I’ll confess here and now that much of the motivation for reviving this site is down to my growing obsession with Arseblog, the rather amazing body of work that, whilst about Arsenal, is never less than entertaining. The guy’s been running it since 2002 and, I’m very sorry to add, I’m currently poring through some of their archives from that very year. 2002. Fifteen years ago, chronology fans. Do you remember what Boro were like back then? Probably not. It was during the salad Steve McClaren years, before he tapped into the idea of paying megabucks to the likes of Viduka and JFH in return for a steady supply of goals and instead relied on a moribund outfit starring Jonny Greening, Jo Job, Missimo, and their groovy buddies. Not a bad time considering Stevie consistently achieved a largely untroubled Premiership status over the course of his five years, but not much fun either.
We would naturally take that at the moment, back when we could score a goal from time to time and could pretty much hold our own against most comers. It was a very different era, Boro ranking among the big spenders of the Premier League as McClaren set about deconstructing the makeshift squad assembled by his predecessor, names scrawled on beer mats, etc, and shockingly assembled a side that had some notion of tactical awareness and consistency about it. It’s quite another story today, when we are quite clearly going down, having not scored a lot, been labelled ‘the most boring team evs’ by anyone who sees goal tallies as the be all and end all of football progress, and most importantly not investing heavily enough.
Segueing seamlessly back to Arsenal for a moment and it’s much the same tale, albeit on a bigger scale. The fans wanted top class players in central defence, midfield and in attack. What they got was Mustafi, Xhaka and Perez, none of them poor as such but short of the quality that might have transformed a team aiming for the top into one that could achieve just that. Apparently Arsene Wenger has untold millions to play with. He could, if he wanted to, had challenged Man United for Pogba. But he went for Granit Xhaka, the Swiss DM who cost a third of Pogba’s fee and proudly sits atop their disciplinary table with ten yellows and two reds. Nice. Wouldn’t want to cross his path in a dark alley. The result is a Gooners outfit that sits sixth in the table, is unlikely to hit their traditional Champions League finish, has its biggest stars wanting out and the supporters divided into pro and anti-Wenger camps.
Discord is theirs, though naturally even an Arsenal side firing on few cylinders had enough in the tank to beat us on Monday night. According to Arseblog, it was far from them at their best. A better team that knew how to find the net without shitting itself at each attempt might have made their evening far more difficult. This is an Arsenal that the previous week had lost 3-0 to Crystal Palace. Clearly they’re in disaaray and if ever there was a time to beat them then this was it. Watching the game, I genuinely felt we gave it our best shot, but we aren’t Bayern Munich (who dumped them out of the Champions League via a 10-2 aggregate) or even Palace, and the reasons were easy enough to see on the pitch.
In short, we haven’t spent enough on the side.
Whether you appreciated Aitor Karanka’s negative tactics or loathed him for it, whatever your views on the changes instilled by Steve Agnew in what looks like being a short spell in charge, neither manager has been able to fight that simple reality. Consider Palace, the sort of outfit we would realistically be expecting to rival in the relegation stakes, and you’re looking at a squad that had more than £85 million spent on it this season. Granted they sold players worth half that sum, but still, eighty five million big ones, right? Or Swansea – £49.5 million. Watford – just under £60 milllion. Leicester – £77.5 million. Some clubs spent a bit less than Boro’s £44.75 million outlay, but we came up as the side containing the least Premiership experience. The other two promotees, Burnley and Hull, were both up there recently. So we had to cough up, right? If, after spending seven years bumming around their second tier, we wanted to keep our place at the top table then we had to pay through the nose to do so, because everyone else did. The average spend by EPL teams this season was a shade over £70 million, and we fell well short of that.
I get that there’s something vulgar about spending your way to success. Not just that but we’ve tried doing it before and it hasn’t always worked out. I understand the club is working to no doubt tight budgets and needs to be careful, that money isn’t in inexhaustible supply, a bit like the cash tap they’ve clearly installed in the Etihad and Stamford Bridge. I would argue, however, that heavy spending was just something we needed to do. Other teams shelled out and coughed up like it was a last throw of the dice for them. I keep thinking back to the end of the summer transfer window, when club records were shattered as a matter of routine. Obviously it was something that had to be done. Spend to accumulate. Stay up. Be part of the jamboree that receives many millions from Sky and BT each year. Or don’t and find yourselves in the mess we’re in, heading back down with what is increasingly becoming a whimper.
There’s an obvious person to blame for all this and I’m not about to apportion any level of hate here. But there’s been a misjudgement, a clear one, a misreading of the situation. I guess it came in January, when everyone with latent sentience could see where the gaps and shortcomings were, and not enough was done to address them. It seems it was here that AK’s love affair with Boro ended. He went on a public offensive, unhappy we hadn’t acquired the players he thought we neeeded, and again regardless of your feelings about his worth you’ll agree he had a point. We got all excited about the prospect of welcoming Bojan, Jese and Snodgrass, while winding up with.. erm, you know, that Algerian fella, nope, can’t remember his name. We sold two back-up strikers and replaced them with a pair that is arguably slightly better, which is fair enough though neither Gestede or Bamford are names to strike fear into the hearts of our opponents.
Just to put this into context, Palace who at the time were right down there in the trouble spots, spunked thirty mill on Schlupp, van Aanholt and Milojevic and have glided their way to safety ever since. Leicester spent £17 million to acquite Wilfried Ndidi from Genk, and then for good measure sacked their title winning manager, put the Assistant Manager in charge, and never looked back. Shakespeare’s lucky. The Foxes might have lost Kante but what remains are the remaining Premiership champions, and they added a lavish amount of talent just to consolidate and be able to make the European Cup.
Sunderland are going down for similar reasons. Not enough invested; the Chairman looking to sell at the earliest opportunity. Little wonder David Moyes is clinging on to his job, like a big eyed baby koala. No one else would want to be in charge of that basket case so poor old Moyes gets to remain, commanding a disparate group of longstanding ne’er do wells and tasked with somehow keeping it afloat, which he – and, I imagine, almost anybody – simply can’t do.
The situation at the Riverside is different. There’s no lack of effort. I believe almost everyone is doing the best. Yet we’ve been assessed and worked out as not good enough, and the numbers tell us why.