“When I arrived here 13 years ago I could sense that
this club had values, tradition, and strength in their belief and in their
“When I travelled at that time
to Derby or to Coventry when they were in the Premier League, they always told
me it is ‘the Arsenal way’ to do things.
“They do it their way and it
was always respect and admiration in their statements and I believe it is
essential and important that we keep that inside the club.”
– Arsene Wenger, 2009
I sometimes feel, from what I hear
from fellow football fans and read online and on Twitter, that I am one of the
few remaining Gooners that are in total reverence of Arsene Wenger, Ivan Gazidis,
and their performance to date. Yes, reverence. It’s the word I’m looking for.
You see I believe it takes an
enormous amount of resolve to hold steady to your goals in the face of the
perpetually negative coverage, derision, ridicule, abuse, distrust; and, at times,
open hostility that appears to have taken over these past 10 years.
Here are two men that have been
accused of using Arsenal as a cash cow, of allowing our competitors to get away
from us, and most hilariously of all, of lacking ambition.
Arsenal lack ambition – Really?
You see the hilarity isn’t even in
the basic argument that we can have over and over again. That in itself is
funny, the fact that building a world class stadium, paying for it ourselves
and maintaining elite European status while other clubs had the luxury of being
able to invest solely in usurping us, is considered ‘lacking ambition’.
Really? While simultaneously
building a huge cash reserve, expanding our revenue and worldwide reach despite
regularly hemorrhaging top quality players, and doing this during the most
economically ridiculous times the game has ever seen.
Really? So who else has done it
And even having achieved all of this
in the face of such derision, the deriders are still not seeing the punchline…
What’s hilarious is that the joke is
about to land squarely on anyone that levels or has leveled that claim against
Arsenal. They are, in fact, the ones who lack ambition. They have no idea what
we’re building here. They haven’t been able to see it, and they’ll still take a
couple of seasons of convincing probably, but that’s ok.
The truth is, the end game has never
really been about winning FA Cups and Carling Cups, or even throwing everything
at winning the league during this period of growth. To have thrown all our
money at top quality players in order to win trophies in recent years, would
have been shooting our load a bit early. We may have had success for a period,
but it would have taken us longer to reach the real end game.
Let me tell you what ambition is to
me. Ambition is doing what nobody has ever done before. Ambition is having a
vision so big that you earn more detractors than admirers.
How dare they?
Ambition is believing that, during
an era of artificial financial conditions within the game, you can still build
a world class footballing empire through patience, dedication, focus, skill,
That is what Arsenal have done. That
is ambition. We did it with football. That is our purpose. We are a football
Back in the late 90s and early
century there were two heavyweights in English football: ourselves and Manchester
United. However there was only one European heavyweight hailing from the UK,
and that was Man Utd. Only Man Utd could go toe to toe with the likes of Bayern
Munich, Juventus, A.C. Milan, Real
Madrid and Barcelona. On the merit of
our game we were considered a class outfit, but in truth, for us to stay at the
top and consistently recreate that level of quality, we needed to be making
more money. Recycling and maintaining a world class squad requires world class
finances. It requires a world class reputation and world class facilities, and
it requires a world class philosophy. If you have all of these, you don’t need
anything else. It’s all yours for the taking.
Arsene Wenger had come in and raised
the bar so high for Arsenal fans, that he wanted us to be able to enjoy that
level of football long after he had gone. That was the end game, and he
promised to do it all with the football.
Fast forward to 2013 and Arsenal
have just announced that we are on target to match the £300m revenue generated
by many people’s model superclub – Bayern Munich. We congratulate them on their
success but they had their stadium given to them. It was a gift. The money
they’ve been making ever since, although superbly managed, was aided by a
tremendous gift. No such luck for Arsenal, we had to build ours with our own
We now have the money to make
signings at the financial level that the artificially enhanced and
traditionally giant clubs have been doing for years. You know, the clubs
that you’ve been accusing us of lacking the ambition to match. The ones that
could afford to dismantle our squads by brandishing obscene amounts of money
that some of them didn’t even earn, at our star players and those of many other
clubs. They took steroids to overtake us, pushed the financial limits beyond
anything we’d planned for… and after eight years of eating clean, training
mean, ignoring the haters, and staying completely focused on the end game…we
are now poised to become a true superclub, trophies et al.
Ambition is taking the path you
believe in and having faith in your ability to get where you want to go.
Ambition is to keep swimming against
the tide, no matter what conditions you face, until you have reached your
In the face of financial doping, of
media negativity, open criticism, horrendous injury luck, treachery,
temptation, so many near misses and having to start all over again. Never
giving up my friends, that is ambition.
Ambition is to continue on your path
despite making costly mistakes, so long as you know that somewhere within the
grand plan, your efforts are helping to reach your goals. Remember, this is
about the end game.
Ambition is knowing that even those
that accuse you of lacking it, have no idea how big your dream truly is.
They can’t quantify our success
because they can’t even see it.
This has always been about now. We
may have had success earlier than now, but after careful management, planning
and development, Wenger has had two potentially world-beating teams taken
apart. Some would say by mismanagement but personally I put it down to hugely
inflated transfer fees and wages at the top of the game. So inflated that
football itself is taking steps to calm it down.
The 07/08 team had made massive
strides. They needed one more year. They were picked apart. The 10/11 team the
same. They are the two squads that really looked like we’d cracked it on the
field. Picked apart again. Then we lost Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri,
Then Robin van Persie and Alex Song. This was their time, the squad would have
been peaking and we’d have been epic.
Contract naivety undid us in 10/11
especially and the following summer with Song and RvP. We’ve fixed that. The
club have realised that loyalty in this game can easily be bought now.
Difference between now and years gone by is that we can afford it.
We have, organically, maintained our
position amongst the elite. The only teams that have overtaken us in England
had to artificially strengthen themselves in order to leave us behind. They
cherry picked our top talent: they strengthened by weakening us. We dipped but
we never fell.
Now we go toe to toe with them
again. In eight years we have built everything that it took Man Utd 26 years to
build. City bought it all. Chelsea, though the most successful English club
outside of United, still have a way to go. They need to bring their stadium up
to superclub level.
We have done what every good father
tries to teach his child. We have focused and have not been afraid of our
mistakes. We have been resilient; we’ve been fair and sporting. We’ve lived
within our means and strived to achieve something better. We’ve looked to the
future and established a foundation that is ready to succeed within these crazy
times. We’ve been loyal to our staff, both playing and otherwise. We’ve given
anybody that shows true determination and application, the chance to succeed.
We’ve been a proper football club.
Now we have money, we have a stadium
and we have commercial reach. We have a British core to take us into these new,
fantastic times. We can afford world class players any season that we need
them. We have a squad that has maturity, unity, resilience, technique, emerging
talents and space for one or two top class additions to truly complete a group
that will challenge for years to come.
Through all the trials and
tribulations – granted, some were self-inflicted, but in the same breath you
have to congratulate them for not letting such mistakes veer them from a path
that they believed in… Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis have built a modern
superclub. We can pay the big transfer fees and the big wages. We are at the
top of the game as the footballing world finally tries to regulate itself. It
doesn’t matter to us. If teams want to stretch us again they need more
steroids. We get stronger anyway.
Wenger and Gazidis kept going and
resisted all temptation. They didn’t look enviously into anyone else’s
plate. Arsenal ate clean, we trained mean. We took the rough with the
smooth. We took the bumps and bruises, went up against the juggernauts, won
some, and lost some. But we stuck to the regime.
Now we are on the cusp of becoming
one of the strongest clubs in world football. We can develop, AND buy world
class. We don’t have to pick one or the other anymore. Chelsea and City still
do, no matter what they’ve won to date.
We’re now about to make the arsenal
philosophy of exhilarating football a winning and revered brand around the
world. And if managed well, it will stay that way for generations.
That’s the end game
So can we stop lamenting and
scrutinizing the mistakes we’ve made, the players departed, opportunities lost,
and take a real long, hard look at the magnitude of what Wenger and Gazidis
actually done here.
Forget all the ‘have we, haven’t we
had money’ chat. Forget the ‘deadwood’ nonsense. Forget the trophy drought.
Just for a second, put it to one side. We’ve reached this point in
spite of Nicklas Bendtner, Park Chu Young, Marouane Chamakh and Sebastien
Squillaci. In spite of City buying four of our first 11. In spite of
Van Persie going to Utd. In spite of Piers Morgan, a man that clearly
cannot see beyond his own nose.
Can we just be immensely proud of a
club that has maintained its dignity while all those around them were whoring
themselves in an effort to stay current? A club that has absorbed venom and
vitriol for merely trying its hardest to be the best example of a footballing
institution that they can be? A club that has sacrificed short term success and
adulation in order to eventually surpass their own standards, standards that
have been used as a stick to beat them with as they quietly went about the
business of levelling up our capabilities forever?
We will buy players. But whether we
get Cesc Fabregas or we get Clement Grenier, I trust the boss. Gonzalo Higuain,
Stevan Jovetic, Christian Benteke or David Villa, I trust the boss. I see what
he’s done with the players he had and I cannot question his overall
performance, in spite of the well-documented gambles that didn’t come off. Now
he gambles less with the squad because he can shop for exactly that he wants.
He doesn’t have to tweak and coax quality out of them. If anybody thinks that
Arsene Wenger can’t do damage with an experienced squad that he can keep
together, they need to look away now.
He knows the attributes he needs to
give him the options on field to play the arsenal brand of football. It’s his
brand for crying out loud. The victory against Barcelona, the resilient
performance versus Bayern, the smashing of Chelsea, and countless other
glimpses of what to expect from a mature and integrated Wenger team. He’s
beaten over 90 minutes the champions of every one of Europe’s top five leagues
over the past few years. All with inferior squads that he hadn’t finished
gelling. Now he gets to gel a squad in his own image and build cohesion and
consistency, without losing his top talents every summer. He’s done it and
stayed with the elite, first with inexperience, then with inconsistency, doubt,
lack of cohesion and lower quality than his rivals. He no longer has these
handicaps, whether you feel they were self inflicted or not.
Bayern, Real, Juve, PSG, Barca, Manchester
City, France, England. All have tried to poach Arsene Wenger for themselves,
because they are aware of the damage he can do when he’s fully armed. By
remaining loyal to the club, he was accused of ‘lacking ambition’ by staying in
his cushy job where success didn’t matter.
Meanwhile, Wenger and Gazidis have
armed us. 21st century armed us. Strengthened us, while everyone tried to
weaken us. And they did it while the footballing world was laughing at them.
Now let’s see what they do with it.
My special thanks to Amartey Armar, a Ghanian Gooner who
approached us this week with the first blog he has ever written on his his
beloved Arsenal. We are honoured you approached Gunners Town and all we can say
is Amartry, take a bow son – Dave Seager
Please follow Amartey on twitter.