Monday, June 7, 2010

Moral High Ground Masks General Decline

"Wonder what it feels like to work in a real fuckin' police department"
- Jimmy McNulty

A lot of the Arsenal blog community greeted Arsenal's rebuke to Barcelona last week with an air of misplaced triumphalism. "Look at us standing up against the playground bullies", they effectively said. The implicit acknowledgement is that Arsenal's place in the big boys' playground is as a weedy, bespectacled loser. Consecutive summers have seen the sales of players of varying importance, suggesting that Arsenal are, for the time being at least, a selling club. This idea has crystallised with the likely departure of our wantaway captain. This time, when the player leaves, only a fool would suggest Arsenal will be better, in the short-term, for the change.

All of the ire of fans has been directed at Barcelona, who have acted with a complete lack of class. That is, of course, what big teams do, particularly in Spain. But it has to be acknowledged, painful as it may be, that there would be nothing to get annoyed about if Cesc Fabregas did not want to leave Arsenal. So how should we feel towards him? Personally, I'd prefer it if he just came out himself and unequivocally stated his desire to leave, rather than hiding behind the comments of others. I appreciate however his unwillingness to hurt the Arsenal fans, who he clearly has a genuine affinity with.

But is he ungrateful to want out of the project? Arsenal and Wenger made him, some suggest. It's true only to an extent. I have never seen a better footballer at the age of 17, as Fabregas was when he started the Community Shield against United in 2004. This was evidently a talent that did not need much guidance, it only needed unleashing. Arsenal freed him to play regular football, so he has them to thank for his extensive experience at a still-tender age. However, he has mostly experienced being a nearly man, with only one trophy to show for his time at the club, and that five long years ago.

I think me and him think the same- that if Arsenal commited, or were in a position to commit, to strengthening the playing staff, then trophies would follow. We don't see that happening any time soon. The imminent departure of Gallas, whatever its causes, is further proof that any progress Arsenal have made recently is piecemeal, that for every step forward there seems to be two backwards. Fans are negative in order to be positive, a perverse optimism- they never took to Gallas, he's never really been an Arsenal player. These comments, and his status as a divisive figure, hold some relevance, but of all the players that have been linked as a replacement, none come close to having his ability or experience, and that for me is the fundamental issue. It boils down to the simplest of logic- a team will not improve if it is constantly replacing good players with worse ones.

Fabregas is a great player. He wants to leave because he is ambitious in a way that his club cannot currently match. In different circumstances, maybe he could have grown into Arsenal's greatest ever. How Arsenal replace him may now become the final great challenge of Arsene Wenger's reign. One suspects that the only viable option is a slight alternation to the team's style, a reversion to the counter-attacking of yore, although it is highly questionable whether Wenger now has the players to affect such a change.

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