"We love you Arsenal we do," was the deafening chant of the 3,000 fans in the away end at Old Trafford on Sunday as the second half of our 8-2 humbling to Manchester United descended into our club's worst defeat since 1896.
It was a defiant response from supporters already reeling from a shocking six months that includes the team's Carling Cup final failure, a collapse of league form, season ticket prices increasing by 6.5 per cent and the club being taken over by Stan Kroenke, who to date has rejected all opportunities to engage with Arsenal fans, a silence which does nothing to reassure us of his intent when it overlaps with the most traumatic summer in the club's recent history.
All this compounded by the fielding of a team at Old Trafford that would have looked weak by Carling Cup standards. As the goals flew in, Arsenal fans increased the volume sending a message that they cared for the future of the club even if it seemed some of those on the pitch didn't and credit is due to Arsenal for recognising this last night with the offer to refund the cost of tickets. At the end of the game, the chanting turned to "I'm Arsenal 'til I die" and while Arsenal aren't in danger of dying, they do face the risk of serious decline on and off the pitch if urgent action isn't taken.
Arsenal didn't just take a heavy beating from Manchester United on the pitch. The announcement by United of a new £10m a year training kit sponsorship deal last week with DHL means they now earn £50m more a year in commercial income than Arsenal.
This gap will widen over the next three years as the long-term deals for shirt sponsorship and kit supplier put in place by Arsenal when raising the £400m plus to build the Emirates Stadium do not expire until 2014. The Arsenal Supporters' Trust estimates the opportunity cost of lost revenue is £100m over this period.
The lack of commercial income and the impact of the investment at City and Chelsea explains why Arsenal can no longer compete with the wages players in the £30m bracket demand. The recent signing of Juan Mata by Chelsea proves this. The club need to rethink their "self-sustaining" business model. This doesn't mean an unchecked sugar-daddy approach but it does mean reviewing options to bridge the gap such as paying down the remaining debt or undertaking a rights issue.
But what of the on-pitch decline? In June the AST surveyed its membership on the position of Arsène Wenger. There wasn't a clamour for his departure but 70 per cent did think his football philosophy has taken too much precedence over securing footballing success.
Every Arsenal fan appreciates the transformation Wenger has overseen in his 15 years at the club. His on-field success allied with careful husbandry paved the way for the Emirates ensuring the project did not endanger the club's financial future. But they cannot understand why Arsenal have created a situation where they have £80m sitting in their transfer account. Who ever saw a large bank account keep a clean sheet or score a goal?
They want to see this money spent before transfer deadline day and with a focus on players who can do the job now and not in a few years' time. Good management is about using all of the resources at your disposal and our manager has chosen not to do this for two seasons now.
There is also a worry among fans at the defensive naivety of the team. The appointment of a new defensive coach would be as welcome as a new player and when we see Arsenal legends such as Lee Dixon and Martin Keown demonstrating such a good grasp of this issue on TV – and in Dixon's case in The Independent – it is not a difficult problem to solve.
Modern football has moved on since 1996 although Arsenal still rely on the same triumvirate of Wenger, Pat Rice and Boro Primorac. Arsène needs to take a step back and relinquish control of every aspect of the club's football work from taking every training session through to insisting on the final say on all transfers.
Through delegating and bringing into his circle a trusted friend (why not David Dein as AST members suggest?) he can stimulate fresh thinking and re-energise himself and return to being the manager we all remember. We will know more at 11pm tomorrow when the window shuts. Arsenal fans are watching.
Tim Payton (@timpayton) is a spokesperson for the Arsenal Supporters' Trust
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