Arsenal- Worrying lessons from the past


Just how bad are things at Arsenal? There’s been a lot of hyperbole around the Gunners demise and it’s hard to argue they’ll do better than 7th this season, with revitalised Everton likely to move into the top six.

There is a certain amount of unrealistic expectation being placed on Arsenal, their place as serial title contenders was only consistently true under Wenger going back to the early 70s. After the 1971 double Arsenal had to wait 18 years for their next title under George Graham. The Graham sides dramatic 1989 crown was followed 2 years later by a second, but they never challenged seriously for the title again until Wenger’s arrival.

Since then the better financed Manchester City & Chelsea sides came along pushing the Gunners down to 4th place finishes. Now they’ve been pushed down further largely due to Liverpool and more painfully Tottenham appointing great managers who can develop talent like few in the game.

The argument for keeping with Wenger is simply who do they think they can get who’s better? Answer no one- the managers of all six English sides rated better than Arsenal are unattainable, and it’s fanciful to think Diego Simeone would want it and Massimilano Allegri doesn’t seem keen either.

The best bet for Arsenal is a young up and coming manager- as Pochettino was when Spurs came calling, Eddie Howe & Brendan Rodgers seem the most likely candidates right now and both would need the help of a strong structure to settle into- something shockingly lacking at Arsenal which increasingly looks like a one man show.

One of the things that sank David Moyes at Manchester United (aside from being David Moyes) was the retirement of David Gill as CEO at the same time Ferguson left, decapitating the club of leadership on and off the pitch. And that’s just the first worrying sign post for where Arsenal are.

Arsenal doing a Leeds?

Leeds United sank from 5 successive top 5 finishes to a relegation dogfight in 2003, ironically surviving with a late season 3-2 win at Highbury. However relegation was confirmed a year later and the club even sank into the third tier for 3 seasons.

Of course suggestions Arsenal are going the same way is over dramatic, Leeds’ demise was caused by the financial mismanagement of then chairman Peter Ridsdale who appeared to finance the club on Wonga and the ensuing downward spiral eventually saw the club in administration, Leeds’ recent revival in the Championship has started from the new ownership of Andrea Radrizzani providing a solid financial base. Arsenal are at least fiscally a well run club whose resources are greater than 90% of the clubs in Europe.

One lesson from up the M1 Arsenal fans should learn is not to over dramatise their clubs issues, cries across the internet and Five Live phone ins from North London howled of ‘heartbroken fans’, ‘club devastated’ et all. Get real! As a Leeds fan living in North London it’s hard not to laugh at the supposed torture suffered by fans having to suffer 1 season outside the Champions League and not being in title contention, instead having to make do with 3 FA Cups in 4 years: try watching your side in League 1 or being run by Ken Bates- that’s pain.

Yes it’s bad at Arsenal but a little perspective is required- especially if you’re a grown man protesting outside the Arsenal training ground holding a ‘Wenger Out’ sign. To their immense credit Leeds fans have always got behind their team on match days, that’s clearly not the case at the Emirates.

Stan Kroenke’s other club

A worrying study for Arsenal fans is their majority shareholder’s ownership of NFL franchise the Los Angeles Rams. Kroenke got involved with the Rams by acquiring a 30% shareholding in the franchise in 1995. He immediately lobbied for a move from LA to St Louis and duly got his way.

On the field things initially went well after relocation- 5 years on from arriving in St Louis the Rams were Super Bowl Champions for the first time in their history. Kroenke engaged in a long battle to gain full control, with confusion off the pitch results returned to mediocrity on it. The Rams employed what is widely seen as a poor front office (player scouting and recruitment) and Jeff Fisher as Head Coach. Fisher was seen as an innovative coach- in the 80s and early 90s; by the time he arrived in St Louis he was seen as old school and over complicating as a coach. Fisher lead the Rams to 4 more painful mediocre seasons whilst Kroenke who refused to fire him (until 2016) spent his time trying to build  new stadium which will eventually arrive in 2018- back in Los Angeles.


A club preoccupied with a Stadium move and little direction off the field. Poor recruitment and a over the hill coach kept around far too long- sound familiar?

If you’re looking for a silver lining here the Rams did eventually replace Fisher with a highly touted young coach in Todd McVeigh and caused a stir in the 2016 NFL draft by trading up heavily to sign young Quarterback Jared Goff- but most see things going backwards in LA before they get better.

Brian Clough and Nottingham Forest

Whilst doing a Leeds is an over the top assessment, the story of their shortest serving manager is perhaps a closer approximation of Arsenal’s problems. Brian Clough achieved staggering feats with Nottingham Forest. Arriving with his reputation on the line following failed spells at Leeds & Brighton, Clough took the small previously unheralded clubs up to the first division in 1977 and a year later pipped all conquering Liverpool to the League title. Things then got even better with back to back European Cup wins and won every coaching accolade possible.

Clough’s formula was remarkably simple- he played a counter attacking style relying heavily on winger John Robertson to break. Clough was allowed to spend the fruits of Forest’s success and bought shrewdly most notably Peter Shilton & making the first million pound signing in Trevor Francis.


But as the 80’s rolled in Forest slid back to Top six contenders rather than title winners as the Merseyside clubs dominated English football and new young managers such as Robson, Venables & Taylor took smaller clubs to the higher echelons of English Football whilst Forest lacked the resources to match Liverpool & Everton. Forest got a reputation as a selling club- particularly to Manchester United with Viv Anderson, Gary Birtles & Peter Davenport all heading to Old Trafford for big cheques.

Clough went from pragmatist to purist developing a neat passing style of play with which Forest became synonymous. However the trophies dried up with only 2 League Cup triumphs at the end of the decade added to the trophy cabinet. By the dawn of the Premier League era Forest were seen as a side who on their day could beat anyone but could also ship 5 goals on a bad one.

Clough’s Forest were the earliest casualty of the early Premier League falling into relegation trouble in the new leagues debut season with Clough refusing to move to a more direct style to fight off relegation. Forest were relegated in 1993 with Clough retiring, leaving Barry Davies in tears at his final post match interview.


Forest’s demise had been caused by not being able to compete financially with the Merseyside clubs and a lack of alternative voices in the backroom staff (longtime cohort Peter Taylor retired in 1982) as the club increasingly became a one man show.

It paints a very similar picture to what we’re now seeing at Arsenal, admittedly Clough’s decline wasn’t helped by a drink problem but the pattern is eerily similar.

Where Now? 

I like many thought things would actually change this summer but clearly they didn’t, Arsenal need to appoint a Director of Football even if they initially answer to Wenger so the club can survive when the Frenchman goes and have a handover strategy in place. One of that man’s key responsibilities should be to identify the long term successor to Wenger.

Wenger himself needs to start prepping his players for specific opponents- as he clearly did at Wembley for the Cup Final, it’s truly incredible this doesn’t seem to happen consistently. Arsenal also need to take the Europa League seriously- like United last season this may be their easiest route back to the Champions League.

Finally the atmosphere at the Emirates has to improve, it’s one thing for fans to voice their opinions but the toxic atmosphere at home games is only making matters worse- get behind your team even if not the manager or owners.




Leave a Reply