Last week I wrote an article suggesting Arsene Wenger should leave Arsenal gracefully, before his career in North London comes to a bitter end. At the time, the Gunners were 10th in the table, with their worst Premier League start under Wenger since he took over in 1996. I was labelled by Arsenal fans as an uninformed alarmist, and one commenter compared my opinions to those of Piers Morgan.
Perhaps my timing was bad, it was after a 2-0 defeat to Swansea that left Gunners fans slightly sensitive to say the least, and I admit my manner was rather negative, I did not do the French manager much justice considering his many achievements in the Premier League over the years. In total, Wenger and his philosophy has earned the club 11 major trophies.
Last weekend, Arsenal greatly improved to beat West Brom 2-0 in what may prove to be an important fixture come the summer should the Baggies, fuelled by successful management debutant Steve Clarke, continue their good form through to the business end of the season. But I still believe Wenger’s time at the club will eventually end with a nasty and brutal divorce unless he decides to quietly step aside.
It is not necessarily Arsenal’s performance this season, although in many games they have simply been not good enough, but more the long period of slow stagnation that seems to have come over the club. I believe the Frenchman and his philosophy is becoming more and more outdated in the modern era of football.
In defending his transfer policy, Wenger has highlighted some of my concerns: “It is about sweat, thinking, working hard. You have a big tradition of that in England. I am scared all these qualities today have less importance in the game. I don’t say that money doesn’t play a part in it, but it is not only about that. We have to continue to believe that it is not only about that because what is the game about then?”
You have to admire the man’s principles, Wenger never spent big in the past and generated a team that were nicknamed “The Invincibles” because of their successes, including their incredible feat of going a whole season undefeated.
He’s a man who’s bought young talent and slowly developed teenagers into World Class footballers. It is understandable for Wenger to think he can carry on doing that, the likes of Jack Wilshire, Carl Jenkinson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will no doubt develop into top level players, but this process is beginning to work to the detriment of the first team.
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There seems to be a constant transitioning at the club, between players who are learning their trade, and those edging on greatness, however the former tends to limit the heights of the latter. Arsenal haven’t won a trophy now since the FA Cup in 2005, however they have made their way to two cup finals since then, including the Champions League in 2006.
The problem is, it is near impossible to have enough young talent at one time to develop into a whole new starting XI of top class players in the future. Consider the sheer amount of youngsters who fail to develop after a certain level and never reach their full potential – there is always an element of luck involved. Other clubs tend to supplement the ones that make it by importing experienced players at the top of their game; however such players come with large transfer fees and wage demands, which are two principles Wenger’s philosophy stands firmly against.
The club’s wage structure severely limits Wenger’s ability to attract top level players, not to mention keep his stars. It is a fair point that money should not be the sole motivation to join a club and there should be an element of loyalty that some Arsenal players have lacked in the past, but unfortunately that is not how football works now days. Players are assets, and made constantly aware of it by their agents. Like any other business, employees need to be offered competitive salaries or they will be constantly lured to other clubs willing to offer them more.
Furthermore, there is another side to this argument that is over-looked by Arsenal fans who label those who leave the club for league rivals as traitors. Players remember winning trophies when their careers are over, and that will always be their overall aim. They will never strive to be a loyal servant to a club or to consistently qualify for the Champions League; they will strive to win accolades through their own skill and hard graft.
I’m a firm believer that you have to spend money to generate success in the Premier League, which has been proved by Chelsea and Man City, and therefore I will always dispute Wenger’s money-pinching transfer policy, but what concerns me more is the manner in which he lets his players leave. Letting Robin Van Persie leave for £24million has essentially handed the title to Manchester United, and ended Arsenal’s chances of making a title bid with one swift transfer. It is hardly the first time Wenger has allowed a player to leave for a bargain fee.
I get the feeling that to Wenger no player is worth £50million for example, and in many respects that is true. The amount of money in the Premiership is deplorable, but Wenger’s failure to accept the rules of the market place is systematic of how his philosophy has endangered the club he loves.
I agree with many of Wenger’s principles; restriction of players’ wages, the notion that no player should be worth vast sums of money, the idea hard work and talent should outweigh the power of the purse, but I can only agree with them as principles. Pragmatically, Wenger’s philosophy can no longer work. It is impossible to compete with the over £900million spent by City’s Sheik owners, and the money spent by Abramovich at Chelsea. Manchester United still spend around the £20million mark on many of their recruits.
Unless Wenger can move with the times and accept that money is a vital part of the game, he is allowing the club and himself get left behind as the Premier League evolves. It is not that the club is moving backwards necessarily, it’s that its failing to move forward. Eventually, Wenger and Arsenal will have a difficult decision to make. If the fans ever wish to see trophies again, they will have to cast their talisman head coach aside for a fresher perspective of the game.