A West Ham team that is brimming with confidence having dispatched 6 of their last 7 opponents comes in to the Emirates stadium to face an Arsenal team brimming with false hope after eeking out a 9 game unbeaten run.
It’s almost amazing to think that the team have remained unbeaten for 9 matches and on its face it’s a pretty good run of form and should see Arsenal gaining confidence. But these aren’t the awe inspiring games that we’re seeing from our rivals for the Champions League spot; a 0-0 draw to Cardiff is hardly the stuff of legends. In fact, closer inspection sees that Manchester United haven’t conceded a goal since Arsenal beat them 2-1 in November and Villa have taken all 12 points in their last 4 matches. So, you’ll forgive me if I have to have a laugh when Diaby proclaims the title race is within grasp or Nasri says that all we have to do is “keep winning without leaking goals” and we’ll be right back in it. No. You have to make opponents like West Ham tremble at the thought of traveling to your stadium, then you can start talking about winning the title.
West Ham, for their part, are playing some very good football and pundits are claiming they won’t have anything to fear from Arsenal tomorrow. No one is saying that Arsenal aren’t a talented side, or that there isn’t a threat that Arsenal will start clicking and destroy teams like West Ham; rather that right now, every team in the EPL looks at our past performances and has to be licking their chops to come here and “pull a Hull.”
Ultimately, I’m not going to say it’s a crucial game because, frankly, it looks like the board and the team have thrown in the towel on even achieving 4th place. When you see the board sitting on £90m in cash reserves and not strengthening the squad when it is plain for everyone to see that the squad needs strengthening there’s a disconnect and Peter Hill-Wood revealed exactly what that disconnect is yesterday. As it turns out, the club (payroll, transfers, etc.) is being run as if we didn’t earn £30m a year in Champions League money.
There is no denying that it would be a real financial drain on the club if we didn’t qualify for the Champions League next season. Even if we were in the Uefa Cup and enjoyed a long run in Europe, that would not come close to making up the shortfall.
But although missing out on the Champions League for one year would be a big disappointment, it would not mean financial Armageddon for Arsenal. When we worked out the budget, and did our fund-raising calculations in respect of the new stadium, we did not assume we were going to be in the Champions League every season. That may be an assumption at other clubs, and it’s not for me to comment on the way they are run, but we did not want to get out of our depth in terms of paying our bills. So although it would certainly hurt us in the pocket to finish outside the top four, it would not be a huge shock to the club’s finances. (Emphasis added.)
Suddenly everything makes sense. We’re running the club as if we are West Ham, not as if we are a top four club. No wonder no one fears Arsenal: they are fielding a team, with but maybe three exceptions, is a mid-level squad. You could say that in a sense, we’re punching above our weight, up there in 5th place. We bought a mid-table squad and are nearly up in the Champions League, impressive.
What isn’t impressive is that we’re already seeing some fallout from Arsenal’s failure to re-invest in the team with Robin van Persie reportedly refusing to sign a contract extension unless Arsenal win 4th place. You need look no further than that fact to see why the Arsenal business plan was severely flawed. Because, while it’s a good idea to practice fiscal austerity and Arsenal seem to have that down pat, hell, they could probably last 10 years as a mid-level team in the EPL with the £90m (which will probably be like £110m after this season is done) they have stashed under the mattress, it’s a terrible idea not to re-invest in your company while all of your competitors are growing around you. Already the Arsenal brand has seen some of the shine come off which means less shirt sales and even though they may “sell out” every game due to counting ticket sales rather than the turnstiles, people are already not attending matches, which means less concessions, etc. I’m not suggesting that Arsenal should have spent all £90m on transfers, but some prudent re-investment was clearly necessary as our slump in sales, and slump in performance on the pitch certainly shows.
Where would Arsenal be right now without Robin van Persie? Shudder to think, eh? The thought of losing van Persie might explain why the team seems to be increasing their price in the Zenit deal to get Arshavin on the pitch — going so far as landing the Russian a work permit already. With Wenger stating that the club are going to know before kickoff tomorrow we should finally have an end to this saga one way or another.
The problem is that Arshavin is, in my mind, too little, too late. While undoubtedly a quality player, and certain to add some goals, he’s lacking match fitness right now and still doesn’t solve the problem of Arsenal’s porous defense. In the end, Arshavin won’t be the man to make teams like West Ham fear us again. That’s going to take a whole lot more than just one wing player can deliver, which means prying open the coffers. Unless, of course, they have thrown in the towel on this season.
It sure looks like it to me. Which is a real shame.
Right, so a 7am kickoff tomorrow, the match is live on Setanta, and I will be at Doyle’s. See you there?