Saturday, 25 June 2011

Whaddaya got?

I gave up on blogging on the Arsenal about 18 months ago now, because, in a sense, my original plan was completed - I have given up on the Arsenal. Well, that's not entirely true. I have given up on the Premier League. I despise the hype, the boorishness of its culture, the poverty of the analysis that surrounds it, the breathtaking idiocy of some of its blogs, the blindess of its tribalism. I hate its reactionary petit-nationalism, its unthinking commitment to up-and-at-'em, its sexism. I hate its nth-degree consumerism, its assumption that money makes right, its ethical vacuity. I hate MotD and Sky.

But I do like football. I watch Championship matches when they're on the tv, Europa League, the odd Champions League game on ITV (if I can stomach Tildesley). Arsenal runs in my blood. And so...

Looking back over my old posts, it's surprising to note how little has changed. The keynote is still frustration; we need to sign crucial players; the future of several stars in uncertain; and so on. It's as though Arsenal has now assumed a place in perpetual present, a Groundhog day wherein Arsenal always finsih 3rd or 4th, always 'blow it', a vocal minority always calling Wenger a c**t and demanding his removal, an equal weight of voices advising reasonableness and caution. Round and round and round and round.

What's the way forward? How can I or we gain positivity? How can I watch Arsenal TV again with pleasure, rather than in the run of results at the end of 2010-11 where each woeful effort meant I couldn't bring myself to watch it?

I dunno. But the crucial thing, surely, in not to get caught up in the moment's frustration. Man United sign Jones and Young, so Arsenal fans demand signings NOW! And what if they don't happen until next week? I dunno. Nothing, probably.

So: Arsenal in exile. I'm exiled from Arsenal, because I've come to despise the league in which they play. They themselves are in exile because their manner of playing and behaving does not suit the current state of the Premier League. I wish Arsenal were exiled to Ligue 1 or the Bundesliga so I could follow them with less corrosion to my soul.

I no longer support Arsene in everything he does; teh end of last season put paid to that. But I don't think removing him (and replacing him - with Ancelotti or Coyle or whoever) would solve the problems. Because, for me, they're systemic, institutional, cultural. Arsene has done brilliantly in a job, the complexity and difficulty of which I can only guess at. For many younger supporters, he's now a father figure who many would like to see dethroned because they've known no other manager. I can understand this. I agree that Arsenal may not win anything else under Arsene. But he demands my respect. And what happens when Daddy is no longer there?

'What you rebelling against, Johnny?'

The first time I saw Arsenal (from Untold Arsenal)

Highbury in the dark, a cold December afternoon. Floodlights pick out Jimmy Rimmer standing in front of the Clock End, he’s had nothing to do all match. My Uncle Allan, who had taken me to the game, sees me watching Rimmer and says, ‘He’s been in his armchair all afternoon.’ I didn’t know it at the time, but Arsenal were in the middle of a terrible run of form, winning only 4 of 18 games from Autumn through to early Spring. We’re grinding out a one-nothing win against Burnley, who would be relegated come May. I’m cold, I’m six years old, and the warmth of ham sandwiches and a flask of stewed tea is long, long gone from my stomach. But I feel something else in there now. Arsenal are going to win, and it’s a few days before Christmas.

I’m hooked.

We’d finish a moribund 17th that season, and I was there with my Uncle Allan on the infamous opening day of the next season, 1976-7, when we lost to a promoted Bristol City side on a beautiful August afternoon. I enjoyed it all the same, at the time, but I realised only today why I’ve always remembered watching Final Score on the opening day of a later season, 1979-80, sitting in the forbidding front room of my Auntie Margaret’s flat in Harlow. Arsenal won 4-0 at Brighton to top the embryonic table, and I was unreasonably excited. The first day of the season, it’s not a proper table, I know, I know; but I’d never seen Arsenal top of the table before.
Of course, being six years old at the Burnley game, I didn’t know how terrible that Arsenal side were. The bounty of Wenger’s time throws those Barren Years into stark relief. Uncle Allan had bought me a glossy book from the stall beneath the West Stand called ‘Arsenal, Arsenal’ and I’d marvelled at grainy colour pictures of Arsenal scoring against Ajax in the 1970 Fairs Cup semi-final – against Ajax of all teams, the kings of Europe, whose players I’d idolise during the 1978 World Cup – and knew that I supported a club with history. A great history.

Highbury, on a cold dark afternoon in December 1975, against fellow relegation-candidates Burnley, still spoke of grandeur, of tradition, of that great history. The glorious nights against Ajax and Anderlecht still shimmered behind the mundane performances of the 1975-6 team, who were scratching around the bottom of the Division One table as though the Double had been fifty, not five years before. It would be more than thirteen years until I’d see Arsenal win another title, and at times, supporting the team seemed a bit of a thankless task. But I never doubted we were a great club. You only had to go to Highbury to see that for yourself.
What really thrilled me and terrified me, that day, was the crowd. Being seated in the West stand, it wasn’t the surge that lifted you clear of the ground that I’d feel as an adult, standing on the terraces, that shocked me, but the sound. The songs, the shouts of the fans, the swearing at the players. Being a young boy in a mass of men, who generated some kind of visceral, primal, exhilarating and gut-wrenching swell of voices, voices in unison, as one entity, one thing, the Arsenal, it was an unearthly experience. Like nothing else I’d experienced, and by God, I loved it.

I was totally hooked.

The ham sandwiches and the flask of tea were packed in a small vinyl holdall, with a red-brown tartan on the side. As I watched the final minutes of the match, it was at my feet under the West Lower seat, and it also contained a programme, which I’d pored over for an hour while we waited for the match to start. Uncle Allan and I would later board a bottle-green Eastern National 400 bus back home, back to Essex, from King’s Cross coach station, which to me seemed as outlandish and dangerous as the Cyclops’s cave. The dark city outside and the dark station inside blurred together, an overwhelming swirl of dark and light and smells and sounds. I’d read the programme over and over again as the lights on the A127 swung by, reliving the whole day in my head.

It’s the sounds that stick in my memory, 35 years later. The press of people and the whooshing air being pushed in front of the Piccadilly line train as I edged nervously backwards on the Kings Cross Underground platform, the wind tugging at my hair as pieces of litter began to swirl about. The urgent roar of the Arsenal crowd as the team tried to drive home an attack, my own boyish shrieks as I attempted to join in. Overheard banter of men, North Londoners, alien but reassuringly familiar, sounding like my Granddad Jim and my Dad who, like his brother Allan, were part of the post-war London dispersal. And the release, the relief, of the full-time whistle, the clunk of the seats returning to upright, and the shuffle of thousands of feet on the steps.

The return journey has gone from my memory, in truth. I only really remember the bus rides and Underground journeys to the ground, not the ones taking us back home. There’s only one return journey I remember, literally skipping across the road as Uncle Allan and I went back to my grandparent’s flat in Laindon (part of Basildon) to meet up with my Mum and Dad, my heart full of joy for Rix’s sumptuous strike from the corner of the box. In my memory it’s early summer, a hazy sun still in the sky in early evening, golden light and long shadows. I don’t know now whether I remember what was outside or what was inside, whether that Saturday evening was real (I remember it as a 3-1 win against Villa, but trawling the records I can’t find a match that meets the criteria) or whether it was unreal, just some kind of amalgam of my memory, my emotion and my imagination.

Jimmy Rimmer, though, standing somewhere near the penalty spot, all alone, his team-mates attacking the goal at the other end, he’s real. Why was I looking at him rather than at them? I don’t know. It must say something about me. But he’s there still, at Highbury in December 1975, in a green goalie’s jersey, clapping his hands together to keep out the cold, inside my head.

Arsenal, the cult of personality and the collective (from Untold Arsenal)

Another week, another defeat, another round of Chicken Licken posturing from the Arse-blogosphere. I’m not going to dwell on the painful realities of the loss to Chelsea, here, but offer another long-term perspective of Arsenal’s situation. I will start with the cult of personality that informs much football coverage in this country.

If you think about it, there’s very little penetrating analysis of football in the British popular media, from tabloid journalism to MotD to Football First. It often concentrates on personalities, where it does exist: how did so-and-so play? In the worst of the Arse-blogosphere this descends into invective against perceived offenders (the perpetual Denilson, this week Clichy, in the past Song and Eboue) or, of course, calls for Arsène’s resignation, as he’s to blame for every bad performance, not the players.

On a few blogs you read how Arshavin is clearly unhappy, the other players don’t like him and neither does the manager. (If this were true, and if Arsène has total control of footballing matters, why did Arsenal buy Arshavin and why still play him?) The cult of personality has the institution of Arsenal FC, its team and tactics and strategies, replaced by Arsène himself, a one-man band, an obsessive, a crank. I refer you to my previous post for more in this line.

Myles Palmer, himself the cheerleader of the Chicken Licken faction (and who does it for reasons of personal animus and the journalistic ‘story’, it seems, rather than emotional investment in the club) has written recently that Wenger is not a good tactician, rarely winning games through tactical adjustments or substitutions. Instead, Palmer calls Wenger a ‘choreographer’.

In part, I would tend to agree that Arsène is not the greatest manager at tactical switches on-the-fly, but I think it’s important here to make a distinction between those tactics and strategies. Tactics are short-term decisions or procedures that implement a broader, long-term plan of action, a strategy, to achieve a certain goal. While Arsène may have weaknesses as a tactician, as a strategist I think that he is without peer.

Most managers are not, and indeed in the current footballing culture of instantaneous success, cannot afford to be strategists. It is to Arsenal’s credit as a club that in the mid-1990s they employed world football’s most innovative strategic thinker, then completely unheralded in this country, to take the club forward, something that Bruce Rioch was signally unable to convince Dein and other board members that he would be able to do. Since when, Arsène Wenger has overseen the complete remodelling of Arsenal’s training facilities, its move to a new stadium, its re-imagination not as ‘boring, boring Arsenal’ but as the most thrilling footballing side in England, its backroom culture, its recruitment strategies with regard to players. Everything is different now.

What, then, is the current strategy? If we ignore the ‘blame game’ and cult of personality rhetoric which sees Arsenal’s football planning in terms of one man’s stubbornness or whimsical desire to ‘experiment’, how can we analyse what Arsenal are doing with a long-term perspective?

The ‘youth policy’ is fundamental. This is far from being a whimsical experiment to see whether he can win the league ‘with kids’. It’s a strategic plan that responds to long-term developments in football that have still to fully unwind. It begins with the arrival of Sky monies, the transfer bubble, the spending of 70-80% of revenues on salaries which sustained the English Premier league from the mid-1990s until 2008, which has also had the side-effect of producing large numbers of institutional casualties: Leeds United, Charlton, Norwich, Southampton, Portsmouth, and so on. Thankfully, Arsenal have not placed themselves in debt to finance the acquisition of superstars. It’s now clear that Arsène saw the inevitable deflation of the transfer bubble coming and decided upon an alternative long-term strategy to maintain the club’s position as an elite European and Premier League institution. Spending on younger players allows Arsenal to maximise the value of its outlay.
It is also well-known that Arsenal’s current internal culture runs counter to the prevailing English one of nightlife, celebrity and conspicuous consumption. This is why Arsenal develops its own players, to educate them in a different kind of lifestyle. Even media superstars like Thierry Henry behaved differently to Beckham or Terry; Arsenal players like Jermaine Pennant and Ashley Cole, who clearly were attracted to and were part of that English footballing culture, left the club, and it’s to be hoped that Jay-Emmanuel Thomas’s recent misadventure is not a bad omen for him.

That’s not to say that the club rules its players with an iron hand. Instead, the club (and Arsène) is criticised for insulating its players from the world, that they’re ‘pampered’ and ‘soft’. Clearly it would be absurd to take Arsène’s public statements of support for his players as a sign that he is incapable of criticising them in private (though some do), but the crucial thing is that Arsène constantly emphasises group responsibility, group mentality, group togetherness.

This emphasis on teamwork is, I think, a response to developments in the relationship between player and club/ employer over the last 10 years. While the Bosman ruling gave players the necessary freedom to leave a club at the end of a contract, it tended to dissolve the bonds of loyalty that were once the norm. We see very few ‘one-club’ players now. If fans are now customers and consumers, players are contractors, willing to move from team to team if opportunities arise to earn more, or win more trophies. Fair enough; but this must have a negative impact on group dynamics, on team ‘chemistry’. This is also why Arsenal consistently, and rightly, refuse to abandon their wage structure.

It is also the reason why Arsenal have spent the year re-signing young players to long-term contracts. Player mobility is only controlled by the club if they have two years or more on their contract to run, and player value is determined partly by contract length. Vieira and Henry might have seemed undersold at the time of their sales, but contract length as well as age limited their sell-on value. (And if you don’t think sell-on value is important, remember that Manchester United have changed their own transfer strategy to target under-26s, and that Liverpool struggled mightily – and failed – to offload unwanted players like Babel because their estimation of the player’s value was too high.) Limiting player mobility allows for the group to develop together. Incoming players are intensively scouted in order to maintain this team dynamic.

Today’s Arsenal, even though Arsène necessarily embodies the club in the public sphere, is actually wedded to the opposite of the cult of personality: the primacy of the collective. Adebayor and Toure were purged in the summer because their cliques disrupted the collective, and the team has been healthier for it. The primacy of the collective is also the primacy of the strategy over the tactic, the long-term over the short-term, the development of a team rather than the acquisition of a roster of stars.

And here comes an unexpected conclusion: Arsène Wenger is contemporary Arsenal’s Virgin Queen. Like Elizabeth I, Arsène Wenger understands that the long-term continuity of the institution is far more important than the merely personal or individual. Elizabeth rejected the dynastic politics of the 16th century (where geo-politics was conducted through marriage and personal alliances) in order to construct a different nation state that would survive her: ‘England’ was her child, she needed no biological heir. Arsène Wenger has constructed a different Arsenal that will survive him, in terms of its finances, its facilities, its scouting networks, its group of players; and like Elizabeth, a cult of personality surrounds him that obscures, in the popular eye, what he has truly done. Perhaps he likes it that way.

English Football's code of omerta (first published on Untold Arsenal)

I was listening to the radio in the car, driving back after family commitments, when I heard that Aaron Ramsey had been assaulted on a football field in Stoke. I was emotionally thrown back to the day of Eduardo’s injury, ten minutes after which I told an Arsenal supporting-friend: this has finished our season, and Eduardo’s career. And as on that day, I wondered what on earth I was doing in giving my support to a sport that allows the violence of a Smith, a Taylor, or a Shawcross to take away a year or two of the careers of very bright young footballing talent. In these moments, I’ve had enough of English football. It makes me physically sick.

I read the howls of rage, of disbelief, and of grief too, on this blog and others. Like Arsene, likeTony, and like you too I would guess, I believe that Ramsey’s injury is no coincidence. It is the product of a way of playing, a product of aggression and of the tacit condoning by the authorities, by referees and by the footballing media of an over-physical approach by Arsenal’s opponents because they do not have the footballing ability to match our team. ‘Ramsey was too quick for him’, I’ve heard it said. Perhaps. But being slower than another player is not an alibi for breaking his leg.

Tony Pulis’s reaction, to defend Shawcross the person (‘his Mum took him home’) while refusing to acknowledge the horrible severity of the act, should be placed on tape with McLeish defending Taylor, and the ‘tackles’ on Eduardo and Ramsey. It should then be shown to Pulis, to McLeish, to all players and coaches and managers and administrators in England, to show up their self-deception and expose the recurrence of a self-serving and self-deceiving rhetoric of English ‘honesty’ that seems to mitigate or even cancel out the violent act. ‘Honest’ and good men can do horrendous things, even by accident.
Anger in the Arse-blogosphere has been universal and understandable. However, the usual closing of ranks in the mainstream football media has not been consistent. On Sky’s Sunday Supplement talkshow, which I had previously abandoned for its ongoing commitment to the terminally banal (and unwitting exposure of the empty heads of most football correspondents), Brian Woolnough tried to shepherd the panel towards a familiar denunciation: that Arsene had gone ‘over the top’ in his pinpointing of the physicality other teams use against his team. Patrick Barclay and others refused to follow the party line; no, they said. Arsenal are ‘roughed up’ more than others. Wenger does have a point, and his anger is understandable. Barclay went further, to say that there is a ‘wildness’ in the English game that leads inevitably to injuries like that of Eduardo and Ramsey. Arsenal are too often the victims of this ‘wildness’. As the program went on, Woolnough became increasingly tetchy with this show of independent thinking.

Also mentioned in the programme were Craig Bellamy’s comments after the Chelsea-Citeh match. Bellamy, admittedly a loose cannon, said: ‘I know what JT is like and nothing surprises me about it, so I’m not going to comment on that. I think everyone in football knows what the guy is like, but that’s off the field. On it he’s an outstanding player. He’s a great captain for Chelsea.’ ‘Everyone in football knows what the guy is like’: including the journalists who now express such qualms about Terry’s private life but who were happy to keep quiet to enjoy a chummy relationship with ‘JT’.

Bellamy’s comments, like Bridge’s refusal of the handshake, were a breach in the code of silence that informs what I would call (with a big nod to, of all people, President Dwight D. Eisenhower) the ‘football-media complex’: the FA, the Premier League, Sky, the BBC, the news media, the referees, the clubs, the players. This code of silence, what is called in Mafia terms omertà, is ‘an extreme form of loyalty and solidarity in the face of authority’ based on concepts of honour and shame, that is also enforced by fear: ‘He who is deaf, blind, and silent will live a hundred years in peace’ (Sicilian proverb).

Such a code of silence protects the individual from immediate further harm but perpetuates the corrupt system: individual acts of vengeance are permitted within the system of omertá but not informing to the authorities, because that would disrupt the system itself. The midfield ‘enforcer’ is the emperor of omertà: if your team-mate is kicked, you kick right back. Harder.

In the English ‘football-media complex’, too many things have been taboo, left deliberately unspoken in the code of omertà. But the cracks are beginning to show. In this spirit, here is an incomplete list that can be diagnosed from this week’s football:

1.The FA and Premier League have been criminally negligent in their financial dealings and practices, encouraging a boom-and-bust economic cycle that is now claiming high-profile victims.

2.The level of understanding and reporting of these matters in the mainstream media has also been negligent in the extreme, and has been left to sites such as Untold to lead the way to a better understanding of the economic morass now threatening to swallow weaker (and some stronger) members of the Premier League.

3.The FA has been criminally negligent in its fostering of an internal footballing culture that would help young men with too much money, and too little developed an ethical sense, to negotiate their way in the world without harming others. JT shitting in his own nest, so to speak, has finally revealed to the population at large what the industry has known for a long time: that football is now up to its own ankles in it.

4.The FA has been criminally negligent in the coaching and technical training afforded to most professional footballers. Aggression and strength covers these limitations but fatally weakens England national teams at the highest competitive levels and ultimately leads to Ryan Shawcross’s assault on Ramsey. Shawcross is so technically deficient in the tackle that he deliberately drove his foot as hard as he could through where he thought the ball was, snapping Ramsey’s tibia and fibula. If you look at a picture of the incident, Shawcross’s studs are not up, but he is well over the ball. He is not attempting to injure Ramsey deliberately, but nor is he trying to win the ball cleanly, with technique; he is attempting to drive through ball and player with crushing force. By contrast, think of Moore on Jairzinho in 1970, the ‘greatest tackle ever’. I’ve just watched this again on YouTube. Moore uses no force. With timing and skill he reaches out his right leg and pokes the ball off Jairzinho’s instep, then gets up and plays on. Or think of Bob Pires on Paddy Vieira at Highbury: knee over the ball, foot on the ground, clean and decisive.

5.The FA, Premier League, and the ‘football-media complex’ pays ironic homage to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger’s achievements by reinforcing its exceptionalism (a double edged-sword, as Arsenal’s difference is often used as an alibi for its negative treatment). In reality, in terms of the coaching, culture and financing in place at Arsenal, the club should be held up as a model for emulation.

It’s time, then for ‘Clean Hands’, a thorough investigation into the economics, the culture and the practices of football in England, that lets down players, fans and clubs alike. We need to know what happened at Portsmouth, why Chelsea seems to be decaying from within, why English players are so much less than they could be – and why three of Arsenal’s players have had their legs broken in 5 years. And finally, after the courageous win at Stoke, how about a Premier league title for Arsenal, against the odds, without megastar spending, without unsustainable debts, ‘with kids’? If we could do it, with a different economic and cultural field to play on, why not others?

The Arsenal Agenda (first published on Untold Arsenal)

I was prompted to write this following the extraordinary convulsions in the Arsenal blogosphere after the defeat to Manchester United. Chicken Licken bloggers, one of whom claimed they could manage Arsenal better than Arsene, renewed their calls for Denilson’s head, Arsene’s head, anyone’s head. (Unwise bloggers might be encouraged to read this.) It seemed so out of kilter with reality that I thought that there had to be some kind of diagnosis of a collective mentality, shared by the football media in England and the ‘doom and gloom’ Arsenal bloggers, that made them react in such a way. These are my diagnoses.

The Foreign Agenda. Arsene’s French nationality is a constant point of reference, the implication being that Arsenal is now a ‘French club’. (One blog stated that Smalling had chosen United over Arsenal ‘because he wanted to speak English in the dressing room.’) From the old references to ‘discipline’, or rather lack of it (all those red cards, symptoms of a suspect temperament) to the current accusation that Arsenal lack an ‘English spine’, fighting spirit, or physicality, Arsène’s Arsenal fall foul of a particular kind of xenophobia, in both the football media and among our own fan-base. What is unspoken is that Arsenal’s global scouting network is a necessary and far-sighted (and now much-imitated) policy that enables the club to compete, by attracting young footballing talent from a global pool: nationality is secondary to technique, temperament, ability, and athleticism. Arsenal are a post-national club, a difficult thing in a post-Imperial country.

The Logic of ‘Success’. We often read that Arsenal haven’t won anything for 5 years (and counting). The Chicken Licken mantra: ‘We must buy. The kids aren’t good enough. The club isn’t successful. The ‘youth experiment’ has failed.’ As Untold Arsenal has been exploring, finances in English football mean that we have to re-think what we understand by footballing ‘success’. What is success, and how do we measure it? In wins, in trophies, in superstars bought for multi-millions? Or, in building a stable, properly-financed, sensibly run club, which produces and develops its own players, that plays an entertaining and winning style of football, and that will continue as an institution not for 5 or 10 years but for 100?

The Blame Game. ‘Something is wrong with the club.’ ‘Wenger’s lost the plot.’ ‘He’s too stubborn.’ This line of thinking sees defeat not as a necessary component of sporting competition (think of what it would be like to ‘support’ the Harlem Globetrotters), but as a manifestation of some kind of lack on the part of the manager, or some kind of terminal decline in his thinking. When Arsenal are beaten, the assumption is not that the other team played better football on the day, but that Arsenal would beat all others handsomely if it were not for the selection, motivational and tactical deficiencies of Arsene Wenger himself. The Arse-blogosphere looks for someone to blame for disappointment, and lays it all at the door of ’Big Daddy’ (see below). The blame game is clearly linked to raised expectations created by the 1998, 2002 and especially 2004 teams, but is also tainted by ‘declinism’, a belief that the past was a better place, which is very much an English cultural malaise.

The Instant. The Arse-blogosphere is reactive, and places instantaneous reaction above reflection and thought. It also places instant digestion above slow rumination. The Chicken Licken blogs are symptoms of our ‘live’, ‘24/7’, instant access and instant comment digital culture. The culture of instantaneousness means that Arsenal are not allowed to lose, because there is no longer view of things, and a defeat means the end of the world. As the food critic Anton Ego says in Ratatouille, ‘After reading a lot of overheated puffery ... you know what I'm craving? A little perspective. That's it. I'd like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?’

A Sense of Entitlement. ‘We deserve better.’ Chicken Licken Arsenal bloggers and fans believe that somehow they are entitled to watch not only high-quality entertaining football, but all-conquering football. This has been reinforced by the success of Arsène’s Arsenal itself. No-one who watched Terry Neill’s Arsenal, or George Graham’s, can honestly inhabit that sense of entitlement. This sense, not that we are privileged to watch the kind of foot ball seen at the Emirates, but that we ‘deserve’ to do so, is also connected with consumerism.

The Dominance of Consumerism. It’s no great news that the contract between fan and club has changed since the advent of the Premier League, and the post-Hillsborough construction of a middle-class fan-base for top-level football. In treating the fan as a customer, however, our club has helped produce a consumption-oriented fan mentality that now manifests itself on the Arse-blogosphere. A recurrent complaint is: ‘I pay £XXXX for my season ticket, so I expect to see XXXX.’ Chicken Licken bloggers now relate to the experience of watching football as they would to a movie: they want a guaranteed level of entertainment or success, and if they don’t get it, they complain loudly. Of course, the experience of watching a live football match is not the repeatable, guaranteed experience of watching a movie: sometimes a team plays badly, sometimes they lose. Arsenal don’t lose very much, but when defeat comes...

A Culture of Complaint. In 1993, the art critic Robert Hughes published a book called The Culture of Complaint. In it, Hughes argued that ‘we create an infantilized culture of complaint, in which Big Daddy is always to blame and the expansion of rights goes on without the other half of citizenship - attachment to duties and obligations... The emphasis is on the subjective: how we feel about things, rather than what we think’. Rather than a democratic expression of fan voices, the Arse-blogosphere is largely characterised by this mode of complaint, the football-consumer rejecting the long-term ‘duties and obligations’ of supporting their club in favour of short-term gratification, and instant expressions of blame.

The Importance of Ideology. This underpins everything. The foundational motive for the bias against Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal is economics. Arsène Wenger has been pursuing an economic policy which runs diametrically against the prevailing ideological orthodoxy of ‘Football 2.0’: that financial irresponsibility (spending on transfer fees and wages at a level that cannot be sustained by the club’s business model) is the only path to success (see above). This model is of course the same one that Brownian economic policy has pursued since 1997, the inflation of a financial bubble founded on unsustainable levels of debt, that is now also falling to pieces. Wenger’s foresight is actually astounding, if only the football media and the Chicken Licken Arse-blogosphere could understand it, or perhaps stand to look at it. Wenger’s Arsenal offer a different model of financial responsibility and footballing excellence that rejects ‘borrow and spend’ irresponsibility. When the sky does indeed fall (as Untold Arsenal has demonstrated that it shall – the first drops of a hard rain are falling even now) then Arsenal will be one of the best-prepared clubs to succeed – by whatever measure – in England, and in Europe.