Is Arsenal’s next 6 months crucial? Or is it the next month?

I missed Sky’s Sunday Supplement, where four hacks discuss the week’s big football stories.
But I Sky+ed it, just in case.

Then a friend told me what was said about Arsenal, so I watched it.

Ian Ridley, of The Mail on Sunday, said Arsenal are torn between the past and the future.

He said, “Interesting times at Arsenal. I think the next six months on and off the field will define their history for the next five years.”

He even said Wenger might be released from his contract.

“Wenger has 18 months left on his contract and he doesn’t walk out on contracts. But if Arsenal were to release him from a contract and get some compensation, that would be a different matter.”

Brian Woolnough : “Why would they do that?”

Ian Ridley : “In case Wenger wants to go in the next six months, if he is really unhappy with the development, the direction of the football club.I think Arsene Wenger, at any time in the last five years, could have picked up the phone, or got an agent to pick up the phone, and said Id like the Real Madrid job. He would always be their No.1 target.

“But he’s built a dynasty, and he’s leaving a legacy at Arsenal and he will want that to remain intact. But he’s lost David Dein, he lost allies on the board. There’s been another boardroom coup, very unArsenal how it’s all leaked out, and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, who owns 16% of the shares has been ousted from the board and she’s come out and said how appallingly she’s been treated. That isn’t very Arsenal, this isn’t the dignified way they do it.

“And the club is torn between the past and the future. Whether to take new investment and compete with the other Big Three clubs. Or whether to retain their principles, developing a football club, matching income to expenditure, and doing things the right way, as they perceive it.

“Lady Nina now holds a pivotal place. It depends on what she does with her shares. If she wants to sell them to someone. Whether it’s to Usmanov or Kroenke, neither of whom she seems especially fond of. But she did, apparently, envy David Dein for getting £75 million for his shares. Won’t get that now in the current market. But whoever picks up those shares, if it triggers a hostile takeover, then we could be seeing a big, big change in the direction of Arsenal. One that Wenger may not like. That’s why I say the next six months will decide an awful lot.”

Ridley added this : “He’s becoming – disillusioned is the wrong word-  concerned by this group of players. He had enormous faith in them and has defended them to the hilt. But they keep letting him down. He always says that, with a young player, you can chart the development, you can build the technique, but you never quite know till they’re thrown in, mentally, how they’re gonna react to the challenge of playing for a big club. And I think that’s where he has been let down. And we’ve seen lots of temperamental flaws emerging within Arsenal over the last six months. If you look at the calendar year, they’ve got a pretty poor record in league football.”

The News of the World’s Rob Beasley said, “Wenger’s culpable to an extent. He had money to spend in the summer, he’s got money to spend now. We were with him on Friday and said : Are you scared to spend money? Are you scared to buy a big name player? Why won’t you go and buy two £20 million players with their experience and their talent, who could come in, bed into this team, and bring their experience and talent and transform this Arsenal side ? We can all see the potential of this team. But don’t you think you need two or three more players, established quality players who can take you on that quantum leap, right now?

“He said, ‘Yes I do. I understand what you’re saying, I agree with what you’re saying. But you can’t get players for £20 million these days.’ I’m not sure he’s right in these credit crunch times. He’s got to bite the bullet and try and do something. On the Friday, in the actual press conference, he said : ‘I’ve looked and looked and I don’t think for £20 million you can find somebody to do what I need them to do. They’re just not out there.’ Which is a bit of an astonishing thing to say. And he also said, ‘How much did Manchester United pay for Dimitar Berbatov? £30 million.’ He’s probably got £40 million, maybe £50 million, to spend and he can see that he may not be able to get a player who can have that kind of impact. And that’s what he’s worried about.”

Personally, I’d agree with some of that. But I can’t see Wenger ever going to Real Madrid now, except as a face-saving exit-strategy, having sent Arsenal into complete meltdown and leaving us with far too many young French and African players.

I reckon Arsenal could have new owners in May or June, although Usmanov has no plans to increase his stake right now. The biggest news of the weekend wasn’t Adebayor’s red card. It was that Danny Fiszman admitted he has been talking to Usmanov and has said, Come to more games, let’s get to know each other a bit better.

I think Lady Nina has been a seller for a long time. That’s why she was bought onto the board and into the lockdown.

It’s tosh to say I’ve looked and looked and there’s no good players available for £20 million. Beasley is right. That is astonishing and ridiculous. Each week, with the things he says, Wenger becomes more ridiculous. Each week a different fan asks me : Do you think he believes what he says or not? I have several stock answers to that question including (1) he’s delusional (2) he’s talking to his players in the media, not to the fans (3) he’s trying to buy time and (4) he’s the greatest spin-doctor in the history of organised sport.

His 26 scouts are all looking for kids. They mostly look in France and West Africa.

If he looked in Copenhagen he could have found Brede Hangeland, a 27-year old six foot five Norwegian.  Hangeland arrived last January and saved Fulham from relegation and is now the linchpin of the fourth-best defence in the Premier League  He is the centreback who volleyed that goal against Arsenal at Craven Cottage in August. But Wenger won’t sign that sort of player because he doesn’t scout that sort of player.

His scouting system, like his training and his style of play, is very narrow-minded and obsessional. His briefs are very specific. We don’t know much about his scouts. But we know this  :  they won’t find what he’s not looking for.

If they looked in Hamburg, they’d have found Vincent Kompany, who would be perfect with Fabregas : six foot three, fast,skilful, good long passer, can also play centreback. He’s 22 and has played 23 times for Belgium. Kompany fell out with Martin Jol and cost Man City an undisclosed fee that was said to be about £6 million.
Everton signed Marouane Fellaini from Standard Liege for an initial £4m, rising to £16 million. He is 21, six foot four, rugged and runs box-to-box. Fellaini has already scored three goals.

So it is tripe when Wenger says he’s looked everywhere. That is an insult to supporters who pay £60 to watch Song every week. It’s wrong to run London biggest football club this way. It’s bonkers to give so much power to a manager. It’s crazy to give Wenger the right of veto over a chief executive. When in football has that ever happened? Where in the entire history of professional football has the manager of a club had the power of veto over the appointment of a chief executive ? Only at a one-man club called Arsènal.

Since David Dein was sacked, Wenger has lost the plot. Yes, the financial constraints on him have been fierce and intimidating. That pressure to cut costs has helped him to lose the plot. All managers lose the plot. Name one who hasn’t.

But there’s still plenty to play for because Wenger has chosen a good season to have a mediocre team. He can’t believe he’s still only eight points off the lead.

As I said recently, every club has problems. Man United are jet-lagged, Tevez is fed up, the fans are not convinced by Berbatov. Liverpool are too rigid and miss Fernando Torres badly. Chelsea will miss John Terry for three games, after his silly tackle on Leon Osman in last night’s 0-0 draw at Goodison.


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