“Victoria Concordia Crescit”. Victory through harmony. The famous motto of Arsenal Football Club for the past 70 years. It proudly featured on the club’s official crest from 1949 until 2002 and has even adorned the inside neck region of a number of Arsenal shirts in the past.
It is ironic then how both components of this esteemed motto are currently in scarce supply over at the Emirates. Just 2 victories in their last 10 Premier League games and two mutinous acts from each of the Gunners’ previous two club captains (during the same season nonetheless) just hint at the turmoil gradually engulfing the club at present.
Arsene Wenger, after 22 years at the helm asserted during his farewell speech in 2018 that his successor had to “respect the values of the club” and had to be “honest, loyal and committed” to upholding these principles.
Quite frankly, it would be very remiss and distasteful to even suggest the incumbent head coach Unai Emery has sought to intentionally compromise these prized values during his past 17 months in charge in North London.
Upon closer inspection though, it actually would not be too egregious to suggest that Arsenal’s three core values have arguably never been as distant from the heart of the club as they’ve appeared to be in recent months under the Spaniard’s leadership…
Value #1: Act with class
If we’re discussing a lack of substantial class at Arsenal right now, Granit Xhaka’s ill-advised dissent during the 2-2 home draw against Crystal Palace last month feels like the only place to start the conversation.
The Swiss international’s actions during that match have since cost him the captain’s armband and perhaps will have brought his time in North London to an abrupt and ignominious end.
What has been noteworthy is the various reactions from notable figures from years gone by, alluding to the great honour and tradition that comes with being Arsenal captain.
Former Double-winning midfielder and World Cup winner Emmanuel Petit deemed Xhaka’s actions to be “unacceptable”, whilst scathingly referring to how former skippers Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira were “real leaders” and “big captains”, expressing how “they showed the personality and character… to be Arsenal captain, whatever happened on the pitch.”
Even Wenger, who purchased the midfielder for £34 million back in 2016, spoke last week in defence of his former player but also mentioned how Arsenal is “built on values” and how “everyone has to respect these values and the manager has to get them to be respected.”
Although it must be noted, Xhaka is not the only player who has failed to act with the necessary “class”, befitting an Arsenal captain.
William Gallas wallowed in laughable self-pity on the pitch away at Birmingham after a controversial 2-2 draw in 2008, Cesc Fabregas went on strike before departing to Barcelona in the summer of 2011 and Laurent Koscielny outright refused to join the club on their pre-season tour back in July, before he secured his protracted move to Bordeaux a month later.
Even Tony Adams, widely regarded as the club’s greatest-ever captain was fortunate to retain the armband after serving three months in prison for drink-driving in 1990.
Perhaps, the widespread notion of “class” s a non-negotiable prerequisite for any Arsenal captain does not have as much credence as many would believe.
Thus, it is intriguing now to consider whether most of these past indiscretions by former captains were overlooked by supporters because of the obvious talent these players possessed.
Alternatively, what also may be worth considering is the situation at Arsenal has potentially not been this alarming in a very long time, with the club having their worst start to a league season in 37 years; hence the large levels of scrutiny and frustration Xhaka has been enduring from supporters, even prior to his fateful act of insubordination.
Then again, regardless of whether their initial booing of the Swiss international was unmerited, the palpable disdain emanating from Arsenal fans could be justified, simply in how none of their previous captains had even dared to flagrantly disrespect the badge in such a manner, as was the case in late October.
Value #2: Be together
One conventional wisdom which often comes to the fore in football is that when results are going badly at a football club, this is probably the optimal moment for everyone to gauge how together a team truly is.
A notable example of this during the current season would be at Chelsea under their new manager Frank Lampard. The Blues began the season with a humbling 4-0 defeat away at Old Trafford, before proceeding to win just 1 of their next four games in all competitions.
Yet the overbearing mood in West London was firmly one of calmness and trust from players and staff that the manager would turn the club’s fortunes around, no matter the concerns being raised from outside influences.
Lo and behold, Chelsea have now embarked on a six-game winning run in the Premier League, now sitting in third, with Lampard’s unwavering commitment to his young players reaping copious rewards at the moment. (albeit heavily influenced by the club’s year-long transfer ban at the start of the season)
In contrast, when observing the state of affairs at the Emirates, you need not look too far to notice the signs of discontent burgeoning amongst the Gunners’ playing staff.
On the surface, it appears the players in the Arsenal dressing room remain committed to redressing their terrible run of form as well as all being firmly in support of Emery, as per Kieran Tierney’s comments ahead of the Leicester game.
However, if this is the case, the Spaniard’s bizarre treatment of playmaker Mesut Ozil so far this season may have inadvertently contributed to somewhat of a disconcertedness around the club, even when considering the German had played the least amount of Premier League minutes (1742) he had ever done during a season at Arsenal under Emery last campaign.
The German has been reintegrated into the first-team for the last two league matches, but on a whole the 31-year old has only featured in three of the Gunners’ 12 league fixtures, with just 251 minutes of Premier League action from a possible 1080; something made all the more puzzling by Emery’s eyebrow-raising admission last month that Ozil’s omissions were agreed upon not only by himself but also by executive members of the club.
The club’s tactless handling of this situation is unlikely to have instilled huge levels of confidence or togetherness into his players but incidentally, Emery has encountered similar issues in dealing with high-profile players in his previous roles.
This most notably occurred at PSG, where he not only struggled to manage the great influence Brazil superstars Neymar and Thiago Silva had on his squad but also found difficulty appeasing mercurial talents, such as Hatem Ben Arfa and Lucas Moura.
Once again, Frank Lampard has usurped Emery this season, this time in regards to man-management, as demonstrated with his adept handling of Christian Pulisic at Chelsea.
The Englishman’s comments last month on how the 21-year old attacker, a £58 million summer signing had to “work to show… he deserves to play”; meant the Blues boss elected not to start the American in the league after August, similar to Emery’s line of thought with Ozil this season.
However, unlike his managerial counterpart, the Blues boss still retained Pulisic within his Premier League matchday squads to avoid ostracising his young player.
“Captain America” has now gone on to notch five goals in his last three Premier League games, having been largely a peripheral figure this season until his hat-trick away at Burnley in late October, when Lampard finally provided the American with a league start after almost two months, something which he duly capitalised upon.
Therefore, when also taking into account reports from Lucas Torreira’s agent that the Uruguayan midfielder is “not happy” with his recent change of position to a box-to-box midfielder this season, Emery has not appeared to have inspired the togetherness so highly valued at Arsenal.
To compound matters further, the board’s stance in support of their head coach, (as revealed by David Ornstein in The Athletic after the Leicester game) would have probably just perpetuated the division between the board and the Arsenal fanbase, not only because of their message but for how it was delivered, with supporters’ complaints dismissively branded as “noise”.
In truth, the board should be wary not to antagonise the club’s supporters, given the outpouring of mass discontent that contributed to the uneasy atmosphere at the Emirates and massive rifts within the fanbase during the final few years of Arsene Wenger’s reign.
Yet, it is almost a sad indictment on Arsenal right now that full, collective togetherness from all entities of this great club: the fans, the players and the board, feels like more like a fanciful prospect than a tangible reality.
Value #3: Always move forward
Arsenal Football Club is a sporting institution that has prided itself on being innovators throughout its illustrious history.
For instance, Herbert Chapman, the legendary manager that sent the club on their way to three straight league titles from 1931- 1933 was the notable proponent of the W-M formation, as well as the man behind the official naming of Arsenal underground station in 1932.
Several decades on, Arsene Wenger, the first manager from outside the British Isles to win the Premier League, also introduced revolutionary training regimes during his incredible first decade at Arsenal that forever changed the face of English football, culminating with the success of “The Invincibles” in 2004.
However, judging from the current state of affairs in North London, it may be a long time yet before success and innovation on those types of scales may their long-overdue return to the club.
The substantial gap between the Gunners and the summit of the English game, where Liverpool and Manchester City are currently situated, looks in ever-more danger of becoming a chasm with every tepid, uninspiring performance Unai Emery’s men are eeking out on a weekly basis.
In fact, the case for regress under the Spaniard could easily be presented, just from looking at the cold, hard statistics.
One of the chief targets requiring urgent improvement when Emery took over from Wenger in 2018 was the team’s abysmal away form, which produced just a single away league victory under the Frenchman during that same calendar year.
Yet, only four away league wins have been accrued by the Gunners in 2019, with just 2 clean sheets in the 25 away league fixtures Emery has presided over since assuming the role as head coach.
Most tellingly though, after defeat in his 50th Premier League match away at Leicester, Emery now has fewer points in his first 50 Premier League games (87 – W25 D12 L13) than Arsenal’s final 50 league matches under Wenger (88 – W27 D7 L16).
What makes matters worse is the expansive style of play Emery had spoken about in his first press conference where Arsenal would be the “protagonist” during matches could not be in more stark contrast to how languid and disjointed the team’s attacking performances have been this season.
In truth, Arsenal have found themselves on the back foot more often than not, during most of their league fixtures, conceding the third-most shots in the league so far this season, behind only Aston Villa and Norwich, with goalkeeper Bernd Leno having to make the most saves out of any other Premier League goalkeeper in this time.
The negative goal difference of -1 at this stage of the season is honestly even more startling for Arsenal fans observing their te
Biggest gap between fourth and fifth at this stage in 18 years – 9 points
The sheer fact Emery is rumoured to be given until Christmas doesn’t emit the hallmarks of a club that is yearning to return to the apex of English football, especially in comparison to Bayern Munich’s calculated dismissal of Niko Kovac, after an unsatisfactory run of results, despite only being 4 points off the top.
Mention Mauricio Pochettino’s dismissal yesterday by Tottenham Hotspur after his considerable improvement on the team, mere months after reaching the Champions League final smacks of a club intent on falling behind the standards they’ve set for themselves at the start of the season.
Whereas, Emery with the less impressive achievement of reaching the Europa League final last season and only sitting three points above Spurs still looks likely to retain his job, unless something dramatic occurs in the red half of North London, before Saturday’s encounter against Southampton.
What is evident is that there is an entropy becoming increasingly noticeable in the team’s performances over the last six months or so. Emery possibly being replaced
Consequently, would managers in the ilk of Brendan Rodgers or Erik ten Haag be more suited to a club long-steeped in principles like Arsenal? These managers not only fit the mould for their beautiful, attractive football but also for their distinct managerial philosophies:
i.e. Brendan Rodgers notable use of the T.I.P.S model as a part of his ethos as a manager, which stemmed from the model implemented at Ajax.
Incidentally, ten Haag’s club who despite not actually having been bred from the club’s academy has been the beneficiary of a clear ethos that has gave rise to a successful Ajax side last season, containing star academy graduates: Frenkie de Jong and Mathius De Ligt.
It feels pertinent to mention this, considering the recent crop of young talent, such as Joe Willock, Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith-Rowe and even Eddie Nketiah out on loan. Would the team and particularly these players thrive more under more “progressive” managers, such as Rodgers and ten Haag?
Anyways at this point, it is worth remembering the mantra of “Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent”, which has long been espoused by following generations of players and staff at the club; first declared by Bertie Mee, the manager who captured Arsenal’s first Double in 1971.
Now, it just seems ever more apparent that somewhere along the line, especially in more recent years, Arsenal perhaps have forgotten the core values that once distinguished this club as one of the most honourable in the world.