Jonathan Blaustein’s column: weird scenes inside the gold mine

“This is the end, beautiful friend/ This is the end, my only friend, the end/ Of our elaborate plans, the end/ Of everything that stands, the end…”

If you have a look at the quote above, without context, it could’ve been written by an English Romantic poet.

Someone effete.

Or maybe it’s a bad high school poem? Lord knows, we’ve all written some of those.

But most of you know it’s a song, by “The Doors,” and in Jim Morrison’s deep throaty rumble, it’s genuinely mortifying. I’m not sure when he wrote the song, but I’ll look it up.


And when did Jim Morrison die? Sorry, another pause…1971. He was 27 years old.

Jim Morrison. Janis Joplin. Jimi Hendrix. Kurt Cobain.

We all know their stories. They died young, in their prime. (Too young, most of us would say.) They never had the chance to stay on-stage too long.

Tom Petty and Prince died because of drug overdoses too, but they were in their 60s and 50s respectively, decades removed from their best music. “Raspberry Beret” and “Freefallin'” we’re a long time ago, if we’re being honest.

Whether it’s the “Rolling Stones” wearing too-tight-clothes as grandpas, or Bruce Springsteen starting to sound like a whale, most musicians will keep going out there as long as people are willing to pay.

The sports world is different, yet the same.

Think of how many athletes really went out on top? Or coaches for that matter? Fergie, sure. Michael Jordan, likely the best basketball player of all-time, tried twice to leave at his peak, and still has that embarrassing tenure at the Wizards.

Jim Brown left early. So did Barry Sanders. And Calvin Johnson. (People must really hate living in Detroit.)

When I plumbed my brain, thinking about sports I’ve followed for decades, I really can’t think of many people who jumped before they were pushed.

It almost never happens.

Every other kid in Texas is named Landry, yet the legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry was put out to pasture so Jerry Jones could hire Jimmie Johnson, who immediately won two Super Bowls. (Kind of three, since Barry Switzer was really just a robot with the Jimmy Johnson operating system.)

I was 100% sure Arsene Wenger was done last year, and wrote him a kiss-off letter in this column. But then, like the gambler he is, Arsene rode one last lucky-hot-streak to win the FA Cup and keep his job.

If you imagine him a degenerate gambler in Vegas, the sweaty guy who’s in-deep to the wrong people, but occasionally gets hot, so he keeps gambling, convincing himself he’s going to hit that last big score and dig his way out, but he never really chops down the debt, does he?

Guys like that don’t get the happy ending, unless they pay for it at the Chicken Ranch afterwards.

Does this not sound like what we’ve been watching the last seven seasons?

Now poor-ol’Arsene’s down to his last card.

I believe he won’t be managing Arsenal next season no matter what, but objectively, the only chance he’s got is to win the Europa League.

Given his team’s form, it seems so unlikely. And we’ll know by Thursday anyway. If we get spanked in Milan, like we did last time, the death march will be on.

I don’t think there’s any way we win this game, but I suppose it’s at least possible we don’t get destroyed. Does it even matter anymore?

Thierry Henry is angling for the job in public. Leaks come from the club with potential lists of replacements. Josh Kroenke is living in London.

It’s all real.

I admit, as a part-time pundit, I realized things were done later then Tim, probably everybody at Arseblog, and definitely Pete at Le Grove.

I’m no Nostradamus.

But Arsene Wenger had his chance to leave on top last summer, but couldn’t walk away from the table. It’s against his nature.

Instead, his power has been slowly sucked, while he struggles on the end of the hook. This team started massively rebuilding before we necessarily realized it, but now it’s full-steam, so we have no idea what comes next.

Look at this list: Gabriel, Oxlade-Chamberlin, Szczesny, Debuchy, Jenkinson, Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, Alexis, and Francis Coquelin have all departed since summer.

Incomers: Lacazette, who’s out of form and currently broken, Kolasinac, who almost broke someone’s head off in his last game, and is also out of form, Mkhitaryan, who’s had one brilliant game and several that were a bizarro version thereof, and P-E Aubamayang, who’s mostly looked the part. (If a little weak against Vincent Kompany.)

9 first-teamers out, (not including loanees Joel Campbell, Chuba Akpom and Lucas,) and 4 in.

People currently guaranteed to stay: Ozil, Mkhi, Auba… anyone I’m missing? Should we be generous and include Lacazette?

Players who have value, but might move on: Bellerin, Ramsey, Mustafi, Xhaka, Lacazette (We’ll put him in two places for now.)

Players who are old, and cannot be sold for real money: Kos, Nacho, (still valuable,) Cech

Retiring: Per Mertesacker

Permenantly crocked, and out of contract: Santi Cazorla

Young players who might be worth playing: Eddie, Reiss Nelson, AMN, Alex Iwobi, Joe Willock

Squad players who can sold for something: Kola, Chambers, El Neny, Holding, Ospina, Danny Welbeck

Free agents likely off: Jack Wilshere

You might disagree here or there with one of my designations, but this team is less-than-halfway through a full turnover.

We’ve all made fun of Stan Kroenke in the past, for good reason, but at the moment, with the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Rams, it’s looking like he’s put people in place who know how to build things.

What we’re about to watch over the next few months might not be pretty. It’s not IMPOSSIBLE that Arsene might save a bit of grace here or there, but this is the end.

Believe me.

Given how strong the other teams are in the top six, unless Arsenal get extremely lucky, I think even with a hot new coach, it’ll likely take two to three seasons to challenge for that top four spot again.

But Arsenal will bring in a coach with a plan, which will probably include pressing. We’ll get our own new-style-coach who does the tactics, the preparation, runs hours of classroom time, and understands analytics properly. (i.e., passing percentage alone is meaningless, as Tim has always said.)

It will likely be an attacking style of football. (I don’t expect Simeone.)

Maybe we’ll challenge for bigger trophies? Maybe we won’t. But the endless loop that’s existed since I started watching, in Robin Van Persie’s last season, will most certainly be over.

And I expect our fondness for Arsene Wenger will return sooner than you think, once he’s gone.


  1. What i don’t understand is how can someone who spends all of his time thinking about football, like wenger does, not have a plan? I really hope he comes out with an autobiography

  2. Let’s all pause to enjoy Spurs getting dumped out of the Champions League by Juventus.

    Good piece, JB. But I got a headache just reading it. Hang on to your hats, folks. This’ll be a summer like no other.

    1. Thanks. As wild as things have been the last 2 seasons, look out. This summer will be super-cray for sure.

    2. Wow. It was widely reported that we were in for Dybala and it was between us and Juve. Can you imageine..?

  3. Great piece JB. Earlier today I stumbled on your “Arsenal’s death spiral” piece from exactly a year ago. This bit stood out:

    “I’ll publicly recant, if necessary, but I think AVB was prophetic four years ago. I think Arsene’s players, or enough of them anyway, have given up on ever winning big trophies under his leadership. I think they’re frustrated to be so thoroughly outclassed by the other Top 6 sides, and I think they’re thinking about summer vacation.”

    One of the saddest things about our malaise is the fact that people like Villas-Boas and Le Grove don’t seem so dumb anymore.

    1. Le Grove still seems dumb. He and that dotard from ANR have been bleating about Wenger since about 2008, when I think it is pretty difficult to argue he wasn’t doing a pretty solid job given the restraints of the austerity era.

      Oddly, and mostly unrelated, the Austerity Era is often called the Banter Era but I think that’s really a more apt title for the current epoch.

      1. Nah, the Banter Era was very aptly named. It was epitomised by tragicomic games like the 4-4 against Newcastle, Bendtner’s catastrophic miss at the Nou Camp, Obafemi Martins’ late winner against us in the League Cup final, Kieran Gibbs’ slip in Champions League Semi-Final against Utd, and Wenger holding onto Pat Rice for dear life in the last few minutes of that game we needed to win to make top 4.

        The current era… I don’t even know how to describe the last few seasons where the more we spend, the lower we fall in the table. It’s beyond me.

        Didn’t know ANR guy was still out there. Both his and Le Grove’s takes on the game were atrocious. But around the time Henry left in ’07 and we had the near-miss in ’08 people started asking the simple question ‘can Wenger win another title?’. Unfortunately some really terrible bloggers, pundits and journalists with hugely unethical anti-Arsenal biases had the right answer all along (even if it was for the wrong reasons).

        Some fans took the club’s explanations about the financial restrictions and the imperative of 4th place to heart. Some fans felt that didn’t excuse the tactical disasters, the thrashings by rivals, and the weird squad-building decisions. I still want to know who signed off on handing Bergkamp’s shirt number to William bloody Gallas.

    2. Agreed. If I forecast that you will eventually die but it takes 80 years, do I get to claim to have the Sight? Isn’t that the same thing as when people pat themselves on the back for being right about Wenger 10 years later?

  4. Yep, 2-3 years is right. All of the pieces are in place for a transformation. Raul, Sven, some open salary space, and a departing (we can hope) coach. It can go 2 ways. They hire a placholder coach in the summer – like Ancelotti – who looks respectable, but won’t have the vision to rebuild effectively, and will be gone in 2 years, seeing Ozil and Auba’s last good years wasted. Or they hire a younger, more dynamic “modern” coach who gels with the players and brings back the excitement within 2 years. Waiting to see if we have the guts to do the latter. A Nagelsmann or Jardim type to help build something special.

  5. Tim – What do you make of Low as a potential replacement? Obviously has Germany World Cup cred, the Ozil relationship, had Mustafi looking respectable in Confedrations Cup last year, I imagine he knows Sven, too. Solid tactically, too. If he has strong support from the new hires, for player contracts and scouting I could see possibilities. Just can’t imagine him managing World Cup and helping with a rebuild in one summer.

    1. I’m not in on Low. I understand that Hongistein’s Deutschcentric hagiographies make any German manager look the business, but I’m not convinced that managing one of the 5 best national sides in the world for 12 years to a couple of big trophies is all that impressive. I think he’s done a fine enough job there, and he certainly is more in tune with the modern football than Wenger, but I’m not remotely convinced he’s going to be a success at club level.

      I think hiring him would be mostly a nod to Germanification of the club, but like JB, I’d rather see a successful club manager come, preferably one who wasn’t beholden to any of the current squad. A guy like Jardim or maybe Favre from Nice or even Peter Bosz or maybe Emery after he inevitably gets sacked by PSG appeals as the next guy in charge to build for the future.

      The smartest play is probably a transitional manager like Ancellotti or Benitez and then you get the next big thing afterwards, like maybe Santo from Wolves.

      As long as we skip the Moyes post-legend appointment in Brendan Rogers, I’m happy with anyone not named Wenger in the dugout ASAP.

      1. We’ve just handed out a massive contract to Mesut Ozil so it would make sense to get someone who knows him and who he likes. I’m not saying it’s as simple as that but it has to figure largely in the equation. At this point, I think we could do a lot worse than Low. Even if he is a gamble, it’s a gamble that could pay off spectacularly (or the opposite, but humor me here) because nobody really knows how good he will be at it. He could fail but he could also be great! It’s true he and Klinsy (mostly Low though) worked wonders with Germany; I particularly enjoyed the piece about how the players were barracked away from their friends in Brazil to avoid cliques forming, cellphones were outlawed at mealtimes, and the camp was so far away from civilization nobody had the time to go party on the beach. More than that, he orchestrated what has been consistently the best team in world football and while the standard of competition is certainly not the same, nor is the volume of games, it’s still an accomplishment worth applauding and he did win the World Cup (with Mesut Ozil in the team!). Maybe I’m talking myself into it. Strangely Low’s reputation has always been higher outside of Germany than among the Mannschaft supporters, but given the results it’s hard to think they’d have too much to complain about. What I’m saying is I don’t doubt his ability, he’s got too much good work to show to be a pretender. I wonder though if he has the stomach for the every day hurly -burly of it, the twice/thrice weekly pressers, the constant media noise, the generalized frenzy of the PL… I think that’s where he might sniff and turn his nose up at the whole thing. And I wouldn’t really blame him.

    1. I’m sure Low might do well, for the reasons you’ve given, and Tim will have far more info at his disposal than I do. But personally, I’d like to see a hungry, successful club coach who wants to scrap with the other big boys, a la Jardim, or someone of that ilk. If somehow Allegri wanted to come, b/c of his competitive spirit, and a boatload of cash, he’d be perfect too.

  6. Dark days ahead. We have some young talent but not enough. And we don’t have the spending power to go and fill all the gaps through the market. It will take a while to restock the pond (academy) and create a new core. We’re looking at regular 6th, 7th place finishes for the next 2-3 years until Sven can create a steady flow of young talent into the club and up into the first team.

    I don’t know why anyone would laugh at Spurs. They did better than we ever would have against a great team.

    1. All that praise in the media for Poch and the Spurlings and still nothing to show for it. If it was Arsenal they’d have to hear about Trophy Drought after every single god-blessed fixture, but they’re Spurs and people think it’s great that they try hard and stuff and don’t lose by too much.

    2. “I don’t know why anyone would laugh at Spurs”

      Because it’s funny. They were singing and “dreaming” just before Higuain put the ball in the net.

  7. I think you’re right about a lot of stuff JB but I doubt we’ll see that much squad turnover this summer after all the sales we’ve just made. Players are under contract, they will stay, and I think Wilshere will too, It will be turbulent enough just getting a new manager on board. I do think we need to buy a central midfielder and I would go all out for Thiago Alcantara, who probably is not for sale and probably is not interested in coming to Arsenal of all places, but that’s who I would try first. Pipe dream! But yeah, that’s the type we require, a game controller and tempo setter in the center of the park. Maybe Mardrid will cast off Kroos or Modric? I can dream. Maybe Tim has some more realistic suggestions. I’ve heard Julian Weigl’s name a lot and if we get Low, that could be one way we look especially with Mislintat’s connections.

    1. I think we’ll see a CB and a CM come in. Per is out, Kos is struggling. Mustafi needs another presence next to him, and Holding, Chambers and Mavropanos are too young.

      We also need a GK but I think this will be addressed only after these two positions because we’ll likely give Cech another season with Martinez as his deputy if we can’t get this done. (Budgetary reasons)

      I also think we should look at a young winger who can dribble past players because that’s something we lack since Alexis. And a backup RB. (I’m presuming Bellerin is staying) But I expect Nelson to be given a shot and we’ll make do with a combination of Chambers/Mustafi/AMN as backup, apart from someone from the reserves.

  8. Wenger couldn’t walk away but it’s not like he was pushed. The club offered him a contract. Tim maintained that the idea behind the new 2 year deal was faux stability while the club rebuilds. I’m not sure about the faux part, but the rebuild is well and truly on.

    Wenger has generally tried to keep squad changes to a minimum (max 3 or too much instability he said) but we’ve roared ahead with changes, and as you say this is only about halfway. We’ve got in and allowed a new head scout, new football director (I am not sure what he does but he seems like a link between the football, financial, and commercial side of things), and a new contract negotiator to get their feet under the table. Next season we’ll have our captain appointed as the new academy chief. I think when he signed on Wenger knew this was the plan and had to happen for the club to move on. I don’t think he saw it as an erosion of his power as long as he had final say on transfers and training.

    The next step of course is to say goodbye to our legendary manager. If we win the Europa league (I am not confident at all) I think the club might just decide to keep Wenger on while they finish the rebuilding job. Unless of course the new manager they want is available right then. (I don’t mean in terms of money, but personal reasons) All I know is we’re likely going to move to the continental structure where the manager is little more than a coach. So the squad building side of things doesn’t necessarily need too much input from him.

    I don’t get the idea behind a placeholder. Don’t most managers these days last a relatively short while at a club? I don’t think we’ll see Ancelotti. (Especially if his relationship with Ozil wasn’t great) A Spanish or more likely, a German coach with an attacking philosophy, who gives young players chances, is tactically oriented, and has the man management skills, would be my guess. Who meets this criteria?

    Low might be a fair bet. He’s got the chops on the man management side and his football philosophy suits us. He’s given many young players chances in the national team. No idea about tactics but can’t be bad at that. Also importantly, the job won’t be too big for him. Moreover he’ll fit into the German culture of the club. His only downside is that he hasn’t been in the regular grind of club football for many seasons. Is he up to it? Is he even up for it? We won’t know until we know. But he seems a decent bet to me. (A dark horse would be Marcelino, but his track record isn’t quite as good except for the current turnaround at Valencia.) I can’t quite say why but I don’t think Jardim and Arsenal will be a good fit. Though I understand the appeal.

  9. Yes, you’re right, he still has a lot of detractors over here. Partly it is from the PASHUN crowd that is not onboard with the change of attitutde towards a more thoughtful, metrosexual kind of masculinity and image. But there is also the fact, that he has the most talented generation of german footballers in a long, long time. The job has been very cosy with him knowing and working with the players for a long time and being beneficiary of their development. He has mnanaged the development of the identity of the national side very well, from the counter attacking team that tore through England and Argentina to the possession-heavy side that it is now. Then there is e.g. the loss against Italy at the Euros, which he botched.
    But as I said, the job has been very cosy, there’s not much to suggest he has the right profile, because the job at hand at Arsenal will be anything but.

  10. Two thoughts:
    Most popular /=/ best. Free Fallin’ is far from Tom Petty’s best.

    The way Kroenke’s run the Nuggets is open to much criticism.

    1. Dude, lighten up. I actually saw a Tom Petty cover band a month ago. Does it matter if I’d referenced “Runnin’ Down a Dream” or “American Girl?” Re: the Nuggets, I’m speaking of now. Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic are the makings of an excellent core, plus Milsap. Hell, I saw an article this week comparing Harris to Kawhi Leonard. Trading Donovan Mitchell was a huge miss, but in general, they draft well, and have a lot of young talent.

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