Posts Tagged ‘Emirates’

That Thing Called Winning

Posted: November 23, 2014 in Arsenal FC
Tags: , , , , , ,

On the back of a loss, or losses as it were, is always a tough position from which to have some perspective on a situation, especially one so complex, but with recent results and time that has passed, one has to ask – What’s occurring at Arsenal?

For me, like many, this isn’t a new question and the answer isn’t as simple as “it’s X person’s fault”.

I look at the basics of sport. Winning is cyclical for the top clubs, there will be up years and down years (for the successful sporting organizations, the up far outweigh the down), but in the end, winning or losing is a habit. That habit grows into a culture that surrounds an organization in its entirety, for good or bad. There are no guarantees in sport, but the culture within a club makes it so that everything that it takes to win, on a consistent basis, is that much more attainable. Conversely, a losing culture makes those things that much more unattainable.

When winning at all costs takes a back seat and an organization conforms to something less, for whatever reason, getting it back is difficult. The culture of that organization changes – it really undermines sport as an idea, when an organization doesn’t do everything within its power to win.

When did that culture of winning at all costs and doing whatever was necessary change at Arsenal? Easy – the move to the Emirates.

Now before I go much deeper into this post, I want to say a couple of things that are essential. I am not a “Wenger Out” guy. I don’t think that what is happening at Arsenal is entirely his fault and I’m not quite sure that sacking him alone will change the fortunes of the club. That said – one would be delusional to think that Wenger is faultless. Another point is that moving to the Emirates was necessary to compete with the elite in Europe, but as I will share, my belief is that the way this move was handled has greatly contributed to the current situation at the club.

The sale of key players and departure of key people such as David Dein made the years after the move to the Emirates a clear transitional period. Wenger came into the Premier League as an innovator and this time period changed him into a caretaker. Signals were sent out that, although winning, and as a result challenging for titles, was the goal, there were clear self-imposed restraints that would limit the extent of those challenges.

A team can’t have it both ways. An organization can’t say they’re doing everything to challenge for titles then admit that they aren’t doing everything to win. Yet, that’s exactly what Arsenal did. This is where that acceptance of something less than winning at all costs, settling if you will, came into the club. A real shame after such a successful run on the pitch and what was supposed to be the continuation of that off the pitch with the move to the Ems. The attitude became, “We’ll try to win, but if we don’t, we all know why.” Cue nudge of the elbow and a wink.

Harking back to my comment of Wenger the caretaker – Innovation in any field requires constant vigilance, it also requires a freedom to pursue it. When you are tasked to go from innovator to recruiter/accountant (I jest)/youth talent developer/scout/etc. one can see how constant innovation to say, on field tactics, may suffer, along with everything else taken on. Now, this is partly Wenger’s fault, taking on so much at the detriment and sacrifice of himself and his legacy for the club, that’s admirable (I am sure the hefty wage didn’t hurt either), but it’s also a view to a man that doesn’t relinquish anything to anyone because he doesn’t trust them to do it better than him. That good old Wenger stubbornness we all know.

Some people put the onus on the players to perform, which is a great point and more than fair, simply put, they haven’t this year (or many in the recent past). But let me also ask this – motivation comes from belief in what you are doing, from the belief in the person(s) leading you, in the belief that if things don’t go right, there is a Plan B. When have you seen Arsenal have a Plan B in recent times? So you’re set up as a team, despite individual or team form, sent out to execute a plan that may or may not work (hasn’t of late) and know full well that if it doesn’t you’ll just be told to execute better or the adjustments made aren’t enough to pull out a result. How motivated would you be? How motivated would you be when contract renewal time comes around? Motivation isn’t solely internal.

I’m not going to get into what should have been done differently in this match or the other, that’s miniscule in the grand scheme of things, but as a whole I think we can all agree that the stubbornness shown by those leading both on the pitch and off the pitch has cost the club in many aspects. The mistake was giving one man so much power; the counter-balance to such a strong personality was lost when Dein left. The further mistake was accepting that winning would have to be sacrificed, even if just for a short time or to a small extent. The move facilitated all these actions, but now how do you rectify it, how do you turn back the clock to that group think, how do you get that winning habit back? It’s not impossible, but difficult, changes may be upon us.

When I say changes, I don’t mean sack X person or sell X player only. It also doesn’t mean buy X player or hire X manager only either. The issue is widespread and the answer is complex. Look at what happened to Liverpool and what’s happened to United, Arsenal could easily spiral there. The admirable part of all of this is despite the addition of workload, the turnover of personnel somehow, Wenger has managed to keep Arsenal in the top 4 all these years which is also the downside, the acceptance that that’s all that could be achieved and deemed “fine”.

Winning is a habit. That habit promotes a certain culture within a sporting institution. Arsenal has lost that habit and culture. Getting it back will be a tough process. How long it will take is anyone’s guess. A look at this year’s results to date point to the solution being further off than any of us thought. Failure to win in sport, especially for a top-tier organizations, have consequences or clear responses to correct the issues standing in the way of achieving those results. Arsenal has had little of that for a long time. One of the tough questions is – “When is enough, enough?”.

There are a lot of questions and only partial answers, no one has the complete solution. The hope, for all Arsenal supporters is that the answers come sooner rather than later. The hope is that winning becomes a habit at Arsenal again.

Up The Arsenal.

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