Does Arsene Wenger make a valid point?

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has taken another swipe at the mega-rich clubs currently operating within Europe, such as Manchester City and PSG, stating that they are damaging the game and distorting the market, but does he have a point?

The club look set to tie up a £16m deal to bring Malaga midfielder Santi Cazorla to the Emirates this summer, while it looks as if there may be more to the Nuri Sahin loan switch than Wenger is letting on. This comes off the back of a summer of pretty big investment by Wenger’s standards, as he’s already sanctioned the signings of Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski to bolster the club’s attack for a combined figure of £24m, with Robin van Persie’s future still up in the air.

Wenger stated in his attack on Manchester City and PSG: “Overall we are not mega-rich because we do not have unlimited resources. A club can buy players like PSG has done or Manchester City or Chelsea, with unlimited resources, but overall football suffers. Look at the activity on the transfer market since the start of the summer.

“PSG are ambitious and they have resources and that’s it. We talk always about the same things. I don’t think anything is new in that domain. Europe at the moment is like the Titanic but we live in football like nothing matters. More than ever we have to run our club in a strict way because it looks like everybody suffers in Europe. I would be surprised if football is not touched by it at some stage. If you look at debt in football across Europe at the moment it is quite massive and we have to be responsible. We have to be ambitious but also make sure we are not getting in trouble financially. It is difficult for us because the wages in some other clubs are very high. But of course our players quite rightly compare themselves to the players of the other clubs.”

It’s completely reasonable to think that during a double-dip recession such as this, it beggars belief that some clubs are spending in such a fashion and it’s amazing that not more situations like the one currently taking place at Portsmouth haven’t happened elsewhere or with more frequency. Lower league football has been starved of money for quite some time now and they have had to adjust accordingly and with the Financial Fair Play rules coming into effect next season, the elite of Europe will have to do the same very soon.

The FFP rules, UEFA President Michel Platini’s brainchild, is a sound idea in principle but it remains to be seen how strictly they will be imposed on those clubs who fail to make the grade in terms of balancing their budgets. It’s been Wenger’s saving grace for quite some time now and the club have planned sensibly for the future and could be the main benefactors, in England at least, of their introduction.

Wenger has been routinely derided for a failure to dip into the club’s transfer war chest (cliche alert), but spending great deals of money has never been Wenger’s way or style. Only once since the club last won a trophy, back in 2005 with the FA Cup, has Wenger had a net spend higher than £10m before this season, coming in 2007-8 when he spent £31m but brought in a further £17.6m.

The club are often called a ‘selling club’, but then again, that’s always been the case, going right back to the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit. Buying at a reasonable price and selling on at a higher rate, a tactic that Newcastle have been lauded for in recent times, has been common practice at the club since Wenger took over back in 1996.

Arsenal’s best years under Wenger came between 1997 and 2005 – during that eight-year spell, before the trophy-drought set in, they went on to win three Premier League titles and four FA Cups. In total they spent around £120m on new players, which works out at £15m per season. In the seven years since, the Gunners have spent approximately £175m on new players, which comes in at £25m a season – £10m more per season than they did when they were winning trophies.

Last season, Wenger was guilty of a mad trolley-dash on transfer deadline day, spending £29.2m on the likes of Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Park Chu-Young and Andre Santos, but only the Spaniard is assured of a starting place in a fully fit squad. It just shows the panic that must have set in as he had to compensate for the sales of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. The lack of planning was terrible, but is shows what happens when the normally calm Wenger gives in to market trends and the results have been far from successful.

Arsenal are very much a club, which despite their high turnovers, operate within their budget and means. It may be somewhat disingenuous to compare the likes of Manchester City and PSG to the titanic, for the sheer wealth of their owners means they will always be well looked after, as will the built up nature of their ‘brand’, but they have indisputably inflated the market for the worse. The situation at Malaga is also the first time that a billionaire owner has actually lost interest and while the clubs may be play-things of a sort, they’re in no real danger of being dropped in favour of a fancier, newer toy because football is the biggest sport across the world. It’s a criticism often levelled at Chelsea and other clubs with such wealth, but it’s a lazy stick to beat it with, to be quite frank.

Since Wenger has been at the club, they have spent £338m and recouped £319m, for a net spend of £19m over 16 years, which works out at just £1.1m per season net spend which is a truly staggering statistic. It seems as if the club have been preparing for the FFP rules long before they were even originally conceived.

I really don’t buy into the argument that clubs such as Manchester City and PSG are the ‘death of football’, it’s over the top hyperbole and it will soon be defunct when the FFP regulations are introduced (or at least in theory it should do), these clubs are merely trying to get in all of the great expenditure while they still can and after that, a levelling of the playing field will hopefully occur.

Arsenal are a responsible club, they were open about the need to cut transfer budgets after their move from Highbury to the Emirates back in 2006, but they look in exceptionally good nick going forward for the future and while the club’s fans may be frustrated by their lack of movement in the market at times (a fallacy exposed above), they will surely benefit in the long-term more than many of their rivals. As such, signings like Cazorla and Sahin, two exceptionally gifted players, may be more common place than they have been these past five years or so as they look to reap the dividends of sound, long-term financial planning.

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