The 49 Steps
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The 49 Steps

Cultural Review Another Ready-Made Safety Net for Arteta

The very first post of this blog was entitled “ Arsenal, Beware of the Culture Crusade.” Its central thesis was a warning about using something that couldn’t be seen and judged quantitively or qualitatively to gauge progress and expectations at Arsenal.

“Changing the culture” had all the makings of a convenient shield for Mikel Arteta to hide behind. Lose some games and it’s because the culture needs changing. Take longer than expected to achieve something tangible and it’s because you’re still working to change the culture.

Actually achieve something and it’s because you’ve changed the culture. The latter came to fruition when Arteta ended his initial interim campaign by winning the 2020 FA Cup.

An honest assessment of that admittedly impressive and welcome triumph would have ignored culture altogether. An honest assessment would have credited a George Graham-esque back five for making Arsenal more defensively solid, while also acknowledging Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s late-season hot streak in pursuit of a new contract.

Auba scored four goals across the semi-final and final to see off Manchester City and Chelsea, respectively. Sure, he was angling for a new deal and playing up accordingly, but who cares? Arsenal benefited from those performances, but it had nothing to do with culture.

You wouldn’t know it though. Not from the club’s official website that immediately posted a fluff piece crediting Arteta with winning his very own culture crusade.

The crudely titled, “How Arteta changed the culture around the club” featured quotes from the manager about how he’d won hearts and minds. One of those quotes dealt with attitude adjustment:

The first thing was that I got everyone together, the staff and the players, and I told them what I thought about them and why this wasn’t working. If we were going to continue like this, it was never going to work.

Quite how anyone thinks things are working now is beyond me. Perhaps another meeting of minds is needed to redress Arsenal’s slide down the league tables and out of Europe on Arteta’s watch?

The other telling quote from this PR pearler was the following:

We had to create the right culture for our club and it has to be an environment that first of all everybody has to respect each other, that we have to work together and we have to express the passion and how we lucky we are to be where we are. That’s the first one to start with.

The “right culture.” What is that? Measure it. Define it. I’ll wait. Sadly, I could be waiting a while because it seems nobody at Arsenal, including Arteta, the Process King himself, knows what the “right culture” looks like.

Why else would the club have hired a London-based PR firm to review the culture? That’s got to be one creatively written job description…

The Athletic’s David Ornstein has the details of this embarrassment:

One of the main problems identified in recent times has been the culture and they are now trying to do something about it. The Athletic understands Arsenal have enlisted the help of consultancy firm People-Made to embark upon what sources call a ‘top-to-bottom cultural review of the club.’ The project — known internally as ‘The Arsenal Way’ — has already begun and aims to hear from staff at all levels of the organisation, identify what has gone wrong and attempt to put things right.

“The Arsenal Way.” Yuck.

The gist of this expensive vanity project is to reconnect Arsenal with the club’s history and sense of community. Laudable ambitions on the surface, but they beg the question what happened to those things in the first place?

There was an “Arsenal Way.” It was about financial prudence, developing young talent and staying committed to playing expansive, attractive football, regardless of the consequences to standing or legacy.

Those things ended the day Arsenal cut Arsene Wenger loose a year early. You remember Wenger? The last true gentleman of modern football. A manager with a true philosophy and brave enough to stick to it even when things got tough.

The club lost what Ornstein calls “factors Arsenal feel set them apart” the day Wenger was ousted for the platoon of corporate types who have followed. You know the ones and you remember their gaudy titles.

Sven Mislintat, Head of Recruitment. Raul Sanllehi, Head of Football. The many Heads of Contracts, Sports Science and Food & Beverages.

Arsenal made corporate speak a part of the fabric of the club the second Wenger’s desperate attempt to maintain its dignity was ended. Arteta’s ascension to a throne he doesn’t deserve is merely the continuation of this warped culture.

There’s no Mislintat or Sanllehi anymore. Praise the Lord. Yet, there’s still a fallow manager free to talk “culture,” “process” and “non-negotiables” in lieu of producing results and delivering consistent improvement.

Arteta didn’t win the cup because of a cultural reset, whatever that means. Those most responsible for that trophy, players like Aubameyang, David Luiz and Nicolas Pepe, have since been frozen out or dispensed with altogether. So much for the “right culture.”

This is the vicious circle Arsenal now live within. Win and the culture is right. Lose and the culture needs to be reviewed and revamped.

It’s one more layer of protective coating for the bubble encasing Arteta. He can finish outside the top 4 this season and explain any failings away by pointing to the work still being done to fix the culture.

You could measure the culture under Wenger because you knew exactly what he stood for, whether you agreed with him or not. Try measuring this culture.

Is it about young players? Not according to Arteta, who recently called on the club to change its recruitment profile this summer:

https://twitter.com/afcstuff/status/1510375961593794565

Just keep on chucking darts at the board, Mikel.

Is this culture about exciting, attacking football? Not when Arsenal have scored 45 goals in the Premier League, seven fewer than the next most goal-shy teams in the top seven.

Is this culture about careful, responsible spending? Not when Arteta and Edu dropped £150 million on six players last summer, the most spent on transfer fees by any team in the league.

Don’t forget this is also the same duo who greenlit giving expensive deals to Aubameyang, Luiz and Willian. Prudence, we hardly knew ye…

This culture isn’t even about consistency on the pitch. Unless frequent losing runs represent the consistency you crave:

https://twitter.com/goal/status/1515566978634641411
https://twitter.com/Orbinho/status/1512852341090832385

This culture can’t be defined, but what’s scary is there’s no pressure to come up with a definition. Arteta has yet another safety net.

He can fail on the pitch and simply pivot to talking up the so-called and unseen improvement off it. All he’ll have to do is point to People-Made and “The Arsenal Way.”

Originally published at http://arsenalnotes49.wordpress.com on April 18, 2022.

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Arsenal, NFL History and Film Analysis from James Dudko

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James Dudko

James Dudko

Films, Footie and Gridiron, with the emphasis on Arsenal, NFL history and analysis of cinema from years past.