Why Arsenal haven’t won anything in seven years by Ix Techau
The plan was never to sell Henry, Pires or Vieira, instead the hope was to follow the same pattern as Man Utd did with players like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. But as the long-term plan was in place, the financial benefit of selling these players would mean accelerating the reduction in debt, and that’s where the first big mistake was made. It wasn’t solely the board’s or Wenger’s fault though, the players themselves had expressed a desire to move on.
The third wave would be introduced around 2008, bringing players like Aaron Ramsey (18), Ignasi Miquel (16), Kyle Bartley (16), Francis Coquelin (17), etc, to the club, and would serve as the first expansion for the new generation. The whole point of bringing in new waves of youth players would be to eliminate the need for traditional squad generations in the future and instead have a constant flow of new players, eventually having a broad age span within the first team squad with natural replacements ready to go where needed.
The third wave of players meant Arsenal started to build a very solid foundation within their youth ranks, and with players from the first wave already starting to claim their place in the first team, Wenger knew the plan was working. But he also knew that, not until the players were old enough, would we see the true results of the plan, and he was only halfway through the project at this stage.
As the first and second wave players were becoming first team starters (Fabregas, Walcott, Clichy, Djourou, Walcott, Song, etc), and with the third wave players lurking in the wings, the club initiated the fourth wave in 2010 – expected to be ready for the first team in about 3-5 years. Players like Wellington Silva, Jon Toral-Harper, Samuel Galindo and Ryo Miyaichi would form one of the last waves before the first team players were old enough to become the experienced players at the club, and bring us to the self-sustaining state we planned for in the first place.
We still have a year or two left before this 10-year strategy proves itself to be successful. We currently have a very strong first team with more harmony than in recent years, and first wave players haven’t even reached their peaks yet. Still we’re looking to at least claim second place in the most competitive league in the world, we were only one mistake away from a Carling Cup trophy, and we were only one Bendtner mis-hit away from knocking Barcelona out of the Champions League.
In the 2011 summer transfer window, Wenger will add the last of the fourth wave players to the academy, and then follow the same pattern as before, waiting a couple of years before starting the fifth wave. The fifth wave marks the end of the 10-year plan for mainstream transfer market independence, and at this stage the first wave players bought back in 2003-2004 will be hitting their peaks, becoming the club’s experienced players in the process.
At this stage we should have the third and fourth wave players in their early/mid-20′s, ready to step into the first eleven if injuries or player sales alter the first choice setup, and with the fifth wave in their late teens, we all of a sudden have a perfect span of players in the correct age groups to dominate for years. And this was the intention from the start.
1. Our experienced players left the club too soon – Wenger or the board can’t be blamed for all of them, but could have put more effort into trying to keep some of them. Henry and Viera wanted to move on, and when a player isn’t mentally at the club anymore, there is little point keeping him. But with players like Pires or Flamini, Wenger and the board definitely could have done more to keep them at the club.
2. Unlucky age gap – the difference between the first wave players and the Invincibles generation was unfortunately a couple of years too much, and as a result the transition between them couldn’t be made in time before the older players disappeared from the club. Wenger and the board couldn’t really do much about this, but maybe the long-term plan should’ve been initiated in 1999 when the new stadium proposal was made, instead of 3-4 years later.
3. Long-term plan causing close relationships with players – when dealing primarily with 16-year olds eventually expected to be responsible for the success of a world class football club, trust and love is put into the players from a very young age. This creates high levels of harmony within the club, but also creates relationships that can be too close at times. A major complaint about Wenger is that he trusts his players too much, giving them chance after chance even though they don’t seem to improve. Wenger needs to become more ruthless in this department, but then we run the risk of upsetting harmony at the club.
4. Key replacements weren’t made exceptions to the long-term plan – losing Vieira, Gilberto and Flamini meant losing defensive stability in midfield until Song was ready to step up. And just like when Liverpool lost Alonso, the importance of a good holding midfield player in the modern game was exposed. If Wenger had made one exception to the long-term plan, we might have had a better form in the period between 2005-2010. However, we currently have very promising second and third wave players coming through, and with Song playing well, this won’t be a massive issue in 2011 and onwards. Unfortunately most if not all of the key players got sold. This resulted in a massive collapse in this plan. Arsene Wenger than went on to make some awful signings to replace players that left with the likes of Squillachi, Chamakh, Park, Santos etc. made their entrance.
With that being said, is it realistic to demand that Wenger or the board should have done everything perfectly when transforming the whole essence of the club into the modern era? Did they make mistakes? Yes. Should we get rid of Wenger when we’re at the final stage of a long-term plan? I don’t know, maybe that would be ridiculous. Every manager makes mistakes, but lets be honest: Wenger has kept us in the top 4 throughout this transition phase, in the best league in the world. But recent form suggests that Arsenal is slipping further and further away. It is clear that with injuries, big spending clubs, change in wage structures, the exodus of players etc. this plan would not work at least for the supporters, but we have seen the plan net major profits for shareholders. I personally think it’s time for Wenger to abort this mission, and make some big signings soon to get the team back to where it was. Than go back to the drawing board. Hopefully he will be successful with the experience gained from the challengers faced during his previous plan.
The final part will look at how Arsenal compare to our rivals.