How dignified it was for Arsenal fans to break out into a brawl over a sports opinion. Whatever you think of that small group of supporters who unfurled that banner asking Arsene Wenger to step down, the greater matter here is that it is just an opinion on football; they’re not advocating genocide.
And here’s the thing: Arsenal fans are probably the most divided set of supporters in England, most certainly in terms of the biggest clubs in Europe. You have fans of other clubs looking in and asking what people are so worked up about. There’s a manager who has done wonderful things in the past for the football club and yet here we are, an increasing section not all that bothered if he stays on after this season.
Ungrateful? No, not really. I don’t think you can throw that word around in sports and make it stick. And it’s not really about entitlement either. Are Barcelona supporters supposed to apologise for being the best team in the world? What about Bayern fans? Should they be embarrassed for the success their club has enjoyed? No club deserves rewards for doing nothing, but if you’re a club who is expected to be there or somewhere within touching distance, and certainly with the finances swirling around many sections of football at the moment, fans do have a right to believe their club should be doing better.
So it understandably grates when Wenger raises excuses not to enter the market. We’ve heard him say many times in recent transfer windows that the “market is quiet or flat”, that there is “not a lot of money in football at the moment”. Yes, I agree. But isn’t that the whole point as to why Arsenal moved into the Emirates? Europe may not have finances to strengthen, but Arsenal do.
The manager’s criticism of Newcastle for spending this January was bordering on embarrassing. The thing about Wenger is that he wants to play by his rules, one which follows the ideals of low spend, youth development and the capping of certain aspects of the game. That’s all well and good, but he also wants others to follow his own personal game – and that is misguided.
I get that Wenger is one of the smartest managers in football, and he’s more than backed up with a CV that makes him one of the finest ever to arrive in England. But why have Arsenal become so separated from what is now considered the norm in football? People may not like it, but it is the norm to pay above £15 million for a player when the club are financially healthy and in desperate need of reinforcing. People may not like it, but paying your best or most valuable players the market rate – which, for example, may fall into the £100,000-£120,000 per week category – is acceptable. A big club like Arsenal shouldn’t have to worry about falling the way of Leeds or Portsmouth or Rangers; there isn’t a clamouring for the club to do that, but rather to make exceptions in circumstances where bending of the rules is necessary.
Wenger talks about Arsenal not finding the right players or players who are good enough to come in during January. Well Newcastle have done an excellent job of adding good players for small fees who could have done well at Arsenal. Mathieu Debuchy would have been a bargain buy and a player of sufficient quality to add something to Arsenal. Isn’t that the sort of signing Wenger is supposed to be making?
There are players available in January, and players who are capable of making a huge difference. If the money is right, you can bag a Luis Suarez in the January market, and the Uruguayan shouldn’t really be considered expensive considering what he’s produced in England.
But John Cross made the point last week that Wenger changes his mind almost 10 times on transfers. He dithers, re-evaluates his options, discovers he does actually need the player, and then realises that another club has stepped in to land the transfer. You do get the sense that Wenger sees transfers as a sign of weakness and a plea for outside help. Again, it’s an unrealistic approach to football management that just doesn’t work. Not every club in Europe is blessed with the youth systems of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Bayern Munich, and Ajax. What about clubs in South America like Boca Juniors and Santos? These are exceptions, but fortunately for Arsenal fans Wenger is trying to create a similar setup at Arsenal. Unfortunately for Arsenal fans, Wenger believes the youth system to be good enough now to create the larger percentage of first-team players than what is brought in via the market.
Wenger has a responsibility to the fans during this time. He is fighting fires, from board members who offer contrasting stories to having to witness fans clashing over his worth as manager. But he doesn’t help the situation by repeatedly talking down the transfer market and what is available to him. Many fans have said in the past that it would be foolish to expect Wenger to say he wants a striker and a defender, for example, as it would encourage other clubs to hike up the price. I believe that to be a lot of nonsense anyway. Even if you surprise a club at three in the AM wishing to purchase one of their stars, they have as much right to inflate the price then as they do if they were to hear whispers in the media originating over a week prior. A flawed argument, as cases such as Cesc Fabregas’ sale to Barcelona gives evidence. Chased for over two years, sold for close to nothing.
The greater argument here is that once again the point is raised for Wenger to alter his ways. Give supporters something to be a little hopeful for. Why should fans of a club like Arsenal, who charge the highest prices in England, be forced to dismiss rumours of a £20 million signing just because it’s never been done before?