David Dein has appealed to fans to get behind good friend Arsene Wenger
Attribution theory is a central pillar of social psychology and was studied extensively by Fritz Heider in the 1950s and 60s. Our life is made up of sets of circumstances that can be controlled and are also beyond control. The personal choices we make put us in charge while at the same time natural disasters or death remind us of our mortality and contribute to feelings of helplessness.
The interaction between the two sets and our own personal biases make for a variety of human responses. Feelings of drift, angst, and denial are very much part of those responses. These terms have been used increasingly as a gestalt of Wenger’s state of mind.
In the wake of David Dein’s appeal to fans that we must unconditionally get behind Arsene Wenger, facing possibly his toughest season as coach. Dein’s rationale is that Wenger is very much in control and points to circumstances elsewhere for the problems facing the club.
As Arsenal fans, we too face one of our most testing times. The dilemma is that the manager who gave us all our best years seems to be taking them back one at a time and consigning them to the dustbin of history. Dein is right in asking us to support Wenger but we should remember where exactly this support needs to be given.
Do we believe in Wenger’s philosophy of finding and developing talent? Yes. There is no other way out. It is perhaps the raison d’etre of any sport and the only pure one. Everything else is money and steroids. Arsenal is one of the few big clubs that shows us a way around the calumny of the blank check. Wenger has been a tireless advocate of that philosophy and an increasingly isolated one.
Do we believe Wenger changed the face of Arsenal’s football? Yes. The above reason might be an abstraction for most. The more visceral response is to Wenger’s blueprint which transformed a club from defensive deadwood to the free flowing brand that made Arsenal one of the most followed clubs in the world. In the process he achieved stunning success and gave rise to our legends. I for one will always remember he gave us the incomparable Dennis Bergkamp, a joy to behold, an artist, an auteur, and an Arsenal true blue. Wenger spoiled us too early, too soon.
Do we believe it’s too early to be pulling our support from Wenger? Yes. The Premiership is just one game old. It could have been worse at Newcastle with Gervinho’s dismissal. We just beat a very good Udinese side in the first leg of the CL. There appears to have been work done on the defensive end with a more assured display on set pieces which should steady us. The rest of the clubs apart from a few have not looked convincing either.
There are many other more personal choices for supporting Wenger including his vast breadth of knowledge about the sport and his ability to see its direction. But the first two are Wenger hallmarks and sets him apart from all other managers and ipso facto, Arsenal from every club. For this he needs our undivided loyalty. Set aside every prejudice when you think of all the good he’s done for us and to the sport.
We now get to why this support should be discriminate. All those good words spoken above do not obviate the fact that Wenger is not a helpless bystander wringing his hands at the sight of a car wreck which appears to be of his own making. It appears Wenger has boxed himself in with his particular set of self serving biases.
Do we believe Wenger is responsible for the current impasse? Yes. For someone gifted with soothsaying abilities, Wenger has been remarkably shortsighted in heading off a situation that one could see coming for months. At the end of last season, the deficiencies that dogged Arsenal were laid bare. Barca were going to come back for Fabregas, now at the end of his tether. Nasri was going to be a tough sell with his agent baying for more money. The time to act decisively had long come. Instead, we saw a Wenger, unprepared and paralyzed, to stop this from becoming an avalanche of bad news. The board has provided no remedy. It operates on cues. In fact, Wenger so far has made Ivan Gazidis eat his own words.
Do we believe Wenger has lost his touch in the transfer market? Yes. Words like “super quality” are just that. In fact, those words brought out an incredulous reaction. You do not have to cast your eye far back to see glaring examples of a fine mind gone wrong. Arsenal makes on an average fewer transfers and spends less. Keeping that context, the transfers it does make have to count more. Yet, here too we have an exercise in futility. Wenger also shelved his principle and re-signed players for quick fixes. There is a haphazard, off the cuff look about the transfers he’s made in recent years and there appears to be no financially commensurate value to them. £12m for Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain is not a small sum of money for an untested player.
Wenger’s response have amounted to condescending dismissals of these concerns. He understands our fears but we’ve been misled by a rabble rousing media into a three ring circus. We do not understand that buying players is not exactly the same as a supermarket shopping spree. His exasperated reaction to Arsenal’s decline was “if it means second for the next twenty years, I’ll be happy” a volte-face from his bombastic “quadruple” prediction. Such pendular swings in expectations are jarring and unnerve fans who have every reason to wonder if Wenger’s grasp of affairs is slipping with each season and is not just a projection of their own neuroses.
David Dein is asking us to fall in line. We will do so. But not in a blind, witless way. You can’t wave the memory eraser stick every time you talk to us. Arsenal with its long history will move on without its best players. Of course, the unspoken part is it too can do so without its best coach. But no one is thinking of that yet.