Arsene Knows Best by AidanGooner (long time JustArsenal lurker, occasional commenter)
I’m submitting this because my fellow Arsenal fans are doing my nut in frankly; so I’m trying to drop some knowledge bombs on the masses who appear to have a skewed view from reality. Sarcy, uninformed or crass comments is all I hear or read. There’s all sorts of twisted perceived notions on Wenger. Arsenal ‘fans’ desperately searching for any opportunity to offer critique- outdated tactics, over-loyalty to players, poor team selection, overpaid, should have signed this/that player, no ambition, some other manager is succeeding somewhere- blah, blah, etcetera! Of course, I want to be winning the league every season, but we’re doing alright- and we ARE progressing. It’s a long-term project and people don’t have enough patience.
This is the same Wenger, who has revolutionised English football- a true pioneer. Before he came, everything was comparatively amateur. There was a drinking culture rife in English football prior to Wenger joining. He introduced his “non-visible preparation”- dietary habits and carefully balanced menus influenced by his time spent in Japan; many former players credit Wenger with adding several years to their careers. His training methods were innovative; no more tedious stamina sessions- close control, small sided games- leading to the aesthetically pleasing Arsenal brand of football; quick passing, beautiful goals- dispelling the notion of boring, boring Arsenal. He introduced the idea that “talent matters more than a passport” as his scouting network brought in an array of foreign talent – players like Vieira, Pires, Henry- we’d never seen the likes of, and fielding the first non-British X1.
There was a new emphasis on youth, Wenger said “the boy comes in at 16 or 17 and when they go out they have a supplement of soul, of love for the club, because they have been educated together. The people you meet at college from 16 to 20, often those are the relationships in life that keep going. That, I think, will give us strength that other clubs will not have.” He filled his academy with players from around the world, producing, in just the last 2 seasons – popular first teamers Bellerin, Coquelin, Iwobi and Campbell. This model has since been replicated across English football – a visit to any Premier League academy will reveal a host of foreign talent. He has had great footballing success, none more so than going 49 matches unbeaten and making us the Invincibles- this will never be replicated in our lifetimes! So has this same great man lost the plot? No. A thousand times – NO!
The move to the new stadium was done to compete long-term with the spending capabilities of no longer just ‘brand Liverpool’ & particularly ‘brand Utd’, but the arrival of the new oil-funded mega-money of first Chelsea and then City. Instant success was what the oil money allowed, we weren’t going down that route – and I respect that. Arsene Wenger had Arsenal operating under Financial Fair Play before it was even a twinkle in Michel Platini’s eye. He has always wanted the club to be self-sufficient, to spend only the resources it was able to generate. So the move happened. We sold our world class players. We bought some good ones, who weren’t world beaters. We made a profit on our transfers. Wenger was set the target by the Arsenal board of qualification for the Champions League in 3 out of the next 6 seasons. We stayed in the Champions League anyway.
Some time has passed, the stadium debt was paid off. A common misconception seems to be that we were suddenly able to throw cash about like some kind of Real Madrid or Adrian Broner. We were still going to live within our means, just our means were now more ample. In each of the last 4 summers we’ve now been able to sign a worldclass player: Cazorla then Ozil then Sanchez then Cech. In the last 10 years, for the first 6 years our net spend on transfers was MINUS £48.8 million- having to help fund the stadium, but quite remarkably staying competitive nonetheless. The next/last 4 years with Cazorla, Sanchez, Ozil, Cech arriving- proven world class players (also on world class player wages) coming in- we’ve had a net transfer spend of £119.7 million- so the fruition from the stadium move is very evident to me. However, at the same time- some of the (necessary at the time) mediocrity in our personnel is still present, but exiting season by season- this season it will be Flamini & Arteta, at least- and due to that fact we are playing catch up still.
The gap to Man City, Chelsea, and Manchester Utd through a new found ability to sign proven, more expensive players doesn’t exist anymore. We’ve had recent FA cup success, but it just so happens that this season that just means being the best of a bad bunch in the league, and it still hasn’t resulted in a championship. This season is an anomaly I feel though, in terms of one of the less financially powerful clubs winning the league – we are in a far better position for the stadium move. Leicester have been brilliant and consistent – but in fairness they’ve had no injuries or European competition to stretch a consistent first 11. 8 of their players have started over 30 Prem games, in the other 3 positions – the same player has made 26-29 starts. We’ve had 5 players make over 30 starts; that’s what happens when you’re in Europe playing 2 games a week, you pick up more injuries & have to rotate the squad. Leicester will struggle to match the big boys next season, on an even playing field. Chelsea will have a good year.
I’ve heard people give other examples like Atletico Madrid & Dortmund but that’s not a fair comparison. Dortmund are pretty much fighting one other club for the title- it’s a far less competitive league than the Prem. German footballers are damn good, up there with the best around & Dortmund have a massive following- the largest average home attendances in all of Europe. Many of the amazingly talented young Germans who won the title for Dortmund, were always going to end up either there or Bayern- Hummels, Reus, Gotze, Gundogan, Bender etc. Is it really that big an achievement that they won the league twice in recent memory? You might argue they have underachieved. Athletico- I see them as having a similar philosophy in the transfer market to what Wenger historically has had (particularly pre-stadium move & the additional policy of big signings). For all the hidden gems & youth players with raw potential Wenger & his Arsenal scouts has been able to uncover, Atletico were doing similar things but having to adhere to different rules. In England to sign a Non-EU National you must apply for a work permit & the player must have played 75% of international games over the last 2 years. Atletico being in Spain were not subject to this restriction and many of their best and often bargain signings have been South Americans. Their title win was a very good achievement, but they could do things we could not- it’s a massive handicap for British clubs. Obviously things are getting even tougher with the FA policy about having a certain amount of Home Grown (wonderfully talented, English) players in the squad.
The bigger picture is looking somewhat rosier- with the advances we are making all the time- slowly but surely improving personnel. This, by the way, concided with the two FA Cups in the last two seasons. No one seems to acknowledge the clear change of transfer policy, perhaps due to a frugality last Summer. It’s just kneejerk and short-sighted to dismiss other recent expensive signings by us. I believe the public reason given for not spending heavily last summer was not infact the reality. The latest financial results which Arsenal have announced indicate a loss of £3.4 million after tax- for 6 month period ending 30 Nov 2015. This, we can assume is the result of transfer fees such as Ozil/Sanchez being outlayed- as these transfers are structured in payments over a number of years. We also have several first team squad players coming to their contract ends this summer and it makes sense to hold out an extra year and see which youth team players step up, and where best to improve the squad & invest the added new wages (perhaps give the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott etc. one more season to step up too). I believe the reason provided of there being no better players available on the market that some fans have scoffed at, was simply meant to serve as a public vote of confidence for the squad- to boost confidence and morale, a smart strategy for the impending new season which just kicking off. We’ll be busy this summer, rest assured.
The stadium move meant a barren few years- the frustration amongst fans is far, far, far higher because of those years, and I don’t believe it should be- they were necessary. It also had a side effect of meaning we were never seriously going to compete for many years. This has required the fans to have patience for the long term vision that most just don’t have. Can anyone name another highly regarded manager who would have even stuck at a top club with no hope of winning the league for at least 7-8 years- and value the project over the impact on your reputation? Let alone think of someone who would manage to pull off keeping us in the Champions League while selling their best players off to rivals? The truth is we have ridden out the worst of it, but are still playing catchup to this day- and we should be very grateful to Arsene Wenger. Give due respect. Be careful what you wish for.