If planet Earth took a collection of its finest footballers to play against a Mars XI there would be few coaches who could select a team, apply the tactics or direct the globe’s talent better than Arsene Wenger. Although the Frenchman has once again invited criticism of his abilities for guiding his Arsenal side to a sixth consecutive trophy-less season, Wenger can boast 3 Premier League titles and 4 FA Cups on his list of honours. More remarkably, the former Monaco boss has overseen and influenced a colossal transition in Arsenal’s fabric by coercing the Gunners’ move to a modern 60,000 capacity stadium and implanting a tactical philosophy, an academy structure and economic principles which his eventual successor will struggle to alter.
The aesthetic quality of Arsenal’s football has never been in question, but the Gunners haven’t been able to supplement their form with silverware during a period when neighbours Spurs have won the League Cup and perpetual title rivals Manchester United have landed 3 Premier Leagues, 3 League Cups and a Champions League trophy. It is important to note that since the Premier League’s inauguration in 1992, Arsenal have spent £273million on transfers whereas Tottenham have expended £399million and Manchester United £430million during the same period.
Throughout the League’s 19 seasons the Gunners have recorded a net spend on transfers of £35million overall, which is less than Stoke, West Brom, Wolves, Everton, Birmingham, Fulham, Newcastle, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham. The fact that eight out of the above 12 teams have endured a considerable portion of that period in England’s second tier, and some even further down the Football League ladder, speaks volumes. The continual pressure placed on Wenger to spend above his means is surely unfounded as Arsenal’s repeated presence in the Champions League and Premiership title race represents an astonishing return when balanced against the expenditure of ‘smaller’ clubs.
Chelsea and Manchester United have expanded their trophy cabinets significantly since Arsenal last lifted the FA Cup in 2005, but the Stamford Bridge outfit have spent an average of £48million a season on players since 2003 whilst United’s total of £6million is largely reduced due to the £80million sale of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009. In that time Arsenal have actually made a net profit of £3million from transfer transactions and featured in a European Cup Final and two League Cup Finals in the past five years. Although Portsmouth, Birmingham and Tottenham have all secured silverware recently, this demonstrates a substantial amount of investment and fortune that Arsenal haven’t been afforded. With this in mind, shouldn’t Arsenal fans be satisfied with their manager’s efforts in establishing an esteemed club stature by exercising organic and economical methods whilst exhibiting some of the most stylish football of any team?
Of course this feat is widely respected but fans of any club expect a healthy level of progressive self-improvement. A number of Gunners fans have begun to accept Cesc Fabregas’ impending departure based on his apparent mental deterioration and the sizeable fee his sale would command. I don’t necessarily agree with this theory but I do believe Fabregas’ emergence as Arsenal’s talisman has logically coincided with Arsenal’s barren spell. The reason is, Wenger altered his tactical beliefs after 2005 in order to accommodate the Spaniard and in doing so abandoned the tactics that had previously proved so successful.
The 1998 Double-wining side contained a familiar back-four with two holding midfielders – Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira – two wingers – Ray Parlour and Marc Overmars – and a support and target striker – Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright/Nicolas Anelka. That team was replaced only by name in Arsenal’s 2004 Invincibles season as Gilberto Silva replaced Petit, Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires occupied the wings and Thierry Henry succeeded Ian Wright, contributing 39 goals in the process. The Invincibles side produced an FA Cup the following year but disintegrated rapidly, largely due to age, and Arsenal are still waiting to repeat the trophy-winning achievement.
The Arsenal class of 2011 are almost unrecognisable from Wenger’s tactical halcyon era as the Frenchman has sought to adapt his squad parallel to football’s developing form. The evidence resides in Arsenal’s squad-list which currently includes several offensive players with no fixed position – Tomas Rosicky, Samir Nasri, Theo Walcott, Andrey Arshavin, Abou Diaby and Aaron Ramsey. Their talents are unquestionable but I sincerely doubt that most of them would have found a place in Wenger’s previously successful system.
Arsene Wenger is a victim of his unrivalled intelligence and Arsenal fans’ expectations are always elevated as a result. His record is perhaps more extraordinary than say Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti or even Sir Alex Ferguson and it is vital to Arsenal’s future that Wenger retains his obduracy. Expensive signings never guarantee immediate dividends and Arsenal’s conductor simply needs to recall the system that best worked for him. Have faith, Arsenal fans’ unrelenting trust in Wenger must continue.
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