Arsenal Quo Vadis or Caveat Emptor?

Pain

I had to ask myself which was more painful the 2-hour, 6000+ yard Sunday Double Swim or another Arsenal loss and the answer was quite clear, the swimming. Perhaps most obviously, it hurt (as usual) to push myself swimming with the great guys and gals in Lane 1 (formerly Lane 8 in the outdoor now gone LCM pool) with all kinds of past and current swimming pedigrees. But perhaps worse in some respects, we have all become inured to seeing Arsenal fall apart far too often and more frequently than in the past. I was not able to watch the game, but checked the score between sessions, so I cannot offer an opinion on the quality – or significant apparently – lack thereof, but I do react to another inexplicable loss.
As an athlete, few things bother me more than being ahead in a race or practice and getting caught although I admit I take pleasure in swimming someone down. (Studies among athletes have been done to see if one performs better leading or from the pack).
Importantly, as a champion you – or a team – is supposed to beat other good teams and absolutely win games against those not theoretically nor clearly as good. Arsenal does neither and now is inconsistent with increasing frequency. While at times they do seem to get going; I well remember the November 18 2-0 win versus Tottenham coming back after the 3-1 loss against Manchester City and the more recent Dec 22 open 3-3 game versus Liverpool.
This was a very bad week for Arsenal and Wenger. First a pathetic game versus Nottingham Forest who has played with 20 managers in the time Wenger has led Arsenal and were led by an interim manager. There was somewhat a reprieve in the 0-0 tie against Chelsea then this loss versus Bournemouth whom they handled 3-0 at The Emirates in September.
To cap it off, what was apparent to virtually every observer of PL Football for the past year is that Sanchez is really going to leave, and within 48 hours of Sunday. Let’s be honest with each other and ourselves.
As an interesting aside, in the three games between Arsenal and Chelsea since Arsenal’s 2-1 FA Cup win last May all have ended in ties. And they play the return leg of EFL Cup in 9 days.

Touchline Band and Referee Performance

Prior to this bad week, was another poor period with the tie versus West Brom, another against Chelsea – see above – and the 3-game touchline ban, Wenger’s second recent one in a category where he finally leads Jose by 7 missed games to 3. A few questions on this topic:
1. Does a ban make any difference?
2. Was Jose partially responsible for the penalty call against Arsenal’s Callum Chambers in the West Ham game?
3. And most important, were these correct calls by the referees?

Recently the BBC addressed this topic with the statistics going back to August 2016 suggesting it made no difference, “There was a tiny difference. The average points per game during touchline bans was 1.03 as opposed to 1.27 under normal circumstances, which could be due to chance.”
Some take a different view, “Wenger speaks frequently to his players throughout the match and so has an important impact on the game” says Dr Marco Beato, a sports scientist at the University of Suffolk.
Sports psychologist Bradley Busch takes a more strident view, “The first is the speed with which instructions can be relayed, and the second is psychological. “It’s a very fast-paced game – the picture on the pitch might look dramatically different to how it did one or two minutes before,” he says. And players tend to like consistency and certainty. If things are different it tends to stress people out. I’d be amazed if the win ratio wasn’t lower. I’d almost bet my mortgage on it.”

So whom do we believe? And did it make any difference i.e. would Arsenal have won the two games they lost (Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth) or the Chelsea tie had Wenger been on the bench?
I’ll take the stats as a derivative trader and observer of Arsenal. If you feel differently, please offer your opinion.

Next, how well did the referees do making the correct calls? While I’m, impartial or try to be, let’s refer to the reviews by Pundits and Ex-referees who evaluated five Arsenal games. Of these games, in 3 (60%) the referees made the/a wrong call, 3 of the 6 (50%) in question. If the calls had all been made correctly, Arsenal would have beaten West Brom 1-0, possibly won at Watford or tied and who knows about the Man City game where they lost 3-1, but unlikely. Wenger and us all would take the points – and avoided the touchline ban.

In the real world, how does a 50 score do? A surgeon would be out of business or in court perpetually; even a traffic cop would not last long making as many mistakes; etc. While I grant they try to make the right call, they simply do not and with increasing frequency. This past weekend, a very obvious handball resulted in the unfair goal by Watford to tie Southampton. Certainly, immediate and broad implementation and importantly proper use of VAR needs to be agreed.

Finally, did Jose’s two recent comments about unfair decisions for not rewarding ManU penalties, one for a handball in their recent games against Manchester City (Dec 10 by Michael Oliver) and Southampton (Dec 30 by Craig Pawson) play any part in Mike Dean’s incorrect decision I the West Brom handball decision? While not his psychologist, it has to be on PL referees mind, so possibly.

What’s Next?

I will at The Emirates to watch in person the rematch with Crystal Place who have revived under Roy Hodgson to see for myself. By then hopefully we will know if Sanchez leaves and where. The same question may be asked of Ozil who is similarly out of contract this summer, free to negotiate now, but far less unsettled with Arsenal than Sanchez.

Whoever “inherits” Arsenal as Manager either at the end of this year or next, will clearly need to rebuild for Arsenal to ever get back into a Champions League position or remain competitive enough to continue to attract fans and sponsors.
Quite honestly, that is the biggest issue with Arsenal: ownership seemingly cares little about winning the Premier League again or certainly to challenge for the Champions League. Mr. Kroenke cares about profitability. Full stop. Yes, let’s be profitable like Manchester United, but also care about winning and pursue that goal. All top clubs are owned by billionaires, as are some far from the top, and competition to win will only grow.
That costs.
Pay me now or pay me later.

Interestingly, in looking at Kroenke’s sports assets, with the exception of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche who won the Cup the season they were bought by Kroenke who developed the Pepsi Center where they play, none of his teams has won their league, mostly being mediocre performers. I would suggest this suggests a lackluster future for Arsenal ever truly deciding to win.
Another poor job by an American owner methinks.
(The history of their purchase was convoluted and too lengthy to discuss here, so go to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stan_Kroenke and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorado_Avalanche)

This column has opined on possible Wenger replacements and the list will evolve. But let’s start that process now. Probably the worst attribution to any sports team is: “it’s a rebuilding year.”