It is a commonly asserted notion that without fans, football would not be the global, hyper-dominant entertainment industry that it is. With that, would it not seem bizarre and totally counter-productive to this reality as a club to beg one’s fans to stick with a regime many of them believe is not working?
Normally, the process of backing a manager would involve speaking of a board or chairman’s personal belief in the man in charge, and that he remains the best person for the job. Even though history tells us that this kind of statement may often lead to the eventual sacking of said manager despite the pre-spoken message of confidence, it still remains a necessary act in the face of adversity.
But it may not be too dramatic to suggest that in laying the bulk of the responsibility of trust and belief in a manager that has a long record of continuous shortcomings at the feet of the paying fans, there lacks a degree of respect.
At an Arsenal fans’ event last week, chief executive Ivan Gazidis delivered a speech in which he urged fans, in the aftermath of another disappointing season, despite FA Cup victory, to ‘unite’. The comments were in reference to the numerous protests that took place towards the back end of last season, as well as the growing number of anti-Arsene Wenger banners being held up inside the Emirates Stadium.
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It is difficult to analyse and debate the justification of these public displays of vehement dissatisfaction towards the manager and co. without carrying out a lengthy autopsy of the last decade in the history of the London club – in fact it feels now like standard protocol whenever Arsenal hit another significant bump in the road, something which of late they aren’t ever too far away from.
What is of primary concern, for now, is Gazidis, in his current role at Arsenal since 2009, and his public comments on Friday.
It was no secret that Wenger’s signature on a two-year contract extension for most of the 2016/17 season was being eagerly awaited by the Arsenal board, and obviously meant that his services were still desired. Wenger eventually jotting his name on the dotted line in May was confirmation that he felt he wasn’t yet ready to leave. Whether his decision to remain was either out of a genuine belief he still had something to offer, or a sort of built-up stubbornness born out of frustration through continuous shortcomings in the league, may never be known.
But the decision was made in any case, and with the Frenchman electing to stick around for another few years, it surely would have made the board wary that a large proportion of Arsenal fans would not be happy. What made Gazidis’s comments on Friday rather troublesome was the negligence of the displeasure felt by anti-Wenger fans towards their club’s efforts. By coming out and urging fans to unite and get behind the manager will not solve anything if the club do nothing to seriously improve their chances of winning the league.
His comments suggested that the top level of Arsenal are simply choosing to turn a blind eye to the cries of anger from a growing segment of their fanbase. A somewhat detestable act, given that it is hard to deny the money the club receive from consistently finishing fourth and never mounting a serious title challenge has been a major factor in Wenger remaining in charge.
There are still a vast majority that support Wenger, and will do – whether out of genuine belief in his ability or through a blind faith in the man due to his past contributions – until he does decide to call it a day. While this support remains, it could be that Wenger will always have unwavering support from his superiors.
This is not to put forth that Wenger will never win back his naysayers. The future can’t be foretold. It looks almost certain now that prolific Lyon forward Alexandre Lacazette will be signing for Arsenal for what, as is being reported, could be a club-record fee. More signings will be needed if they wish to push for the title next season, especially if Alexis Sanchez leaves, and that would be an extraordinary feat given that the other “big five” clubs will no doubt be stronger than they were in the previous campaign.
But if the bad times continue, and the Wenger out band cease to halt their public showings of discontentment, it simply won’t do for Gazidis to come out and call for unity. If the fans aren’t happy, and the number of unhappy fans swells, then it is the board’s responsibility to act.
In football, reality must be faced at all times no matter how ugly the situation. Otherwise, you might actually start to believe your own delusional thoughts.
David Newman, Pundit Arena