Fans' voices too loud to ignore

Monday 18th February 2013 12:25

Arsene Wenger: Is the archetypal 'company man'

Arsene Wenger: Is the archetypal 'company man'

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FanZoner Tom Reed feels Arsenal's hierarchy need to start listening to their loyal but disgruntled fans if they are to re-connect with them.

Another day, another "shock" cup exit for Arsene Wenger's Arsenal.

With the League Cup defeat to basement side Bradford City still fresh in the memory, the North London club completed an unwanted double after being knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.

What's more, with the Champions League clash with Bayern Munich approaching, the Gunners could well see their search for silverware over as early as mid-March after the return leg at the Allianz arena.

Perhaps more significant, though, is the growing rift between Arsenal Football Club PLC and unhappy regulars at The Emirates.

While Arsene Wenger gave his usual curt rationale for the defeat and his players trooped off with the same disgruntled faces that they had done at Valley Parade, it was the fans who took the latest loss the hardest.

After all, it is they who have to take the banter in their workplaces on Monday morning and they who are expected to pay premium prices to watch a side for whom mediocrity is becoming the norm.

Whilst advocates of Wenger quite rightfully point to the prudency of his transfer policy and Arsenal's early adoption of Financial Fair Play legislation they fail to take into account the Gunners' alienation of their hard-core fan base.

For too long have Arsenal stuck to a rigid corporate structure, one so assured of 60,000 fans through the turnstyles every other week that the club has become indifferent towards the X Factor of fans' contentment.

Perhaps the Gunners have been a victim of their own success and by building their brand on a global scale they have lost sight of the basic building blocks which creates both an effective side and a feel-good factor amongst supporters.

Much of this comes down to the satisfaction that Arsene Wenger seems to gain in sourcing mid-level players from foreign climes. This approach may well produce the odd Patrick Vieira as a truly world class talent but conversely unearths the likes of Pascal Cygan, Igors Stepanovs and Sebastian Squillaci who were better off left hidden.

There's no doubt that football fans respond well to a "marquee signing" and given Arsenal's emphasis on midfield nous a big name signing up front would have been a good PR exercise from Wenger.

But no, Wenger - seemingly blind to the desires of his supporters - sold Robin van Persie to title favourites Manchester United leaving the relatively unknown Olivier Giroud and an arguably past his best Lukas Podolski to pick up the slack.

Would it have not been better to have kept van Persie and added Klaas Jan Huntelaar rather than lose van Persie and sign three or four middling alternatives?

How did Arsenal expect to attract the likes of possible Cesc Fabregas replacement Mesut Ozil (at the top of his game and formerly interested) to The Emirates and expect him to play alongside Wenger's experiments in the import/export trade? You get the feeling that Arsene would get as much satisfaction from making fifty quid on a pallet of unripe French apples down Spitalfields market as he does setting his stall out at Arsenal.

While early in his Highbury reign, Wenger was clearly a class apart from his rivals in terms of scouting, it is clear that time has caught up with 'Le professeur'.

Now, virtually every top-flight club nurtures a sophisticated world-wide talent spotting network. Indeed, it could be argued that Wenger isn't even top man in his own backyard, with Newcastle United's Graham Carr leading the way in landing the top French talent.

Moreover Wenger, in his desire to build a meritocratic, multi-national squad, has failed to provide the sort of continuity and progression that helps fans bond with their team.

Arsenal's turnover of players is high and Wenger is undeniably ruthless should his charges not come up to scratch. Thus, Gunners fans have seen the likes of Bendtner, Denilson, Vela et al chewed up by the Arsenal machine without ever gaining any real rapport. It begs the question what future legacy Wenger will leave when saying goodbye to The Emirates with his collection of callow imports disappearing into the distance?

Certainly, the 2001-02 Premiership-winning side was built upon the backbone of senior English players such as Keown, Adams, Dixon and Parlour whereas, of the starting XI that Wenger threw into the important cup battle with Blackburn, only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hails from home shores.

In fairness, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott (who were substitutes) wouldn't have got a word in edgeways if sharing a dressing room with the mentally robust and in your face Tony Adams and co. Yet, it is the likes of the quietly-spoken Walcott who are expected to galvanise the current Arsenal line-up.

Supporters, as always, look to leaders within the spine of the team and may have scratched their heads as to the guiding grit of Koscielny, Arteta and Gervinho.

Indeed, the psychology of the dressing room is an area where Wenger has been found wanting for some time.

Managers from the lower leagues working on tiny budgets put huge emphasis on whether incoming players have the right mental fit for the club. After all, if a player is signed who does not react well to pressure or rubs his team-mates up the wrong way, it's a significant problem.

However, with the turnover of players at The Emirates it appears less of an issue. How else can you explain the simpering Andre Santos attempting to exchange shirts with van Persie at half-time during a game or the untold other players (Chamakh, Arshavin) who can't "adjust" to life with the Gunners?

None of this sits well with supporters of a club who are consistently charged the highest prices for entry in English football. Only a few months ago the fledgling 'Black Scarf Movement' marched on The Emirates protesting at their exploitation by Arsenal PLC and inadequate protection from the Premier League.

As we speak an audible proportion of Arsenal fans flood internet forums with "Wenger Out" threads. This is not a football club at one with its fan base.

The problem for the 'Wenger out' brigade is that the issue clearly runs deeper than the Frenchman taking the flak.

Wenger is the archetypal 'company man' and when you remove him all that's left is the company.

It's clear that the majority Arsenal shareholders Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmonov, with their huge accumulated wealth, need to put politics aside and start listening to the fans. Their voice is now too loud to ignore.



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