The Law Of Diminishing Returns

20130129-183601.jpgMade a difference, didn’t he?

As another transfer window draws to a close, Arsenal supporters feel a great kinship with those poor bastards who waited for Godot. But why the angst? Why the impending sense of doom surrounding the increasing likelihood that no new signings will arrive? (Make that “actual” new signings. Gervinho is text-book “like a new signing” when he returns from the African Cup of Nations.) Why is it that many supporters lack faith in the ability of the players already at the club to achieve our goals? The answer, I would suggest, is the law of diminishing returns and a growing frustration with the reality of diminished expectations.

It wasn’t so long ago that Arsenal supporters entered any season believing that all the pots could be won. No trophy was beyond our reach. Arsenal lifted Premier League trophies and FA Cup trophies, and while we failed to bring home that beautiful beast with the big ears, we had plenty of seasons where we looked like having a chance at lifting her. But today, Arsenal’s Champions League ambitions are ruled out by many as a joke. I’ve often heard the competition referred to as one we only hope to qualify for without any real ambition of winning.

When it comes to domestic competitions, the picture is almost more bleak. For consecutive seasons the teams at the top of the Premier League have vanished in the distance before the new year. Cup competitions have provided no solace. We’ve suffered FA Cup disappointments and League Cup debacles. All-in-all, the question of what Arsenal Football Club represents has become murkier over the past few seasons.

While revenues have skyrocketed and Arsenal have climbed Forbes’ oft-cited “rich list,” the caliber of players and ambitions at Arsenal have plummeted. I could delve into the question of why this has happened but it’s well traveled ground at this point and I’d likely get all the facts wrong. But I can suggest what I think has happened as a result of the deterioration.

Over the past few seasons, Arsenal has plunged into a crisis of identity that has filtered into the psyche of Arsenal supporters and created an unhealthy schism between the fans and the club. Those running the club claim that Arsenal is still one of the biggest clubs in Europe and not content with merely qualifying for the Champions League. But the club’s actions suggest otherwise. Promises of future success are made against a backdrop of player departures and flagging performances. And that’s left many supporters wondering, “what is Arsenal Football Club?”

That’s why the transfer window has become such an important and contentious subject among supporters. This is a time when the Club can substantiate claims of ambitiousness.

The argument among supporters has become reductive. There are those that believe Arsenal can finish fourth with the current squad. Others suggest that additions are necessary for a top four finish. But I think the real source of frustration stems from a deeper desire for the club to do something that demonstrates a level of ambition that goes beyond qualifying for a competition we can’t win.

The supporters who steadfastly defend the policies of the club and the quality of the side, are those that have accepted Champions League qualification as the metric by which the club’s success should be measured. Those that are hoping for reinforcements, like myself, have become impatient with excuses about “living within our means.” I no longer accept the argument that we cannot compete financially because the evidence is there that we are not using all the resources at our disposal.

What I realize now is that I don’t want new signings because I want Arsenal to finish in the top four. I want new signings because I want reason to believe that the underwhelming Groundhog’s Day season that Arsenal appear to keep repeating is coming to an end. I want evidence that we will use signings, not to replace departing superstars, but as a way of enhancing the quality that is already in the side.

We tend to think of Arsenal’s days of challenging for titles as some kind of distant memory. But that’s not really the case. In 2009-2010, Arsenal were top of the table after 31 games. In 2010-2011, Arsenal were in 2nd place for most of March and April with the top spot in sight. But after that season we lost Cesc Fabregas and Samri Nasri and never looked like competing for a title. After last season we lost van Persie and Alex Song and despite a few solid additions, look further from a title than ever.

Clubs win titles with a few star players and depth at key positions. At this point, Arsenal are lacking in both characteristics and the result is plain to see. We need signings because we need to replenish the depth of talent that has eroded over the past few seasons and we need a big name signing because Arsenal has become a club without a star.

While there is no question that a player like Jack Wilshere can become a superstar at Arsenal, we currently do not have anyone of the caliber of Bergkamp, Henry, Fabregas, or van Persie. I realize those players aren’t easy to come by. And I realize that modern football requires you to pay a hefty sum to bring them to your club. But that’s what is required at Arsenal if we want to demonstrate that there is more to us than a race to be the fourth best club in England.

Which brings us to another sad legacy of our recent decline. In search of reasons to be proud of our club, we’ve resorted to quoting figures off a balance sheet. What happened to just being a fan of football and enjoying what happens on the pitch? What happened to wanting magical things for Arsenal? Instead of hoping that the best players come play for our club, we’ve been left to opine on FFP and argue about whether David Villa is worth more than 8 million Pounds.

Frankly it’s a bit sad. I don’t care what he’s worth and I don’t really care whether he makes sense financially. That’s for other minds to toil over. I think he’s a brilliant player of magnificent pedigree and I’d enjoy seeing him in an Arsenal shirt. I’m not suggesting that the club bankrupt itself in search of glory. (We’re far from doing that.) But I am suggesting that fans have never been forced to be so obsessed with a club’s finances before. It’s only in search of excuses that we cling to financial analysis.

This transfer window isn’t about whether Arsenal have a team that can compete for fourth place. It is about the identity of the club. Even if we finish fourth at the end of this season, what does that guarantee us but another season just like the last? If we fail to sign anyone this window then we are acknowledging that scratching and clawing to finish fourth in the Premier League is sufficient. It’s the club saying to the supporters that winning the Champions League, despite the fact that we are still in the competition, isn’t really a priority. It’s a ratification of our new place in English football, where Arsenal are not taken seriously as being among the best.

Many will read this and write it off. Some will say that we don’t need to make statements in this window. We can do it in the summer. Of course, if we don’t do it in the summer, we can always do it some undefined time after that.

Unfortunately, we’ve all been put in the position of making excuses for the club and apologizing for the club’s negligence recently. We’ve all found ourselves at one time or another, writing off Alex Song as “expendable,” or defending RVP’s sale as “necessary,” or blaming Cesc for holding us “ransom.” But the sad reality is that the club has forced us to make those excuses for them. Either we make those excuses, or we accept the far worse conclusion that Arsenal, as a club, are slowly making the shift from an elite European side, to something a tier below that. And because we don’t want to believe or accept that possibility we make the excuses instead.

We need big signings at Arsenal. We need them to reinvigorate the fans. We need them to compete at the top. We need them to re-establish our identity. And if we don’t get big signings, we may soon be taught a harsh lesson about the law of diminishing returns.

(Thankfully we have real football today to put the focus back where it ultimately belongs. Regardless of what happens Thursday, here’s hoping we smash Liverpool today.)

Come On You Gunners!

About Yankee Gunner

Loyal Arsenal Supporter, Obscure Television Personality
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14 Responses to The Law Of Diminishing Returns

  1. TomNW5 says:

    I appreciate your point of view and know it is not uncommon but I can’t say I share it.
    Arsenal may or may not make a significant signing in the last gasp of this window or in the summer but I don’t think football’s perception of Arsenal’s ambitions should be a meaningful factor. It should and will be decided by other more important elements which basically boil down to; the right player for the right price. Arsene and the Board are both party to those decisions but none of us really know exactly how it works. This leaves room for speculation and it’s rampant and often far-fetched. I prefer to take AW’s word for it, that he enjoys a free hand and makes his picks based on what he thinks will improve the squad whilst taking financials into consideration. Sounds reasonable, right?.
    I think Arsenal’s recent signings have been excellent and show that Wenger still can find a deal even though the market is mad. Give them a full season to bed in and the team a chance to gell and I think we will find our selves in better shape than we thought.
    Arsenal are a world famous team and have a strong identity and are still respected enough for their football ethos to attract the right kind of players, ironically for the AW haters it’s his name as much as anything that makes this the case.
    A combination of AW stewardship, football’s disparities and fate have combined to put the club where it is today. AW’s policies and philosophy I reckon is the most benign of the three. And he is a man governed by philosophy, maybe to a fault, but I think in the long run principle will serve better than none.
    And it’s that sense of culture that Arsenal have become known for ( the old bank of England Arsenal is only remembered by the the pre-Premier generation.) and actually buying a big marquee signing is rather against our style ( Bergkamp Macdonald, Arsharvin not withstanding). Rather we are known to unearth and develop gems. Unfortunately the handful of bigger, richer clubs covet our treasure and plunder it regularly. We are victims of our own success in this regard but I think it’s unfair to blame Wenger for it.
    In the end I think Wenger will buy a big player if he fits and if the wage demands don’t wreck the system and if the player has the right combination of talent, character and a desire to play for Arsenal.
    The current Arsenal squad is very new and still a work in progress. as I’m sure Wenger would admit, but we’ve already seen glimpses of some proper Arsenal football and I feel hopeful.
    If we do end up getting a big name all well and good, I’m sure all gooners would be thrilled but I doubt it would appease AW’s detractors. There’s a level of venom in their rhetoric that shocks me. Do they really believe he hates the club and has no morals?
    The simple fact is that Arsenal are handicapped by two factors more than any other, their commitment to sustainability and other clubs ignorance of it.
    That’s a handicap I can handle, but there are plenty ( a loud minority) that can’t. They can’t see the value in not keeping up with the Joneses at any cost, spend the fucking money, buy the stars and you buy the silverware as Chelsea and City prove.
    I don’t want it that bad, I believe we will challenge again and didn’t slip that far in the first place. More than anything I always enjoy the smug feeling I get doing it the Arsenal way.
    I like your blog by the way.
    Hoping for a win tonight .

    • You make very good points and I don’t completely disagree. I would say that our transfer business has been geared towards a reconfigured set of ambitions. We now build a team that can finish top 4. Not saying we are useless in the market otherwise we’d be midtable. But we aren’t building title contending teams. And while big name signings aren’t really our thing, I believe it’s getting harder to unearth gems as research improves.

    • Tina Mason says:

      My word you speak so much nonsense……Wenger lovers are not welcome

    • Tina Mason says:

      TomNW5 you are everything that is wrong with Arsenal today! Not only do you tolerate medicority but you praise, respect and worship this man who is well past his sell by date and who is utterly clueless. It’s ridiculous how Wenger missed out on so many good players over the years due to his stubborness to buy or his unwillingness to spend an extra 2m on a player i.e Mata for one. Wenger hates the idea of spending and that’ll never change even if he had 500m in the kitty.

  2. Mohammed says:

    i totally agree mate…we need a star…when you speak of Barcelona u can also say messi, Real Madrid (C. Ronaldo) ManU (Rooney, V.Persie :( ..) LivPool (Suarez,Gerrard) Chelsea (Hazard, …) … u get the point. its not more of making a signing…but more of making your intent known… i mean, if we are not ready to compete for signings/transfers then who knows whether we are ready to compete for the trophy…(Any trophy)! And getting a player like Villa is no joke for that matter…we all know what he can do…!
    otherwise…Lets hope we get them three points in the bag tonite…!
    ARSENAL!

  3. begeegs says:

    To be fair, I am not even sure that it is a star that is required, but good players and proper organization. Other than that, yes, I agree with the main point of your blog.

    We have been reduced to talking about finances for some time now when really, with the same players and some proper organization, we would probably be about 8-10 points better off and that doesn’t require any money to do. Unfortunately, the only defense that Wenger has left is his financial prudence, which in itself is a very poor reason to have.

    We have good players, but not enough depth and too much crap on high wages. With a couple of good players in positions in which we lack depth, it would increase the focus of players because of the competition for spots would increase. However, I don’t see that changing anytime soon as long as Wenger is at the helm.

  4. Fox says:

    TomNW5

    I think it is getting increasingly difficult to defend the club’s ambitions when the squad is consistently not augmented despite having the money to do so. By all accounts we have well over £150m in the bank, and the squad clearly is short on forwards. I simply do not believe there is not a forward in the world we could have signed who would improve the squad and increase our chances of getting fourth place. A lot of fans don’t demand that we win trophies these days, but every fan should demand that we do all we can in our power to at least try. If we don’t sign a good forward then I’m sorry, but that is patently not happening.

    I also think your comment about “the right player at the right price” is probably just evidence of what YG is talking about with fans making excuses for the club’s tight fistedness. Why should you or I care what price a player is? I’m fairly sure that actually, Barca probably would sell Villa at the right price, if he wanted to go. He’s on big money, isn’t playing all that often, and they do have a reasonable amount of cover in that position to get them through the season. We can easily afford £15m and £110k/week for Villa on a two year deal. If that would get the deal done, why don’t we do it? Or if they truly won’t sell at any sensible amount, then he’s not the only striker in the world better than Gervinho.

    What is clear is that if we don’t sign a forward tomorrow and go on to finish outside the top four, the manager and the club will have a lot of explaining to do, and it will be a tipping point for a lot more fans. Even more so if David Villa goes to Manchester City. If that happens then Wenger is going to look like an utter fool, unfortunately, and the club will be shown up for penny pinching in a way that will be all but impossible to defend.

  5. I agree we really could do with a big star, somebody in the vein of a David Villa. But we also have players one tier below that: Giroud, Podolski, Wilshere, Walcott. All great players who can push on and become world class, players that we would have to pay 20/25+ mill. pounds for if we tried to get them in the transfer market. And we have Santi Cazorla.

    I understand the appeal of a world class signing: it would give us all a boost, excitement and such a player can really make a difference here and now (like RvP does for ManUtd this season). But even more important than such a player are quality additions to the squad, so that we don’t have to gamble on the fitness of Diaby or Rosicky. It is our squad depth that ends up lacking season after season, thanks to the inevitable injuries. It doesn’t help that AW seems content with running his best players into the red zone/exhaustion, because of a lack of faith in our backup players.

    It would be great to have 2 LBs who are genuinely competing with each other. Similarly 2 CFs, or 4 wingers who are all on a generally even level. But we don’t have that variety in strengths in the squad that would allow Arsene to mix and match more freely.

    My hope is that we secure 4th place this season and next season push on after our squad has a season under its belt gelling together, after all, most of our first team players have only been 1 or 2 seasons at Arsenal. It is encouraging to see that when we do gel, we play so well that it’s like the old Arsenal again.

    • I realize that we already bought Giroud and Podolski for significantly less than 20mill, but at Arsenal they’d improve their profile and could push on to enter the world class bracket of players. (and no, not to just sell them once they do)

  6. TomNW5 says:

    Fox,

    In reality Arsenal have been very active in the transfer market over the last two years and I think the majority of signings have been astute.

    Admittedly the hand was somewhat forced due to defections but still replacements have potential. It turns out it really isn’t very easy to replace RVP but if you get Podolski and Giroud you end up scoring more goals. And I think we are all quite enjoying what we’ve seen of both.

    Cazorla is pure class and when fully settled will surely match Mata. Arteta is gift to any squad. Mertesacker is impressing me more and more.

    Though obviously our defense has been dodgy enough. Part of the problem is Arsenal press and get caught on the break. Also there is the zonal marking business and a tendancy for the team to lose it’s shape.

    Steve Bould is working with Wenger. They will be fully aware of the problems and will be do all they know how to fix them and I tell you what, they know a lot more about fixing football defenses than all the internet coaches and the press combined.
    And for the record, people who say Wenger doesn’t let Bould do his job are just making it up. Unless they work at Colney, how would they know?

    Did you know United, (these days a one-man team, I’m told.) has conceded more goals than Arsenal this season? Still 19 points clear, but anyway…

    Santos, I’ll admit, may not have what it takes though even he has showed the odd glimpse of what Wenger must have thought he was buying.

    Gervinho is hit and miss but not a dud.

    All those players fit the mould and were pricy enough but not ridiculous. The right kind of signings.

    People bang on about the dangers of Arsenal becoming the new Liverpool and propose we spend our way out of it.

    They forget that Liverpool’s “ambition” bought them Andy Carroll. Suarez was not the biggest money signing that year.

    Chelsea spent 50 million on Torres, he couldn’t produce, no sweat for Chelsea they just spend another 200 million the following season.

    Arsenal have a war chest and it’s a decent size because they run a tight ship but Arsenal couldn’t afford a Torres size mistake, believe me.

    I think there will be a big signing, perhaps in the summer. I think Wenger thinks he can get 4th with what he’s got. Encouraged by the rise of Gibbs, the return of Diaby (who could possibly – I’m mean theoretically – do a van Persie and find some fitness), Theo’s growth spurt and the world-class already and happily returned Jack Wilshere.At least he’s prepared to gamble that he can.

    But he has actually said that he is looking for an exceptional striker (as opposed to more general statements he has made in the past) so fingers crossed we’ll get someone tasty.

    I think we’ll be surprised. Most likely not a player we had considered and I expect Arsenal to keep it under wraps till it’s done.

    We can afford to spend a bit and I reckon will but only for the right player. Which is what Wenger always says.

    I think it’s a shame some Arsenal fans have vilified Wenger to the extent they have. For all his faults he’s still damn good. It’s also very sad there is infighting amongst us. Football is a confidence game and I can’t help feeling the young players pick up on the negativity of a noisy minority. It’s not good for them and it’s not good support.

    Sometimes I think there is something TeaParty like about the Anti-Wenger mob. It has become a cause. Now everything is viewed through a prism of bias and distorted. Like the TeaParty believe they are patriots when all they do is obstruct.

    BTW, apparently Barca don’t want to sell Villa and the player doesn’t carry enough Islington DNA to force the issue.

  7. LJB says:

    Fantastic article. BTW,if Spurs or City sign Villa,a player Wenger says is “Not for Sale” does that make his position untenable? I await with interest the end of the transfer window and any subsequent fall out.

    • begeegs says:

      Sadly – no. You will still have fans who will say that the board is stopping him from spending….

  8. KentGooner says:

    NW5. I admire your patience and belief in what you are being spoon fed by a board (addicted to financial stats – with scant regard for glory – apparently that is the domain of the frivolous) and a mouthpiece happy to try and convince of of the 4th place financial trophy.. Super top players such as Park are clear proof of the gamble being taken with our monies (not Wenger’s or Gazidis’) as I believe that Wenger is running scared of trying to replace an RVP/Cesc – far less criticism for spinning the wheel on lesser players and watching them blossom/dive bomb. His comments after last night’s game regarding defensive lapses were that we do not dwell on the negative but try and concentrate on the way we want to play and not the consequences of mistakes smacked of outright head burying in the sand… It was almost as if he was saying ‘you think there is a problem, I don’t see it’? And regards the Par 5 playing at half mast last night.. I hate listening to Jamie Headnap but he was 100% right with regard the BFG’s half hearted attempts at stifling danger.. Wen he commented about Tony Adams and Steve Bould watching that it struck me what the problem is.. We have no heart… Don’t think David Villa will solve that.. We need to get back a winning mentality, not a 4th place mentality.. Sadly more of the wrong signings won’t help that.. They only add to the problem.. Let’s get real, Wenger expressive management style needs some tweaking, sadly Bouldy hasn’t been the answer.. But something needs to change

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