London ups and downs. A dull display by Chelsea in Yokohama losing them a match which could surely have been saved. A sudden return to winning form by Arsenal at Reading after the shocking humiliation in Bradford.
Arsene Wenger significantly and arguably productively exchanging smiles with his previously marginalised chief coach Steve Bould. Just as well surely, since even in this rout of Reading the Gunners defence seemed anything but sound giving away a couple of surely avoidable goals in quick succession. Bould had been made coach for this season, with apparent emphasis on organising a defence in which some years ago he was a major bulwark.
The heading What’s Wrong With the Arsenal first appeared to my knowledge away back in the Second World War and the question has been asked time and again since with the team usually bouncing back from an incipient crisis. To my mind the club’s problem is quite clear. Wenger has no decent support from above; that is to say from executive and directorial level. The owner of the large majority of shares the American billionaire Stan Kroenke seems to collect sporting franchises as a less wealthy man might collect stamps; he has a formidable string of sports clubs in America. There is scant sign he knows anything much about soccer. One hears that when he made one of his very rare London appearances at football recently at the Arsenal QPR game he left at half time, deterred by the bitter cold.
Kroenke, loyally if somewhat automatically, pledges his faith in Wenger which is acceptable enough but beyond that what valid support does he or can he give him? The actual if nominal Chairman of the club is Peter Hill Wood, of that distinguished dynasty, unwell, alas, at the moment. But even when he is in better health he is nothing but a symbolic figure an elderly man forced to the effective margins.
It may be remembered ironically that when Kroenke was first proposed as a director of the club Hill Wood spoke out strongly against the idea, insisting that this was not the kind of person the club should take on board. Only subsequently and embarrassingly to be made to eat humble pie when obliged to fly across the Atlantic to beg Kroenke to join the board. In retrospect maybe Hill Wood had a point. But since Arsenal have no intention of letting the controversial Uzbek billionaire Alisher Urmanov join the board despite his 29% tranche of shares it seems no change at the top will be made unless Kroenke suddenly decides to sell; but not to Usmanov.
All of which means that there is no one, no David Dein, the man who after all brought Wenger to the club to help, support and even guide him. Dein was forced out by the previous chairman the late diamond millionaire Danny Fiszman over policy disagreements and sold his shares to Usmanov for £70 million. Like him or not, he is undoubtedly a dynamic figure who could do what no one else in the hierarchy can do in terms of assisting Wenger who has turned, it seems, into something of an autocrat.
At Chelsea the undoubted autocrat is the oligarch owner, billionaire Roman Abramovich. He saved the club from bankruptcy, financed a multiplicity of expensive transfers but has gone through a series of managers at destructive speed. Roberto Di Matteo who wondrously won the European Cup had no chance after a summer transfer policy which, inspired by Abramovich, lost the club the dreadnought Didier Drogba and placed an emphasis on a fragile formation geared to attack but suspect in midfield and defence. In Yokohama, we saw yet again that Fernando Torres the £50 million pound misfit, is, alas, no Drogba and indeed now no reliable finisher. The Club World Cup may be a superfluity for English clubs but Chelsea’s Terry-less failings showed all too plainly.