It is not very often that I start an article here by talking about Manchester United, but in this instance it is relevant. In the most recent crisis at Old Trafford, and in the aftermath of their 5 – 0 home defeat to Liverpool, it looked like Solskjær’s time was up. Thousands of column inches and countless hours on podcasts and the radio were given over to what had gone wrong at the club and what needed to be done. Almost without exception, those criticising the club, the manager, or the hierarchy mentioned that the club had lost its identity. That got me thinking about matters closer to home and, unfortunately, I feel we are in the same position.
Under Arsène Wenger we undeniably had an identity. That goes for all the time of his tenure, even if the identity we had during the last two or three seasons wasn’t one most Arsenal fans were happy about. Before that it was George Graham and the 1 – 0 to the Arsenal era. It is now three and a half years since Wenger left and not only has the club struggled to find any consistent form, but it has also lost its identity.
The world is changing, the footballing one in particular. In fact it has already changed. Newcastle are now the richest club on the planet, Arsenal fans can watch live football on the same screen as playing live casino games, and Steven Gerrard will shortly be managing a side against Liverpool. Arsenal do not have to try to recreate what they had before, either with Graham or Wenger. What they do need to do is to build a team, a squad, and indeed a club that is fit for the EPL and then the Champions League in today’s footballing and financial landscape.
Arsenal have unsuccessfully attempted to go down the old boy route with Freddie Ljungberg, while the jury is still out on Arteta. The debate continues as to the main motivation for choosing Arteta, but that is one for another day. In my opinion where the manager comes from and who he has played for or managed before should be secondary to if he can take hold of the squad and shape them into a competitive unit. Wenger was criticised for looking at a top four position as success. In reality, the top four is all that this club can achieve at the moment, and even that is looking like a more and more difficult task.
The issue of the identity of the club is core to achieving their goal. An identity is not some ephemeral marketing spiel. It is something that needs to be intrinsic to everything the club does. It dictates how they play, from the youths up to the senior squad. It dictates how they recruit. It is not something that can be conjured up out of thin air but instead needs to be worked on, developed and evolved over months or, in all likelihood, over seasons. That, of course, is the problem, with fans and chairmen not willing to give someone the time to achieve it, especially when they are losing ground in the table. The signs are encouraging. Arteta has survived a period that could easily have seen him shown the door, and appears to be building a team capable of holding its own if not more. One can only hope that he, the players and this wonderful club can find a strong identity along the way.