By Jonathan Blaustein
Well hello there fellas.
How’ve you been?
Sorry I’ve been away a while, but I’ve finally got going on my first screenplay, so all the extra brain space has gone to that.
When Tim got sick last week, though, I realized I needed to get myself back in the saddle.
Every day, I checked the blog five times, waiting for a new article. I knew something had to be wrong. Why would he take a week off, if everything were normal?
I should’ve texted to see if he was okay. (Sorry, dude.) Instead, I’m paying it forward by writing again.
But who am I kidding? I always felt like the best thing I could do here was give a little perspective, so how could I not want to talk about this bat-shit-crazy, oh-my-god-what-the-fuck-just-happened, January transfer window?
I don’t want to start off attacking Arsene Wenger again, because I sent him a kiss-off letter over a year ago now. (You know I think he’s done as a world-class manager.)
But in that letter, I mention the case of former New York Giants football coach Tom Coughlin. He got fired, and was replaced with his younger assistant, who promptly took the team back to the playoffs.
It was clear at the time the old coach had lost a power struggle with the team’s younger general manager, Jerry Reese. Each man was around for the Giants two Super Bowls victories over the Patriots, so it was hard to know, from the outside, who had more to do with the success.
But now it’s 2018, and Tom Coughlin is in charge of the Jacksonville Jaguars. As you may know, he just got his team within a whisker of the Super Bowl. His previous sadsack club almost beat Tom Fucking Brady!
And as for Jerry Reese? The General Manager who survived? Well, both he and new coach Ben McAdoo were fired before this season was out, something unprecedented in history of the franchise.
It’s very clear the Giants organization bet on the wrong horse, so to speak.
Last summer, it seemed for all the world like Arsene Wenger had bested Ivan Gazidis in a similar power struggle at Arsenal. “Catalyst for Change” was used as an ironic cudgel to bludgeon the nerdy executive, after the savvy, Gallic über-manager outfoxed him again.
We know Stan Kroenke loves him some Arsene. But sitting here, in my horse pasture in New Mexico, I think it was Josh Kroenke, the son, who really started pulling the strings.
Over here in America, it’s rare that any team will EVER have a lame-duck coach. (A guy with one year left on his contract.) Teams always move on, or give the guy an extension.
Last year, Arsenal proved why this is such a truism. The season was ruined by the suspense of whether Wenger would be back. After the EPL carnage, and FA Cup success, we all know they gave him a two-year contract.
Which then set this year up to be another wasted season, with the Sanchez and Ozil contract dramas looming.
As a sometime pundit, I’m aware of the meta-narrative that we all talked about for five or six years, where every Arsenal season was the same. If I had a dollar for every “Groundhog Day” article I’ve read, I’d buy you all a pint.
So how did we get here? So much change, so quickly.
Arsenal now have Director of Football, and a Head of Transfer Strategy, in everything but name. There are men at the club now doing what was certainly a massive part of Wenger’s job as recently as last season.
Think about this: while the delegation was in Dortmund, Arsene was back in London, presumably coaching his team. Whereas previously he tried to be in two places at once, now he doesn’t have to. And for all the shitty Premier league performances, it’s still possible for the club to pick up silverware this year.
But as soon as we reach May, no matter what, he’s back in lame duck territory. Do we really think Arsenal’s new power structure, coming from the successful clubs they did, is going to risk tanking another season with Wenger uncertainty?
Super, duper unlikely.
Tim’s been banging the drum that this will be Arsene’s last season for a while now, and he’s got me convinced. That’s why this January rebuild was so incomprehensibly big.
Back in the early season, I was an advocate of benching Alexis and Ozil, when necessary. Having athletic, defensive forwards seemed to be a way of balancing the weakness at the back.
But then Maitland-Niles was conscripted into the team, and it became pretty clear, pretty quickly, that Arsenal weren’t going anywhere without their match-winners. Even though Alexis’s form was often off, and it took Ozil time to play himself back into TopForm, without their high-end creative talent, the team was lost.
Having a guy with Alexis’s shitty attitude though, is a clear chemistry killer. He needed to go, but what were the odds of Arsenal coming up with a sufficient replacement in January?
That’s where we stand now. Aubameyang. Mkhitaryan. Are you kidding me?
We’re literally plugging the speedy, lethal, Dortmund superstars directly into the starting lineup?
Everybody wants to see this. This new team-based executive approach is impressive as hell. (At least at the start.)
And it is most certainly, most definitely, inarguably, something new. (As was the now-regularly-impressive Ozil signing a new contract, rather than departing for greener pastures.)
Arsenal can make the Champions League again if they win the Europa League. And we’re one lucky win away from a trophy in the Carabao Cup.
At this point, I think changes are coming in the summer, no matter what. But if Arsene Wenger can pull in one of those trophies, much less both, the man will go out on top.
As it should be.