Bracewell yourselfs, we’re headed into the maelstrom

We had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag. For some minutes the old man seemed too much exhausted to speak.

‘Not long ago,’ said he at length, ‘and I could have guided you on this route as well as the youngest of my sons; but, about three years past, there happened to me an event such as never happened before to mortal man — or, at least, such as no man ever survived to tell of — and the six hours of deadly terror which I then endured have broken me up body and soul. You suppose me a very old man — but I am not. It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am frightened at a shadow. Do you know I can scarcely look over this little cliff without getting giddy?’  — E.A. Poe “A Decent into the Maelstrom

Huge news yesterday has many an Arsenal fan staring into the gaping maw of uncertainty. The first salvo was the sudden restructuring of the Arsenal board and the second shot came in the form of an interview with Arsene Wenger.

To the first, the facts are that Gazidis has joined the board as CEO, Richard Carr is stepping down from the Holding Company board but is staying on at the Football Club board, and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith has resigned completely and immediately and is no longer a participant in the lockdown agreement.

Obviously, the only story here is Lady Nina resigning and subsequent breaking of the lockdown agreement. If you didn’t know, when Alisher Usmanov appeared on the scene and started buying up Arsenal shares the board instituted a lockdown agreement that basically gives board members the first right to buy any shares that any other board member wishes to sell. This agreement, it seems, was only a sort of a “paper tiger” in that the only teeth it had was that as long as you wanted to be a member of the board you couldn’t sell your shares. It prevented people, like David Dein, from siphoning off shares here and there for Usmanov but if someone was so inclined they could sell all or part of their shares — if they quit the board.

Which is exactly what Lady Nina just did.

Now, no shares have changed hands yet but I’d be shocked if she resigned from the board over a minor disagreement. Her family has a long and proud history at Arsenal and really the only reason to leave the board is to cash in on that history and cash in is exactly what she will do: in the 4 years that I have been following this story, Arsenal shares have gone from £1,500 a share to, reportedly, £10,000 a share. To put it another way, Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith owns 15.8% of a company worth somewhere around £800m or roughly speaking she’s got about £125m worth of Arsenal stock from her initial £20m investment. The temptation to cash in, especially now, must be very powerful indeed.

What happens next is a bit murky, Peter Hill-Wood indicates that some board members want to aquire more shares (Stan Kroenke) but it remains to be seen how much they are willing to pay for them and if they can match Usmanov’s offer — he has been known to pay well over value to get these shares. Also, if Usmanov buys just 5% of Lady Nina’s shares, he would be obliged to make a hostile takeover bid, which the current shareholders could just refuse but would still cause a major disruption.

Both Kroenke and Usmanov surely have taken a hit in the economic turmoil of the past few months so how much of their personal fortunes that they have left and want to risk on Arsenal is unknown. But the one thing that is certain is that if Usmanov does acquire a good portion of Lady Nina’s stocks he would want himself or a representative on the board. Not David Dein I don’t think, Usmanov has enough sense to know that that appointment would be pure poison. But there would be changes at the board level no doubt; Usmanov has publicly stated that Arsenal shares should pay dividends, for example.

At the same time that that Maelstrom was developing, Arsene Wenger was causing a stir of his own in giving an exclusive interview to a group of fans that was broadcast on the interwebz. Gunnerblog has a transcript of the interview and you should check it out if you have questions about Diaby, Denilson, Song, and whether Arsenal will be buying in January.

SPOILER ALERT ——————————————————————–

Wenger likes all of them and he won’t be buying in January.

The one thing that surprised me in the interview is how much he likes Alex Song. When asked who the most improved player has been of the season, he answered Song… Song and Djourou. Man, that’s a real shocker. I don’t know anyone who thinks Song is a good player — oh wait, except me!

My conclusion after reading Wenger’s interview is that he is fully prepared to drop out of the top 4, sure he wants to instill belief in this team that they could win something, but I think deep down he knows that they need more experience before they can win anything.

This is a rebuilding, folks, a rebuilding in Arsene Wenger’s image. He wants to build a youth team that will win trophies for several seasons, and is not going to risk that by bringing in someone in order to win a trophy this year. That doesn’t mean he won’t buy in January, but if he does, it will be a player for the future. And if this is a rebuilding in the image of Arsene Wenger, then I want to be the first to throw my support behind the man. Who better to lead this club through this economic and leadership turmoil than the greatest manager in the history of the club?

Of course, what future the club will have is up to a lady and a tramp. Will they drag us into the Maelstrom?


10 Responses to “Bracewell yourselfs, we’re headed into the maelstrom”

  1. 1 WC
    December 18, 2008 at 8:37 am

    I think the glasses are a bit too rose coloured today. I think Wenger needs to win something to at the very least show that there’s some kind of progression in his transition. I’ve already thrown my support behind his scheme but you cannot call 4 years “rebuilding” or “transition”. Eventually the reality will sink in that you made a mistake somewhere – it’s not a major mistake because we’ve still managed a top four spot but there’s without a doubt missing ingredients which were present previously but are now found lacking. He should not buy in January for the sake f buying but because he needs to. I have no problems if no new faces arrive in the window but I’d only be satisfied if the lack of new faces were due to overpricing, personal choice of the target or some contract disagreement – at least I’d know Wenger tried to stabilize the ship a bit more. I’d be very disappointed to go through the entire January window without some attempt at bringing in focus and consistency to the team. We have to be ever more vigilant come the second half of the season because history has shown us that our rivals, especially Man Utd, tend to surge more in the second half of the season and if we cannot keep pace we will find ourselves falling even further behind and losing even more credibility as a big club who can still compete.

  2. 2 barnaby
    December 18, 2008 at 9:49 am

    Too early in the devlopment to comment other than to suggest that if any take over involves more debt to the club…

  3. December 18, 2008 at 10:06 am

    My glasses aren’t rose colored, yellow, pink, black or any other color: I see the deficiencies in the squad plain as day.

    1) Wing play is non-existent. With Theo, Nasri, and Rosicky out due to injury Arsenal have to rely on central midfielders to play that role. That said, do you just buy someone and bring them in whenever you have an injury? No. Those three players have earned their spot, and anyone brought in would either be displacing them or brought in as a temp. Now, which world class wing player are Arsenal supposed to sign as a temp? No one will do that.

    2) Central defense struggles mightily when Kolo and Gallas partner. Which sucks, because I like Kolo a lot but let’s face it: he’s not as good as Gallas. Djourou has been coming along nicely and the Djourou/Gallas partnership looks very solid. With Gallas, Kolo, Silvestre, and Djourou all in the squad Arsene isn’t buying anyone. There is some room there to buy only if Gallas leaves.

    3) Cesc’s partner: this is the big thing that I see all the time, Arsenal need to buy a world class holding midfielder. It is obvious that Cesc’s form has dropped this season and most people (myself included) attributed that to Denilson or Song. It’s the logical choice and any mistake they make is amplified when the squad struggles so they get singled out for a ton of abuse. But something that people rarely look at is the fact that Cesc might be struggling because the strikers and wing players aren’t playing as well. When Theo’s on the pitch, Cesc can lump the ball into the corner and let Theo run for it, it’s an outlet for when Cesc gets in trouble. Right now, with Theo, Rosicky and Nasri all out, the team gets too compact, too one dimensional, too many intricate little passes, because they don’t have an outlet down the wings. So, we go back to the wing players, are you really going to displace Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri because of injury? No. You might be able to bring up a young, hungry player to play on the wings but buying one of the big names is out of the question. Traore could be recalled from Pompey in January — especially if we see further injury to Nasri. Or OR FRIGGEN OR, Wenger could start using Carlos Vela on the wings for fuck’s sake.

    Either way, I think Song and Denilson are good enough, mostly because two of the people I most respect in this world (on the topic of football) think they are good enough: Patrick Vieira and Arsene Wenger.

    4) Strikers. The strike team is a mess: too many shots, not enough return. Certainly, wing play, again, has a lot to do with this. Too much central play, too many intricate passes, and defenses are able to smother the strikers and harass the ball off them. This doesn’t mean that our strikers are shite, rather that the team isn’t working well with these two up front. Well, Bendtner is shite, but all the others are great!

    So, I do see deficiencies in the team.

    But I fundamentally disagree that the ship is sinking and that Arsene needs to make a panic buy. There are only 8 points and 6 goals difference between Arsenal and Liverpool. A win on Sunday and there are 5 points difference and yes, I honestly believe that this Arsenal team can beat Liverpool on Sunday.

    Finally, it’s “Chelsea thinking” that one season out of the top four means that Arsenal aren’t a big club. Arsenal will always be a big club and will always be able to attract big names even if they aren’t playing Champions League football. Dennis Bergkamp came to Arsenal when they had just finished 12th in the league and spent 2 seasons before he won anything and went 3 seasons after that before he won anything again.

    I think what’s bothering people is that from 2001-2005 Arsenal were one of the most dominant teams in the world but that team is gone and no amount of money will buy that back. Let’s move forward with the kids we have, make a few prudent purchases if they arise, and root for them to get some trophies.

  4. 4 Chris
    December 18, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Some interesting points to say the least. I have to agree that right now the problem seems to be the lack of wide players. What is evident is that we need players that can stretch the opposition’s defense. Right now those players are injured (Walcott, Nasri) or are not being played (Vela). I also think Eboue brings something different to the wide play, but we all know that his confidence is shot for the time being. I would, however, disagree with the notion that bringing in a wide player is a temporary fix or will hamper the development of the current team. We must remember that Rosicky is always injured and that Nasri and Walcott are injury-prone as well. I think the chance that all of our wide players are fit at the same time is very slim. In my opinion we deal with having to make tough selection choices when that time comes.

    What most people don’t realize is that the gap between the top is razor-thin in terms of quality and the make-up of the team. We are very close to being a top team, but are lacking that little extra bit. My only wish for January would be a wide midfielder and somebody to replace Gallas if he leaves. Other than that I think we just need a bit of luck and a winning streak to raise our confidence.

  5. 5 T-town Alex
    December 18, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    I never knew we went after Ribery, but didn’t get him. What a shame.

  6. 6 barnaby
    December 18, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Wenger risks losing the fans if our inconsistent form continues and we end up outside the top four. It’s unfortunate Wenger is just not gauging the fans very well. My advice is just buy a dm, don’t go over the top and who cares if the new player is a revelation or not, but it sends a signal that he’s on top of things, more competition for places and the club management is keen to keep moving forward. I would take Fellaini of everton, who would cost a bit too much maybe, but that type of player, at this point anyone who’s pretty good and is actually a dm rather than a makeshift, someday dm. It would go a long way to demonstrate Wenger hears the fans and dent his reputaion of being stubborn. Just placate the fans, spend a bit, not much, but enough for something decent. That said, splashing for 20 mil player would be a bigger mistake in this economic climate. If, for heavens’ sake he doesn’t buy, explain what happened, it’s surprising a manager with his experience would risk the fan’s ire. And if he doesn’t plan or want to buy just say it, but don’t talk the talk and trip up the walk, the fans are not going to appreciate that at all.

  7. December 18, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    I normally agree with almost everything you say Barnaby, but if there are fans who would be lost because the team drops out of the mystical top four, then I say good riddance. Look at Newcastle, they fill their stadium and they haven’t won a title in like 100 years.

    Also, what does it say about the boss if suddenly he changes his mind just to appease some disgruntled fans who don’t understand history? I would be hugely disappointed if he threw away his entire philosophy because some fans disagree with him. It would be a sure sign of weakness. Now, obviously if we drop to 12th place and are relegation threatened every year and he sticks to the same plan, well that’s different. But, dude, d000d, we’re not! We’re 8 points away from top of the table.

    People seem to forget that Arsenal lost 11 matches and finished 4th and lost 9 matches and finished 2nd.

    So Wenger doesn’t need to send a message, we all just need to relax and get some perspective.

    Oh and Fellani is crap, in my “professional” opinion. The most outstanding thing about him is his hair.

  8. 8 CaribKid
    December 18, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Have to disagree with you on this one Timothy, not that he should buy someone just to placate the fans, but that he should buy a couple of well needed pieces to complete the puzzle and improve the quality of football on display.

    Firstly, if he loses the fans, Arsenal loses millions in merchandising sales and game day receipts.

    Secondly, if he fails to make the CL we lose 20-30 million at a minimum.

    Thirdly, if we don’t play attractive football, don’t win consistently and fail to make the Cl it will be difficult to attract top players like Vela, Walcott, Fabregas, Ramsey and the likes.

    Finally, the current squad is no longer playing “Wengerball” which is what attracted millions of current Arsenal supporter to begin rooting for the team

    The real problem is not that Song and Denilson are bad players, and who knows, one day they may be world class. The problem is twofold:

    1. These players are still in a learning stage and do not have senior, experienced players alongside them to calm them when things are going wrong, provide a word of wisdom when they are down and to rally them when needed. They have no role models on the team to learn from except maybe for Fab, Sagna and Clichy who are also relatively young.

    2. Balance. Denilson and Fab creates an imbalanced side in the CMF. Both are similar in style, relatively slow, diminutive in statue and not good in the air and feel most comfortable attacking rather than defending. This creates weaknesses which are easily exploited by opposing sides as we are susceptible to the quick counters and long balls down the defensive spine. Song, whilst not the finished article yet is much better suited to be partnered with Fab as he is hard in the tackle, strong on the ball and excellent in the air.

    Arsene needs to purchase a few players now to improve results and the quality of our football or all his years of work and the legacy placing Arsenal at the top of the football mountain will be for naught.

  9. December 19, 2008 at 5:57 am

    Carib, are you leaving? Are you going to stop supporting Arsenal because they miss out on Champions League football? All teams have ups and downs and yes that means that they also have ups and downs in numbers of fans. But what a team like Arsenal have that Chelsea will never have is a huge and loyal fan base. Certainly, some rats will jump ship, probably some already have. And yes that means less money. But that’s part of sports, you have to build a club slowly, steadily, arguing that Arsenal will lose support because they drop out of the “top four” is meaningless to me. I’m looking at Arsenal’s health in 50 years: I want my daughter’s children to come with me to the Emirates and watch Arsenal when I’m an old man. And I’m convinced that what’s best in the long run is exactly what Arsene is doing.

    The Champions League number you tout is deceiving. Arsenal make £3m per home match and also earn some prize money if they make it into the last 16 and of course a piece of the TV money. There is also a good bit of money in the UEFA Cup and, in fact, winning the UEFA cup earns a club more money than getting into the last 16 of the CL. So, it’s not like they would suddenly take a £30m hit — unless they finish 7th.

    Even still, they have the money to weather that.

    Buying players doesn’t guarantee success: Pires took a year to get his EPL feet, Nasri is struggling with the physical nature of the league, I could go on and on. So, the player you are looking for has to be Premier League tested (£££), in the very top physical shape (due to the demands of the Wenger system), have an acute football mind, and have the passing skills that makes him a world class footballer.

    There are perhaps 2 footballers in the EPL who fit that bill and maybe 1 or 2 currently playing at other clubs (let’s get Flamini back!) who fit that bill. According to my sources, Arsenal tried to get all of those players and failed.

    Arsene will make a choice here next week and whatever he chooses I trust to be the best choice for this team this year and for the future of Arsenal football.

  10. 10 barnaby
    December 19, 2008 at 10:41 am

    Well Tim, I appreciate your argument but I fail to see how reduced attendances serves the club in the near or long term. If it’s frustration over signings that is the major gripe, and I believe it is as there are some areas that could really use strengthening, I think at this point it’s fairly easy to resolve as wenger should have been using all availabe resources over the past six months to secure such a player. I think more competition for places and some experienced players who have world class experience could really boost the club all the way around. Wenger has mentioned a few incl van bommel and others, but I will state again that in my view thus far this season fellaini has proved himself a quality player. I think it’s that type of player – size, stamina, skilled and a true dm is the model we should be pursuing. We’ve all discussed ad nauseum the frailties of the current side – freeing up cesc with a formidable partner would go a long way to getting the midfield machine humming again, and throwing the fans a meaty bone to gnaw and get excited about can only do good at this point. It is a global business and keeping the fans in the stands and attracting new fans all the time is something I would hope kroenke, wenger et all realise well.

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