Arsenal Finally Being as Ruthless as Chelsea
Sometimes, when I’m lying awake at night and not thinking about 2007/08 Alex Hleb, I fret about the etymology of words and get myself all worked up for no reason at all. It’s a strange pastime and almost certainly a tactic from my brain designed to keep me awake for longer. I should definitely stop doing it, but also at the same time what is up with the word “lukewarm”? Where did that come from? Who is Luke and what did he do to deserve someone naming the worst temperature of water after him?
“Ruthless” is another one. What’s the deal with Ruth? What’s the history there? I should say now, reader, that you’re not going to find out anytime soon. I don’t know who Ruth is. All I know is that Chelsea Football Club want absolutely nothing to do with her.
You know Chelsea, right? They’re the ones bankrolled by the oil rich Bond villain who definitely, definitely, definitely didn’t earn his money through a rigged privatisation of the mineral wealth of the Russian people. A bond villain owner who has gone through 13 different managers in under 18 years. The highlights during this period include Chelsea’s greatest manager of all time (he got sacked twice); the man who won them the Champions League (he was fired six months later) and one of Chelsea’s greatest ever players (this one was just last week, don’t know if you heard about it).
“Ruthless” – that’s what Roman Abramovich has been called, and it totally fits the vibe he’s going for: a cold, calculating businessman who’s adamant on success. This is despite the fact that the only real interest he has in Chelsea’s on-field competitiveness is how well it acts as a distraction from the fact that Alexei Navalny recently named him as one of Vladimir Putin’s “key enablers” in human rights abuses.
Interestingly, the other man Navalny named was Alisher Usmanov, remember him? The man Arsenal famously didn’t let take over the club because we’re obviously the goodies in the situation here. That’s the narrative of the past 15 years, right? Chelsea – the cold, ruthless winners. Arsenal – the nice guys who to this day still shiver at the thought of having to go to either Bolton or Stoke away.
Let’s ignore the fact that Arsenal are run by a guy whose fortune owes a lot to American people’s obsession with buying firearms. We’re definitely the goodies. We’re the sentimentalists who do things like pay Emmanuel Eboue real life British pounds sterling because he’s good value in the dressing room. Meanwhile, Chelsea do things like beat us 6-0 on our greatest ever manager’s 1000th game in charge.
Chelsea and Abramovich are ruthless: they have absolutely no time for Ruth, as the recent sacking of Lampard has once again proven. Historically, Arsenal have ushered Ruth in, invited her to stay for dinner, found out she doesn’t have a place to stay, offered her the master bedroom and the next thing we know Mesut Özil’s earning £300,000 a week to live tweet games and play Fortnite.
However, Arsenal’s recent behaviour has also been ruthless. It’s in a different way though. The aforementioned Özil has gone – sacked. He’s been paid off because he didn’t fit the Arteta project. It’s not ideal. I think we’d have all rather he’d been good and was still playing, or at the very least have found someone to pay money for him, but the reality is that this was never going to happen.
The club felt he had to leave, and the club have made enormous sacrifices to let him do so. You could claim that this was a sentimental move to let Özil “live his best life” or something, but you’d be wrong. As far as Arsenal are concerned, this was a ruthless move. The message is clear: there is no time for people who do not fit.
Another casualty of this is Sokratis, whom Arsenal have also paid to leave the club, and potentially Shkodran Mustafi. As a business model, it’s not great. Buying players for big transfer fees and then letting them leave before their contracts are up is pretty rancid to look at. However, it’s the sign of something that hasn’t been apparent at Arsenal for a long time.
It’s ruthlessness, but it’s ruthlessness in the desire to stick to a footballing identity. Unai Emery reached a Europa League final and was sacked six months later because he hadn’t established any sort of identity. Arteta could have very easily been sacked last month (I’m looking at you, Arsenal 0-1 Burnley), but he wasn’t because there is very clearly a direction that the club are heading in.
The results (and indeed the players), whilst not immaterial, are slightly less important at Arsenal right now, so long as there is an obvious endgame for their footballing philosophy. This is the very opposite of what Roman Abramovich is all about. He sacked Lampard because of results – any hint of some kind of family project can get in the bin as far as he’s concerned. Sure, Lampard wasn’t very good, but the bigger problem he represented for Abramovich was that he was at the club before the Russian took over.
Arsenal have shown a similar level of coldness. Arteta didn’t want Özil. He didn’t want Sokratis. Now both players have had their contracts terminated. It’s cruel. Some would say it’s stupid. I think it’s a massive shame, but sometimes cold-hearted decisions are necessary in football and they’re something Arsenal have severely lacked for a long time.
Today’s guest columnist is Xavier Bird who you can follow @xavibird and who we are delighted to say will be joining the Gunnerstown writing team.
Freelance journalist and Arsenal fan from Scotland living in London. Jose Antonio Reyes advocate. Inspirer of Arsenal hate art from an ex-girlfriend. Please read my things.