Blaustein’s Weekly Column: Of our elaborate plans, the end

By Jonathan Blaustein 

The end in sports is rarely graceful.

So few giants go out on top, and even the ones who do, like Michael Jordan, often come back and try to squeeze a few last drops of tasty ego-juice. (Wizards Jordan was so sad. He could barely jump.)

Tim Duncan played forever, and won forever, but in the end, he could barely run up the court. Joe Montana, Niners legend, stood under center for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Occasionally, once in a great while, an aging star manages to capture one last moment of glory, even when his talent has largely faded. Peyton Manning won a Superbowl with the Broncos, but he looked like his arm was as strong as his father Archie’s, and Archie is nearly 70.

Then there was Thierry Henry.

Remember his brief loan spell with Arsenal, back in 2012? That time he opened his body up, during the FA Cup match against Leeds, and scored that sick goal to win the game?

For most of you, that was a magical moment that reeked of nostalgia. For me, though, it was the only time I ever saw TH14 play for the Arsenal, as I’m a relatively new fan.

It’s the only memory I have.

When we think of legends running on fumes, we often think of athletes. But coaches run out of steam too, and it’s often associated with age. In these situations, we root for the team’s general to summon one last charge up the hill. To reach deep, and re-establish the genius, so as to go out “on top.”

Fergie did it, and he’s the gold standard of everything in English football, from what I can gather. The red-nosed Scot poached RVP from Arsene, with the express intention of winning one last EPL title, so he could retire with proper glory.

And it worked.

But far more often are the stories like Tom Coughlin, of whom I’ve written, or poor Marv Levy, the elderly Buffalo Bills coach in the 90’s who went to 4 consecutive Superbowls, and lost them all.

Who remembers Jimmie Johnson coaching the Miami Dolphins?

Or look at Phil Jackson? The 11 time champ of a Zen Master has had four years to turn abound the moribund New York Knicks, and if anything, he’s made them worse.

I’m a Brooklyn Nets fan, (as I grew up in New Jersey,) and they gave away 5–7 years of potential success for a season of a mostly-washed-up Paul Pierce, and a very-washed-up Kevin Garnett. They are literally the worst team in sports, because they gambled on some old dudes having something left in the tank.

Barry Bonds wanted so badly to be the best, late in his career, that he “allegedly” took enough steroids to power up a Seal Team 6 unit for 3 missions in the Swat Valley. (Or maybe it’s 6 missions for Seal Team 3?)

I suspect you can guess where I’m going with this.

The only reason I think I’m qualified to write for 7am kickoff, (beyond the fact that I’m a good writer,) is that I consider myself a sports expert. I don’t know half as much about Arsenal as you guys do, which I’ve openly admitted, but I have seen 98% of the matches over the last 5 years, and can contextualize my fandom within 35 years of serious sports obsession.

It’s why it’s so damn hard for me to watch the Arsenal matches right about now.

If we were to read all my columns this season, back to back, we’d see a downward trajectory of expectations, and the assassination of hope. Back in the Summer, while I was guarded in my optimism, due to the other teams in the Top 6, I desperately wanted to see Arsene beat the odds.

I wanted Pete from Le Grove, and ClaudeIvan from the comment section, and all the others who said Wenger couldn’t do it any longer, to be wrong.

Please, please, let this special guy have his last bit of glory, I thought.

But it didn’t happen.

The slow leak of doubt has grown to a full fledge Tsunami. As I wrote last month, this team is broken. Now, everyone can see it. Whether you want to compare the squad to Bayern and Barcelona, or Spurs and Everton, it’s clear that the whole is significantly less than the sum of its parts.

And it’s simply no fun to watch.

Sports, (or sport for you Brits,) are designed to be entertaining. They divert our attention from thinking about our jobs, or tax season, or the fact that in a few weeks, I’ll have to go out with a shovel and clean the local acequias with all my neighbors.

At its best, sports can inspire us to be better. To work harder. To strive for larger goals. To believe in something.

The most memorable day of my life, beyond even the birth of my kids, is probably the time I saw the Giants beat the Broncos in Superbowl XXI. It’s a hell of a story, which is a part of it, but the fact is, as an athlete and now a fan, sports have imprinted heavily on who I am as a person.

And now I’m looking to be distracted from my distraction. How did it come to this?

Today, (I wrote on Monday) the media are reporting on who might replace Wenger, and that he’s secretly already signed his contract. SIMULTANEOUSLY! Arseblog and everyone else are discussing the palace intrigue, and trying to guess who’s behind the PR smokescreens, because talking about the football is pointless.

Leicester and Chelsea, the last two EPL champions, have proved, beyond refutation, that great players can simply tune out a manager. Even a manager who was the reigning fucking champion! Players are human, and if they give up, and decide it’s not worth the extra effort, there’s no coming back.

Watching Aaron Ramsey allow Craig Dawson to waltz past him on Saturday was definitive proof that it’s happened to us. Oxlade-Chamberlain then admitted it to the global media, right after the match.

Remind me why I spend the extra $40 a month in my cable bill to watch this shit, if these footballers can’t be bothered to care?

If Arsene really does return, I’ll be pissed. All it took was one last repetitive failure of a season to flip my switch to “Wenger Out.” Because if you seriously believe that AW is still cutting edge enough to win it all, you’re delusional.

There are facts, and there are alternative facts, but this ship has sailed. It’s sad, yes, but not tragic, because all it’s proven is that Arsene Wenger is mortal.

Like the rest of us.

53 Comments on Blaustein’s Weekly Column: Of our elaborate plans, the end

  1. I have been a long time admirer of Arsene Wenger. Always thought he is someone who carries himself with a lot of dignity and grace. Perhaps it has come to that point where he has associated himself so long and closely with Arsenal that Arsenal has become synonymous with Wenger. When someone discusses Arsenal, Arsene Wenger is always associated somewhere and that’s not a good thing for the club beyond a certain point. Here you have an individual who is on par with the stature of the club. I think Arsenal as a club need to make an effort to end this perception and the only way this can happen is if Arsene Wenger leaves. A lot of fans tell me “you’ve been spoiled with the success that Arsene Wenger gave you”. To a certain extent, yes, I mean after all he gave the invincibles, helped build the stadium, gave us 2 doubles. However, any club/business/person should always look to move forward. Arsene gave us the platform and now it is time to move forward and why would anyone be opposed to that? He had the time and resources but the same failings have reared their ugly heads. Poor team selection, coaching deficiencies, missed opportunities in the transfer market…I mean it seems as though the club is stuck in limbo. My biggest fear is that Arsenal will end up losing it’s brand value and the global attraction that it once had. Why not try to lure a competent proven Manager like Allegri or Simeone and give the club and fans a fresh new perspective and possible success? It’s a risk worth taking.

  2. I too wish the page to be turned and have said so more than once. But I’ve also said that he’ll stay and my instinct is that his stubborn nature, obstinacy and (yes) hubris will not allow for the next chapter just yet.

    He’s sent a clear signal that a top 4 finish is not going to be a deciding factor for him. So I’m guessing that he’ll keep us guessing until the FA Cup final at the end May unless Man City win the semi-final next month. If that happens I think he’ll announce his departure but if we win he’s going to ride it to the end of the season and the Cup final.

    • Can you seriously imagine beating City? I can’t.

      I agree, he’s staying. We’ll have another two years at least of this mess. I feel for him, I really do, but you have to imagine our sympathies will be sorely tested when he announces his belief that he can right this ship by signing another contract.

      • And why not? How many crises have Arsenal navigated relatively unscathed? He may not be your ideal manager, but righting the ship and keeping it running is pretty much his strongest attribute.

        • Well, Shard, I know how lethal is your combination of prolixity, minutiae-fetish, and hair-splitting with a seemingly endless amount of free time, so I’d like to end this quickly, if I may, by stating the inevitable conclusion to any of our football-related discussions: We clearly have different ideas about how the ship looks and who is responsible for its position.

          There, now that’s out of the way, we can talk some proper jibberish!

          • The first sentence of this post made me laugh.

            Well educated and smart can be a lethal combination.
            Well done my good sir.

      • Well actually we’re going to have two years of something very different, because probably for both of those years we won’t be playing in the champions league for the first time in two decades. AND we’re on the brink of losing Alexis and Ozil, and with no champions league to lure replacements of similar quality.

        No….things are about to get very different. Especially if wenger stays.

        • Hm. Good point! Your comment has had the unintentional effect of lifting my spirits for next season. I mean I really could do without the utterly predictable Champions League R16 exit, since it always seems to coincide unfortunately with the point in our season when the players realize they can no longer win the PL title. Perhaps next season, finally, we’ll see what this team can do when it’s just a dead horse instead of a dead horse being beaten!

          • It’s funny that everyone seems to agree Leicester last year, and Chelsea this year, are title winners b/c they weren’t in the CL, and could play with tighter squads, but Arsenal dropping out for even one season is seen as a catastrophe for so many fans.

          • I don’t assume it’s catastrophe, but I do worry, for the simple reason that we need to seriously recruit some quality this summer (especially if some of our best players end up leaving, which looks increasingly likely), and not having CL football next year will make that task that much harder. The likes of Chelsea and Man United can lure excellent players to their team without CL football, but that’s because they can throw huge amounts of money at said players, and because they both have a reputation of winning lots of stuff. Neither applies to Arsenal 2017, unfortunately.

  3. “A downward trajectory of expectations, and the assassination of hope”

    This should be title of every Arsenal article from now until the foreseeable future.

  4. I have zero confidence right now that we will get ANY points for the remainder of the year. I would have hoped for 6 points against Crystal Palace and ‘Boro but those are away and given our form…

    I’m resigned though, come what may.

  5. What a golaso from the King, Lucas Podolski. Hart had absolutely no chance as he rockets a 25 yarder to the upper (L) corner.

  6. Thanks for the shout out, JB. An honour (honor, if I’m to maintain the tenor of this v good post).

    You’ve captured perfectly how I and many others feel. The difference is that I turned 3 years ago.

    The failures of Arsene’s latter-day tenure are well documented (im too wary and resigned to repeat them here). He’s not going to become the manager he was or the manager we need him to be at this time. He’s done. The shenanigans over a contract he has clearly, already signed in secret are embarrassing. This is what he and the management have become… too scared to tell the fans that he’s continuing.

    I love the man. I still do, and that will never change. It is not a contradiction to feel that way AND to want him gone.

  7. Good post, thanks Jonathan.
    Mortal indeed and seemingly never more so than now.

    But I wonder: is this season the way it is because Wenger has finally been exposed or are there other more significant factors?

    We focus on him because as pointed out above, for better and definitely this campaign for worse, Arsenal is Arsene and Arsene is Arsenal.

    He absolutely much shoulder the blame as much as he deserved praise for the early glory years.

    I know one thing: his book whenever it comes might just be one of the best football books of all time, right up there with The Ball is Round or The Damned United or Fever Pitch.

    So please, Monsieur Wenger Don’t sign da ting. Please.

    • I wouldn’t buy his book for some of the same reasons I don’t listen to his pressers and interviews anymore. For me personally, once you start spinning and padding the facts, I tune out.

      Besides, people ,who think Wenger will somehow divulge the secret inerworkings of Arsenal FC once he retires, forget that loyalty always comes first with him.

      There’s nothing he can do to make me angry but I also wouldn’t necessarily feel sorry for him.
      He’s a privileged white man with means who can walk away from this job anytime he wants to.

  8. Interestingly, The Independent reached out to former members of The Invincibles and they all, to a man, want him to stay.

    Misguided as I feel their sentiments to be, I can’t really blame them. They’re the freaking Invincibles after all and their loyalty to the Gaffer is touching.

    • And some of the players contacted by The Independent have been highly critical of Wenger at times, including Henry and Vieira. Yet they all think he should stay.

  9. 1Nil
    Assuming that is loyalty,I find it a huge problem that their loyalty is Arsene first, Arsenal next. Though I don’t think that’s loyalty,more like fear of being frozen out of the club, especially with Henry and Viera.

  10. Ok genuine question. What makes this ‘the end’? Why now, and not 3 years ago, or 8 years ago, or 4 years from now? What makes this the end of Arsene Wenger. That proves conclusively that he’s done, washed up, past it?

    • Shard, if the smokescreens are to be believed, he’s not leaving anyway. But why do I think he’s done now, as opposed to the last time he was on the ropes? (When he responded with the consecutive FA Cups?) I’d say the worst run of his career, (5 losses in 6,) in which he finds himself now, is a part of it. As is the fact that he’s lost a chunk of the locker-room, with respect to players following his instructions. Add to that the return of “selling your best players with one year left on their contract,” narrative, which has re-appeared. Sprinkle in the fact that footballers are human beings, who are capable of seeing that their actions resemble what happened at Chelsea last year, and Leicester this year. There’s also the embarrassing nature of the losses, which hearkens back to the last time Wenger was this close to leaving, when AFC was thrashed by Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea. (5-1, 6-3, and 6-0, I believe.) And the 3-year-running mistake of over-relying on injury-prone, older Spanish DMs. The coup de grace, for me, is the fact that his unwillingness to match tactics, now that the super-managers have arrived, means lacking a talent advantage, which the club doesn’t have, it’s that much harder to beat teams set up in the fashionable 3 CB style.

      • Thanks for the response.

        Losing the locker room. Has this become an accepted fact now? We’re in our worst run of form since forever, but does this only come down to players giving up on their manager? I’m sorry but I don’t believe it is a situation comparable to Chelsea (where the players actively wanted Mourinho out) or Leicester (where they couldn’t be bothered having overachieved last season) All I see is players extremely low on confidence with the manager the only one trying to build it up. The international break might help the players, getting away from the constant news cycle.

        If we’re selling our best players again, how does having a new manager address that? Unless you think the board are more likely to sanction a bigger spending budget for a new man than Wenger, which as you say, appears to not be the case as they want Wenger to stay anyway.

        For me, the biggest reason to get rid of Wenger would be not the on field issues, but the off field circus, which has gotten to a point where it impacts the players. But I can imagine that is precisely what the board doesn’t want. To let a section of fans think they can behave the way they do and get their way. (I don’t just mean the idea that Wenger should go, but basically the whole protest and outrage industry that has pushed the Arsenal in crisis narrative over the past decade)

        Because this won’t stop with Wenger. We’re going to get Kroenke out signs after this ‘victory’, with a view to either get them to change their working model, or force a change in ownership.

      • On the reliance on aging Spanish midfielders, I absolutely agree. I can understand this season a bit though, because I think the plan was to have a Coquelin-Cazorla and a Ramsey-Xhaka partnership. I’m no tactical expert, and I know that latter partnership is denounced by Tim and the others – with reason, but I still think it can work.

        Which also brings me to match tactics. I had a long hard think about the fact that Doc Gooner brought up about none of our rivals playing with a No. 10, and I think I agree that we have to adapt and either play Ozil on the left or sell him (which might be happening anyway) Not sure about the 3 CBs though. How many teams, except Chelsea, play that way?

        • Shard, you’re well-known for your positive outlook. I accept that there can be counter-narratives to many of the things I’ve proffered here, including the premise of my article, that Wenger is done. I know only Chelsea play 3 CB’s every game, but most of the other top managers, including Mourinho, Guardiola, and even Pochettino, are willing to use it on a case-by-case basis, to counter what their opponent is doing. Furthermore, Conte changed to that system as a reaction to Arsenal ripping his then-slow team to shreds. It’s the perfect example of a decision I don’t believe Wenger would ever make.

          As a thought exercise, what do you think Arsene would have done in a similar situation? I can’t imagine him having the stones, and/or tactical acumen to re-jigger that quickly, to that level of success Conte has created.

          But getting into a point-by-point refutation misses the larger message of my article, which is that all of these things, TAKEN TOGETHER, mean that I no longer believe he is capable of digging himself out of this hole.

          I don’t think he’s making the best decisions anymore, so why would I want him in charge of the next re-build? (Including the decision to hold everyone hostage, waiting to know what he’s going to do next.) I genuinely believe that someone like Diego Simeone, in particular, could come in, turn over the roster with some investment, and put out a “product” far more capable of banging with the big clubs.

          If you believe Arsene Wenger is really the very best manager for AFC going forward, that is your prerogative.

          • I think Conte wanted to play that way anyway (Seeing hi history with Juventus and Italy) but had held off on it until the players saw that the system clearly needed work.

            But yeah, we don’t see Wenger switching up the team’s formation (generally) during a season, or as a one off. (Doesn’t mean he doesn’t try any tactical tweaks)

            I’m not saying Wenger is necessarily the best manager for us. I’m saying that the view that he is done isn’t as clear as you make out to be. But that’s tough to say right now because we are on literally our worst run of form under him. How we come out of this will be an indicator, and possibly a determiner. Of course, for many the case was made long ago and is done and dusted. Which is their prerogative. But what happens if Wenger does stay?

          • So, I agree with Jonathan on the larger issue (that other managers could come in and do a better job with our squad and money than AW is doing right now (though whether we could get the right man for the job is another story)).

            But I have to say I think Shard is spot on about Conte and three at the back. He played primarily this way at Juve and with the Italian national team, so it was hardly a sign of the tactical flexibility that everyone seems to want to (tediously) ascribe to him based on that one example, especially as a stick with which to beat AW. This is not to say he hasn’t done an excellent job with Chelsea this season, but I also think he got very lucky with having no European commitments and having a fit starting 11 for essentially the entire season (and with getting Kante, who was only his second choice after Roma wouldn’t sell him Naingollan or whatever his name is).

            As for Wenger and tactical tweaks, Tim Stillman has a nice piece on Arseblog about all the tweaks he’s made the last few years including this year. The problem is they’re just not working any more.

  11. The money that’s become available to all PL clubs.

    i can go club by club and find players who would make this Arsenal squad on talent and application- something that wasn’t necessarily true before, and if you combine that with how predictable Arsenal have become , and the managerial talent in the PL – it all sugests he’ll fail to succeed.

    Unless Wenger redefines “success ” which is something I spoke about before.

    • Let’s go club by club then. Not being belligerent, I think that’s an interesting thought. If true, it might make it easier (if not cheaper) to buy players, especially if we don’t make the CL.

      How would you define success? For that matter, how many seasons since 2004 do you think we have failed to achieve it?

      • “How would you define success? For that matter, how many seasons since 2004 do you think we have failed to achieve it?”

        A question I’ve often asked, Shard. it’s well documented that Wenger is a victim of his own successes. It’s well known that the PL is more competitive than ever and that this has coincided with the increased expectations of the Arsenal fanbase, many of whom either joined during the glory years or became accustomed to them and now see that as baseline rather than an unprecedented run of success which will probably never be replicated. You cannot talk about Arsenal’s current players without inevitable comparisons to our greatest ever team since Herbert Chapman, with some blithe suggestions that make it seem like building and sustaining that type of success was either easy, accidental or both. Chance and opportunity always play a part but the reality is that Wenger built this house as we know it, whether people like it or not.

        I do think there is a skewed perception of success out there. When you’re a sports team though, your outlook has to be forward, not backward. The question of today is not our definition of success but whether Arsene still gives this squad their best chance to be the best that they can be? It takes twisting into some sort of pretzel to successfully argue that now.

        1. On the pitch: Wenger’s approach to football is well documented by himself and by others. As successful as it has been at times in the past, there is no denying his record against teams with equal or superior talent is very poor since the move to the Emirates stadium. This is across multiple turnovers of the playing squad and against any sort of opposition, domestic or continental. It’s these big game encounters that ultimately define teams that can or cannot win the big kahuna, which is the dream. People want that dream and with Wenger it no longer feels possible. His teams consistently display poor awareness of space in both phases, poor/slow ball utilization and not enough energy/commitment in between bursts of scintillating combination football and highlight reel goals. If Arsenal football club were a player, we would be Theo Walcott, who encapsulates the latter Wenger era better than any one player: Massive potential, explosive athleticism, often forgets where he is on the pitch, easily bullied by others, scores great goals, often injured, still at the club despite his inconsistencies because of his ever-present future promise, great guy off the pitch, nice as can be. Yes, injuries have played no small part and yes, he made more of less resources for many years than many coaches might have. Both of these things are equally true. His approach is flawed and unlikely to change, despite its great successes in the past. I just think that his brand of football was designed to succeed in a different era. His absolute faith in his methods was his greatest strength but is now undermining his ability to adapt.

        2. In the locker room: Players love him. He’s everyone’s surrogate father, including Eboue’s and Tim Stillman’s. But do they believe in his methods? Displays on the pitch leave many observers unsure. I personally think they try but they lack conviction that it will work because it’s failed so many times. Now relationships within the squad are straining as results get more and more sour. This is a good squad but something feels broken about it at this point, which means something has to change. Should it be the players or the manager? We all know the answer to that question because we’ve seen it so many times at other clubs, regardless of the sport.

        3. In the fanbase: His continued tenure has become a sideshow which is distracting everyone and polarizing the fanbase to ever widening extremes. The plane fiasco is the sort of display that will make this club a laughingstock, and rightfully so.

        Will things get worse before they get better? Probably, and that’s probably regardless of what we do. I was arguing for a measured, considerate succession plan before but with things getting uglier by the week, I’m not sure if that’s still the best approach. I don’t know what the best course is and at this point I don’t think anyone does. But it’s clear something has to change and the best opportunity for change is at the managerial position. Can he turn it around? At this point, that feels less likely than being down 28-3 with 20 minutes to go in the Superbowl. I’ll keep hoping for it but I’m almost ready to turn off the lights and go to bed.

        • Between players and manager, there is only one winner. In this case, I don’t think it has come to that head. And it seems the board want Wenger to stay, which suggests either that they don’t think it is out of hand, or that they plan on major changes to the playing squad (which they will have to sanction with a new manager anyway)

          As I said, I think the off field stuff is impacting the on field stuff and for me that above all would be the reason for him to go. But two things. One, I don’t really think this whole split in the fanbase goes away just with Wenger leaving. Two, I am also what will no doubt be called a conspiracy nut, but if I believed we were being given a fair chance by the refs on the field the past many years, I would find it easier to say that time is up.

          However, there’s no doubt right now we’re performing worse than the sum of our parts regardless of outside influences.

          I think purely on the footballing and club structure basis, there’s very little downside to keeping Wenger for a couple of years, unless there is a clear managerial target in mind who is eager to work under the Arsenal working conditions. Wenger can leave now, and there will likely be more upheaval than otherwise. (That, and the crowd’s ‘triumphalism’ making them the next target would be major reasons the board would like him to stay IMO)

          But either way, it makes little difference. I don’t think we’ll be significantly more likely to win the big prizes under a different manager, unless something else changes. I also think that the board are more likely to sanction more money if it is Wenger who asks for it rather than any new guy they appoint. (though will he?) and yeah, I also think loyalty should count for something.

          I also asked ‘why now’ to Jonathan, because for me, before now it never felt like ‘last chance saloon’. So I was curious as to how other people reach that point.

          By the way, I think we see an upturn in form from now to the end of the season, but that’s only based on little – our past record, and the belief that going away for a bit would have done the players some good.

  12. Never mind how I would defined it. I’m not running the club.
    Going by definitions the club had put forth , which were : “compete for the PL title”, and ” close the gap between Arsenal and Europe’s elite( Bayern), the last 5 seasons ( at least ) have been a failure.

    Losing the PL title by more than 10 points is not competing , otherwise you might as well stretch that margin to 20 points and call it that.

    Look Shard, I respect your views and I’m sure they make a lot of sense to you.
    I just happen to disagree with you based on my observations.

    I can’t point to a single aspect of Wenger management and say this is the reason we will win the title again.

    You and I look at the same thing and see something totally different, wether in football or otherwise.

    You look at Wenger admitting fear of retirement and see his strength to persevere and fight against the odds, while I see his weakness .

    You hear Trump say “rebuild the military”( which isn’t broken) and” I would bomb the sh#t out of them”, and you hear a leader who’s peace loving.

    You see Russia lead the world rankings in Jurnalists and members of political opposition killed or missing since Putin came to power, and you ask Tim why he thinks Putin is a ruthless dictator.

    Btw, all those drone strikes conducted by Obama you were against , you won’t be hearing about them in the Trump era. He gave the CIA the power of planning and executing them – as oppose in the Obama’s White House , where it was the military doing the strikes on CIA targets.
    And since CIA doesn’t have to report ,or take any responsibility for any of them – boom!, no more US drone strikes. Problem solved. Trump for the Nobel Peace Price.

    • You hear Trump say “rebuild the military”( which isn’t broken) and” I would bomb the sh#t out of them”, and you hear a leader who’s peace loving.

      Not once have I said this. There’s a LOT more that goes on in international relations than ever even comes out in the news, and what does is only cursorily examined. I was just convinced that Clinton represented the war lobby and would actively push for such, and that Trump is not aligned with them in particular, so could be different. Not that he was peace loving, or that he would obviously be different. I even said that at worst things continue down the same path, but the US can’t hide behind their do-gooder persona anymore with him as President. But for the most part, I pay less attention to personalities beyond the effect they can have on their environment.

      You see Russia as a dictatorship not because they are one (they have a fully functioning parliament) but because they are constantly projected as one. My first question to Tim was how much he actually knows about Russia, and I explained how the ‘dictatorship’ angle is a means to an end, not ‘the truth’.

      Democracy and human rights, lofty ideas that the West has a pattern of exploiting for their own gains. It is lip service. Nobody gives a jot about Russia being democratic or otherwise. What they care about is that they are re-emerging as a powerful player in their region, along with China, and if they can continue to increase their influence independently, it will necessitate a change in the current global power structure.

      If you follow things a bit more closely, you’d realise that you aren’t really aware of what is going on. Especially in regards to Syria and Ukraine. For instance, do you know that not even Ukraine’s official stance at the ICJ is that Crimea was annexed or illegally occupied? Or that Lugansk and Donetsk have been living under a blockade by Kiev-backed or at least tolerated troops and have now stopped paying taxes to Kiev? And do you care that the US is in Syria illegally (after creating ISIS at that)? Russia was invited, Iran was invited, but the US can ride roughshod over sovereign rights and international law to support terrorists for regime change, and invade nations at will, and they are still the good guys. Why? Because their propaganda machine gives them that cover, and ‘democracy’ is a weapon in that regard. Hence my attempt to question that major allegation that seems to be casually accepted (just as I have tried to combat the use of the words ‘jihadist’ or ‘islamist’ in the past on this very blog.)

      None of this will likely matter to you, but as regards politics, this attempt to portray me as some Trump lover is now beyond annoying.

      • Have to admit, I’ve never understood the blockade bit. Lugansk and Donetsk border Russia to the east and Ukraine to the west. Clearly, Ukrainian forces aren’t cutting them off from Russia, so is it really a blockade if there’s easy access to the outside?

        • Blockade was probably the wrong word. Blocked off from Ukraine may be better. There’s a mutual…dislike let’s say.. among the people there since the Donetsk folk (at least) say they are regularly shelled by the Ukrainians.

          Indeed the two regions have said they will trade with Russia and Russia has started to accept their authority to issue travel and other documents. They claim this is a temporary measure, but it’s likely to lead to independence eventually. I doubt Russia takes over because they will not want to hand any excuse to be dubbed an aggressor again, won’t want Nato right on their borders there, and wouldn’t want to bear the costs of rebuilding. Ukraine should worry that the South might decide to break away too.

    • Shard’s schtick is Chemical Ali’s reprised. Saddam was winning when he was losing. Calling it optimism is putting it kindly. When I turned on Wenger 3 years ago, Shard offered the very same lame rationales as he is now. The question he posed, “why not three years ago?” made me spit my coffee in pure mirth.

      • I gave you a shout out b/c I recall you used to go by the handle ormgordon, or something like that. If that’s true, I can confirm you’ve been making these arguments for several years, like you say. The reason I was still a believer back then was I felt Arsene deserved a chance to show everyone what he could do once the financial shackles came off. But even with more money, the problems are exactly the same.

      • I actually said that precisely because I was thinking of you reaching that conclusion then, and Jonathan now.

  13. I didn’t watch Wizards Jordan, but he had 22 and 20 ppg in those years. That’s pretty damn good especially for a dude that was almost 40.

    • His stats were OK, sure. BC he could still hit the jumper. But he was a shell of the basketball genius that dominated the 90’s. Jordan without the leaping ability was sad to watch, no matter if he still put a few points on the board.

      • Jordam hitting 20-22ppg is like Messi scoring 12-15 goals a season. Reasonable, but not for a once in a generation talent.

  14. It was sad to watch him if you had seen him in his pomp.
    Stopped going to the Bulls games since Jordan retired. In a way you could make the comparison the Jordan/ Pippen Bulls were dismantled sooner that they should’ve been, just like the Invincibles.

  15. “I even said that at worst things continue down the same path..”
    Delegating all aspects of drone strikes to CIA , which makes them now covert, and relaxing the strict guidelines on collateral demage ( civilian deaths) , might be considered by most somewhat worse , or are you gonna talk your way out of that too?

    Btw , were you by any chance the captain of your high school debate team . You’re quite good at it.
    Little loose on facts though 🙂

    • The same path was always going to be worse. But probably not the CIA. There would be no need to hide because no one would be looking like they weren’t with Obama in charge.

      (The CIA is its own power structure too. The whole Russia hacking thing, the popular anger being kept up against a sitting President (whatever you may think of him) can also be considered as bargaining tools to enhance/protect their own hold. The President is only one source of power when it comes to US foreign policy)

      What facts did I get wrong?

      • Hey Tom and Shard,
        The international affairs stuff is mildly entertaining, but I want to urge you guys to take up an Arsenal topic that got lost in the earlier conversation:
        1. Tom said there are players from every PL club that could make our squad and improve it (or words to that effect)
        2. Shard challenged him to go club by club and put his money where his mouth is (so to speak)

        I’m genuinely curious what you guys think on this issue (my guess is that Tom was being really hyperbolic, but I’m open to being persuaded).

  16. Why is it that we always debate about what the definition of success is at Arsenal? Are we not one of the richest clubs in the world? There can be only one definition of success and that’s winning the league. Perhaps challenging for the league title but barely missing out on it can be considered semi-successful. Anything else and you are simply drinking Wenger’s Fourth Place Is A Trophy Kool-Aid.

  17. It’s been said before but the greatest Wenger success since the invincibles has been the redefining of what success is.

    • Till 2014, top 4 was definitely a success, and pretty much essential for us. After that, success would be defined as winning or truly challenging for the title. But at the same time, I am aware that success is a gradient and not a step, and all other things being equal, there are 3 clubs more likely to win the title than us. And that is where a manager can make a difference.

      But anyway. It’s apparent that no one wants to debate this anymore, or at least debate this with me, so I’ll hold my tongue. Let’s just see how the season turns out, and then whether we get a new manager. Maybe in the meantime we can talk about something other than Wenger. That would be refreshing.

      • Nice way to wrap up the discussion, Shard. I certainly don’t want to write the same article over and over again, so I’ll try to take on something other than Wenger on the next column.

  18. Till 2014!? Absolutely not.Are you suggesting that Arsenal essentially had no chance of winning the title from 2004-2014?
    I thought that theory was debunked by Atletico, Dortmund, Leicester etc.?

  19. To be fair to Shard, last season was an anomaly but we are not Leicester and even with our limited resources during those years, we had a very real chance of winning it twice (07-08 and 10-11) before we arse’d it up.

    I would love to talk about Arsenal without talking about the manager but right now that’s very, very difficult.

    • And this is the thing. Arsed it up by making the same mistakes over and over again (remember the old defending set pieces hoodoo?), collapsing at identical stages of the season and not addressing known weaknesses. Van Persie, our last elite striker, left 5 years ago. So in lieu of failing to procure someone of that calibre, the manager decided to talk up the best forward he had as centre forward, comparing him to Suarez. He then ditched his Suarez-like forward for Giroud, ansd latterly, the ordinary, unexceptional Danny Welbeck. Who’s the leader of our line? Not even he knows. It all stems from making, as his big summer striker signing, a man who he does not consider good enough to be giving playing time to. I’m actually laughing writing this.

      It’s starting one season with Giroud as his only fit striker, and predictably knackering him into injury. It’s starting another season with only Petr Cech as a reinforcement, when there were glaring personnel shortcomings in the squad.

      Stuff like this also counts against Arsene. Calling 2014 Year Zero is moving the goalposts.I think that the scope of the modern manager’s job is much more vast, and Arsene simply hasn’t kep up on either teh coaching or management side. To think — still — that he’s the best man for the job is the ultimate expression of faith.

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