Michael Calvin: Spending money is no longer just an option for Arsène Wenger, it is a necessity
The Calvin Report
Sunday 18 August 2013
The revolt was brazen. The contempt was bitter, undisguised and understandable. Arsène Wenger may have had worse days in his 17 years as Arsenal manager, but it is hard to think of one as humiliating.
Those who remained, after Aston Villa's third goal triggered a mass evacuation of the Emirates, ordered him to "spend your fucking money". Wenger was booed unmercifully at the final whistle, when even convenient scapegoat referee Anthony Taylor failed to offer adequate protection.
The message, minus the expletives, is clear: Abandon the business plan. Delete the spreadsheet. The money burning a hole in Wenger's pockets has triggered a conflagration. Panic may not be edifying, but it seems a predictable response to a calamitous result.
The referee was hapless, yet his award of two penalties and dismissal of Laurent Koscielny, was ultimately irrelevant. Arsenal's summer of discontent reached its logical conclusion. Wenger's myopia in the transfer market, and his refusal to recognise the paucity of an injury-ridden squad, can no longer be excused, or tolerated. This had the feel of a tipping point.
If the home crowd felt Villa were guilty of malice aforethought in a custard pie fight of a game, they may not care to tune in when Arsenal face Fenerbahce in Istanbul on Wednesday. The assumption that a talented but fragile team will survive the Champions' League qualifiers suddenly seems absurdly optimistic.
There is something bleak and forlorn about Wenger these days. Even when Olivier Giroud swept Arsenal into the lead, he remained rooted to his seat, wringing his hands in a mime of anxiety.
All leaders, in whatever sport, recite the mantra of being able to control the controllables. That's now impossible for Wenger, domestic football's longest serving manager. He has plenty of money, which he again insisted he is primed to spend. Yet his agenda is being shaped by selling clubs and public perception.
His accustomed authority is being shredded. He is being second guessed and double teamed by directors who seek to absolve themselves from blame. The banner draped over the top tier which read "you can't buy class" was uncomfortably accurate.
The transfer market is shrinking, third-choice targets like Brazilian midfield player Luis Gustavo are opting for mediocre teams in the Bundesliga, and outlandish visions of Wayne Rooney begging to take the bail-out option of a place at Arsenal are little more than cheap cosmetic surgery.
Most damning is the forensic examination of Arsenal's accounts by a globally-renowned, Zurich-based commentator who posts as Swiss Blogger. His analysis reveals they have £154 million in readily disposable income. To put that into perspective, the 19 other Premier League clubs have £181m between them in loose change.
Inevitably, that equation is extended to include prohibitively expensive season ticket prices. The gentrification of the game may be good for profit margins, but it has created a sense of expectation which has soured beyond the point of entitlement.
Outside the ground, before the game, gallows humour flourished. Andy Farley was selling The Gooner fanzine. "Get your Gooner" he boomed. "Read about all the players we could have signed." He was greeted by self-deprecating laughter, and a spontaneous round of applause.
Inside the ground, the atmosphere, so often soporific, was tense. Everyone understood the parameters of Wenger's problem the moment Aston Villa equalised through the first of Christian Benteke's two penalties.
Arsenal, their resources thinner than a supermodel on a crash diet, proved to be uniquely vulnerable to Villa's incisive counter-attacks.
Wenger has been sidetracked, to the point of obsession, by his ethically-questionable pursuit of Luis Suarez. Watching him more than an hour after the final whistle was not pleasant. He was defensive, without losing his dignity, but his advocacy was tinged with desperation. "People say 'buy players, buy players'," he said. "We take our work seriously. We work 24 hours a day, analysing every single player in the world."
Analysis, sadly, is not enough. It looks like paralysis.
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