“Alas”, said the mouse, “the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into.” “You only need to change your direction,” said the cat, and ate it up.
A Little Fable, by Franz Kafka.
This ‘little fable’ by Kafka has been a favourite of mine ever since I read it for the first time, back in the late eighties. I was introduced to Kafka by the father of one of my housemates during my student years. He was a semi-famous Dutch writer and knew from his son that I was very interested in literature. He handed me a copy of Kafka’s Der Prozess (The Trial) with the words: ‘This will get your brain working’.
I was working as a cleaner in a factory that produced plastic bottles for shampoo etc during the summer holidays, and when I complained to my manager that I had feck all to do, he took me aside and said he knew there was not enough work but they did not want to lose the hours on the contract, and that I should simply try to look busy. For the next few days, I ended up locking myself in the cleaning cupboard reading Kafka’s masterpiece. Anybody who has read The Trial will know that it is a surreal and creepy story, and I could not have wished for a better place to read it than in a dingy cleaning cupboard of a soul-destroying factory in the middle of a colourless industrial estate.
After The Trial, I read more work by Kafka and ‘A little Fable’ always remained at the forefront of my brain. Although Kafka apparently wrote it as just a bit of fun, I feel it is a brilliant anecdote for the cyclical, trial-and-error nature of our lives.
It somehow makes me think about the predicament Arsène Wenger has had to face over the last seven years, and is likely to continue to face for the foreseeable future. The decision to build a new stadium and the unfortunate, simultaneous arrival of the Southern and Northern Oilers, have forced Arsene to ‘change his direction’ a number of times in order to remain competitive and somehow stay firm towards his vision of football for our, and his, beloved Arsenal.
On a number of occasions over the last few years, Arsene had to face the cat that ate him up and spat him out again, telling him every time to change his direction in order to avoid it happening again.
Arsène knew he was entering the final part of his management career and, a visionary as he is, will have foreseen the above mentioned developments and their likely impact on the club and therefore on him, and yet he decided to stay loyal to us – despite strong rumours of a number of overtures by clubs with far superior financial means than Arsenal. For that, I will always remain thankful to him.
Due to a lack of financial means, he invested heavily in bringing through young players. In the meantime, he let go a significant number of experienced (and expensive) players – either by choice or somewhat forced upon him by the club in order to make the books balance. Initially, the departures did not appear to hurt us too much. Vieira was, for example, replaced relatively well by Fabregas, and the departures of Toure and Adebayor to Citeh did not leave large holes for us either.
But Arsène did not have much budget available for quality/experienced player additions, which forced him to field relatively young sides that lacked experience over the last few years.
He built a team around Fabregas and on a number of occasions we came close to winning something. Maybe with a bit more luck, Arsène and Fabregas would have succeeded but it was clear something was missing: experience, strength in depth, cohesion, the right (fighting) spirit; you name it.
Just when Arsène started to get on top of things with his team led by Fabregas, and an improved budget appeared to be made available to him so he could once again add some experienced players, Cesc, Clichy and Nasri all had to be sold, for various reasons. And although he was able to buy a number of experienced new players, it became clear he had to start again and go through another transitional year.
However, after a difficult start, the team started to gel better and better and brave sir robin had the season of his life. We finished third and there is a feeling that with the signing of Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla we could confidently make the final push toward the top-prizes.
But once again our star-players are sold: Song, brave sir robin, and almost Theo – either in order to make the books balance, or to avoid having disgruntled players in our squad whilst losing out on their potential sales value.
Just imagine, we would have been able to keep hold of brave sir robin and Song and added Cazorla and Podolski this summer. We would once again have spent a lot less than the Chavs (1/3) and both manc clubs (1/2) and yet have a team that can compete against anybody.
It just looks like every time Arsène is about to put the final shape of his Russian dolls around his team building work, somebody comes and takes one of the smaller, internal dolls away, forcing him to start again.
As a result, we are in strong danger of being in perpetual transition; of never being able to pick all the fruits of Arsène’s vision and unbelievable hard work.
Early signs, regarding the latest team Arsene has been able to put together are looking promising, though. The new additions have hit the ground running, especially Cazorla and Podolski, and Giroud had a positive impact in the first few games as well. A number of young players are coming through quickly and have claimed, or are competing hard, for first team places. On top of that, the arrival of Steve Bould appears to have given us a better structure and discipline to our defence: an absolute necessity if we are ever to win something again.
The excellent win against Pool offers us real hope of what this team might be capable of. But there remains a feeling of unease for us all.
What will happen when the next summer TW opens again: will we be subject to more transfer shenanigans; will our best players once again leave us? And will Arsène be forced to start building again?
The good news is that Arsène seems to be allowed now to spend the money that comes in from player sales again. Since the summer of 2011, there has been a clear shift by Arsene towards buying experienced, quality players who have either remained below the radar of the oil-sharks or are not deemed good-enough for them. Arsène’s nose for a good player is second to none, whether it is a young talent or an experienced player with additional potential, who would fit perfectly within our team.
It looks like Arsène is now able to foresee future loss of players and subsequently put in effective contingency plans. Our investment in young players is starting to really deliver with the likes of Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere, Jenkinson, Diaby, Theo, the Ox and Coquelin all becoming better and better. And there is more to come with the likes of Yenaris, Frimpong, Miquel, Myachi, Eisfeld and Aneke knocking hard on the first squad door.
Add to that, Arsène’s ability to find, and attract, experienced super players like Arteta, Cazorla, Mertesacker, Podolski, Giroud and Koscielny – except for the latter, all bought in the last 12-14 months – and maybe we will become increasingly immune to the annually recurring threat of our best two or three players being bought away from us.
The super overinflated salaries paid by the Oilers, in the UK and abroad, will remain a threat to us which is likely to lead players forcing a move on us again in the future. We cannot compete with them, and neither should we try to.
And I don’t think winning something is going to make much of a difference either. Just look at Dortmund: they keep losing players despite winning a number of trophies in recent years, and having a fantastic stadium and fan base.
But, maybe Arsène has finally found a way to stay away from the claws of the cat. She might scratch us painfully again – just, for one second, imagine TV and Diaby or Szczesny being sold next summer – but Arsene seems to have found a way to heel us quicker now, and to make us stronger every season, against all odds.
It looks like Arsène is finally able to put his vision into practice and hopefully, helped a bit as well by FFP and a quickly improving financial position of the club; we will finally reach the very top again.
We are very lucky that Arsène stayed loyal to our club and let’s hope he’ll stay a lot longer with us to fully complete his vision for Arsenal.
Keep the faith fellow Gooners!