Midweek Sport - - THURSDAY AUGUST 23 -

CAN a football club be in cri­sis with just 90 min­utes of the sea­son on the clock? Seem­ingly so if you sup­port Ar­se­nal.

An open­ing-day draw is hardly the worst re­sult in the world – ask Alex Fer­gu­son and the other seven Premier League man­agers who tasted de­feat in the open­ing round of fix­tures.

Yet it was a draw that prompted boos to tum­ble down the stands from some of the 60,000 present at The Emi­rates Sta­dium on Satur­day.

When only 90 of the 3,420 min­utes that make up a club’s Premier League sea­son have been played, and with 111 points still to play for...well it’s a bit early for all that shit isn’t it?

Or­di­nar­ily, I’d say yes. But imag­ine be­ing an Ar­se­nal fan right now.

The Gun­ners’ faith­ful pay up to £126 a game to watch a team that is rou­tinely torn apart ev­ery sum­mer.

The club seems to have lost sight of why it ex­ists.

Year af­ter year, Ar­se­nal’s best play­ers head for the exit door – then it’s all eyes on Arsene Wenger.

The French­man is tasked year af­ter year with find­ing bud­get-priced re­place­ments for his top stars while be­ing expected to chal­lenge for tro­phies on all fronts.

Ar­se­nal haven’t won a pot since 2005 – and an­other sea­son with­out sil­ver­ware will be their worst tro­phy drought since the 60s. et the mes­sage from the club – or rather the bean coun­ters at the club – is that it’s just fine so long as they’re milk­ing the cash cow that is the Cham­pi­ons League.

Wenger’s work is to be ad­mired, as is Ar­se­nal’s record of miss­ing out on the top four just three times in 20 years.

But that’s not what fans want. Where’s the joy in be­ing a suc­cess­ful also-ran with­out the am­bi­tion to take the next step?

At some point the bub­ble will burst. Ticket prices are up, yet fun is down and glory has gone.

Football isn’t played on a bal­ance sheet – prof­i­teer­ing from play­ers doesn’t make for a great watch.

Robin van Per­sie was last sea­son’s top scorer in the Premier League. He was Ar­se­nal’s cap­tain and the player of the sea­son in the top flight.

It made ‘busi­ness sense’ to flog him, say the army of ac­coun­tancy bores that have grabbed the leg of football like a dog on heat wield­ing its dirty lip­stick.

Sell­ing the skip­per to Manch­ester

YUnited though – boost­ing a ri­val – made no football sense what­so­ever.

To add to the frus­tra­tions, the Dutch­man’s re­place­ment, Olivier Giroud, squan­dered Ar­se­nal’s best op­por­tu­nity mid­way through the sec­ond half on Satur­day.

The Gun­ners dom­i­nated, racked up 23 shots, but drew 0-0.

Alex Song, too, has been moved on, the mid­fielder join­ing Barca for £15m.

“It’s al­ways frus­trat­ing los­ing good play­ers,” said Wenger after­wards. Quite. So why lose them? Not so long ago Ar­se­nal were The In­vin­ci­bles. Now they’re noth­ing more than a car show­room – ev­ery­thing’s for sale.

They’ve be­come a feeder club – they buy play­ers, im­prove them, mould them into world-class foot­ballers, then let them go for a tidy profit. Cesc Fabre­gas, an­other club cap­tain, was sold. Samir Nasri, a star at­tack­ing mid­fielder, was sold. Gael Clichy, a French in­ter­na­tional left back, was flogged. Then there was Kolo Toure (an­other cap­tain), Em­manuel Ade­bayor, Patrick Vieira... the list goes on and on. The big ques­tion is why? rse­nal have the sec­ond-big­gest gates in the Premier League. They’re in the top five in the world for money com­ing into the club. They make a profit year af­ter year.

The Gun­ners fire out the same old mes­sage time and again (a sim­i­lar one emerges from Old Traf­ford when any­one men­tions The Glaz­ers)...the money is there if the man­ager wants it but he prefers to find value in the mar­ket. Okay, gents, if you say so. The £34m splurged on the French striker Giroud, Ger­man for­ward Lukas Podol­ski and Span­ish at­tack­ing mid­fielder Santi Ca­zorla may well prove to be money well spent. Wenger is gen­er­ally good at mak­ing the most of his kitty. It’s a good job re­ally.

Ca­zorla cer­tainly looked the part on Satur­day – but are Ar­se­nal RE­ALLY go­ing to trou­ble the Manc mo­nop­oly in the Premier League?

Can they ri­val Barca and Real in the Cham­pi­ons League?

No, and no, would be most peo­ple’s punt.

And so, what’s the point? Why charge big club prices but be­have like a small club?

Fi­nan­cial Fair Play may well rein in some of the big spend­ing at other clubs over the next few years, but Ar­se­nal have taken things far too far the other way. They’re all about busi­ness and bal­ance sheets and less about fun and football.

Ar­se­nal chief ex­ec­u­tive Ivan Gazidis said ear­lier this year: “Our busi­ness model means that we can continue to do what we’re do­ing for­ever.”

No won­der they’re boo­ing...


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