had, but a 2 year contract would have meant everyone could have started to prepare now for the transition and change in the best way possible. Will finishing 5th mean the board, well let’s be honest, Stan would sack Wenger? Of course not. Stan would probably take it as a blip, besides we have cash in reserve to cover the CL exit (bear in mind there’s maybe more games played in Europa League I think, so he’d be rubbing his hands at the thought of more matchday income). Obviously he could reduce the amount of ‘warchest’ made available to AW and then there would be the ‘advisory fee’ requirement to add x% to ticket prices. It might start to sow a seed of doubt, but I’m not convinced he’d be pulling out much hair over it (yes, I know).
So would AW consider that he had failed in the minimum requirements of his role? Would he see that he has taken the club as far as he can, do the decent thing and fall on his sword? No chance. His stubborn megalomania would not allow it. He’d draw up his reasons for the failure, spunk 75 million on some more attacking players, change the system again and try to resolutely prove everyone wrong. Again.
So in effect, me thinking finishing 5th would increase the chances of us changing the manager is probably barking up the wrong tree. Finishing 5th would however increase the divide within the fans and the toxicity levels would rise quite a bit. The Wenger cultists (think I’ve spelt that right) would have to tick another mantra off their list of reasons why he still walks on water, but they’ll carry on defending him, strangely enough, far better than our current back 4 can do the job.
The funny thing is, we spent most of last season on top of the league & still finished 4th. Not even in December, we are now 15 points off top, 7 points off 3rd and only 2 points off 4th placed Utd. So we could still mount a strong challenge for the ‘4th place’ trophy and if we achieve it then it’s Carry on Arsene. There were some shocking ‘Carry on’ films, but none of them were quite as lacking in humour as the one we’re currently watching.