I am not an Arsenal fan and I do not like Arsene Wenger, however, I never thought I’d say this but I think he deserves a break. Up until last night’s victory over Liverpool the Gunners boss had been the subject of a ridiculous amount of criticism of late. It seems that every journalist, fan, person with access to the internet has been sticking the knife in to old Arsene. This is something of a surprise considering the position Arsenal are in at the moment: Third in the Premier League, through to the next stage of the Champions League with a young squad who can only improve.
One thing that amazes me with all this vitriol is that people are so quick to a) dismiss the loss of Van Persie b) Blame Wenger for not having the squad to cover for him and c) blame Wenger for not replacing him in the transfer window. This is ridiculously harsh for several reasons. Van Persie is to Arsenal what Rooney is to Man United, Drogba to Chelsea or Torres to Liverpool. He is not only the key part of the forward system Arsenal play but also their most lethal finisher and the one the other players look to when their after a goal. Some may say Fabregas is the main man and while that may be true he’s never as likely to get you an equaliser as RVP is. Now if any of the teams mentioned lost those strikers they would struggle- as Liverpool have without Torres as times this season. If United had lost Rooney for the last three months and were where Arsenal are now I’d be pretty amazed.
That brings me to my second point, when Drogba went to the ACN everyone was quick to note how Chelsea had Anelka waiting in the wings to take his place. Now yes, Anelka can do a very good job but as was proved under Scolari, if Drogba is out for a long period or simply refusing to perform, then Anelka is not good enough to truly replace him. Drogba was away while Chelsea had a very easy run of games so he wasn’t missed as much as he could have been. If Rooney gets injured United have Berbatov to step in, but does anyone honestly believe he would carry the team in the same way Rooney does? I think not. The same goes for Torres at Liverpool, sure Ngog or Kuyt can fill the position but they can’t fill the void, not for month after month anyway. Bendtner or Arshavin or whoever is the same kind of replacement for Van Persie, good but not nearly as-good.
Which brings me to the transfer window, buying a replacement for Van Persie in the transfer window is like breaking down in a Ferrari on the motorway and hitchhiking expecting another one to come along. Of the players available in the window, would Wenger have really been able to find one to replace Van Persie? He could have gone for a Kenwynne Jones, or a Jermaine Beckford perhaps or maybe see if he could have whipped Benjani away from under Sunderland’s noses. The fact is no truly world class strikers can be bought in January unless you break the bank, something that Wenger isn’t willing or possibly able to do. When it comes to available transfer money only two things are certain in the premier league, Pompey have no money, Man City have no limits, anything else is open to debate. Maybe Wenger does have a large transfer kitty but that doesn’t mean he should waste it by buying a striker who will take time to settle then maybe not even get in the team once Van Persie returns.
There is also Wenger’s criticism for buying and playing Almunia, who is in danger of struggling to shake his reputation for being something of a clown. Goalkeepers often go through bad patches – who can forget just how bad Heurelho Gomes looked at one point- and Wenger wouldn’t be the first manager to stick by his Number one when he’s having a tough time. Again Wenger could have moved to replace him last year, but who was available who is definitely going to be able to handle the pressure of playing in front of 60,000 fans every week? Given would have been a good buy, but when Manchester- this is like a game of championship manager so who cares how much we spend- City go after someone the likelihood is they’ll get him-unless he’s a sane Brazillian.
Wenger has also had to contend with many of his best players leaving over the years. Henry, Vieira, Flamini, Hleb, Toure and Adebayor have all left since the last time Arsenal won a trophy. Yet as a manager if one of your players wants to leave, what can you do?
Since 2004 Wenger has been unable to compete financially with Manchester United- until recently anyway- and Chelsea, often his two main rivals for the title. So he has opted for youth, hoping to develop a team good enough to challenge further down the line. Fergie has admitted following the Russian takeover of Chelsea, he took a similar approach, bringing in youngsters such as Djemba-Djemba, Liam Miller, Kleberson, Bellion and Foster. The reason Ferguson’s tactic was more successful than Wenger’s is because along with that list of quite frankly rubbish football players were a certain pair of teenagers called Rooney and Ronaldo. Let’s not forget that Fergie spent £40 million on those two and had to wait 3 years for a return he didn’t just wave a magic wand and achieve instant success. Wenger’s idea of how to compete with Chelsea was the same as Fergie’s he was just a tad unfortunate Sir Alex bagged two future superstars, while he only got the one in Fabregas.
It should not be forgotten that Wenger is the only manager who’s gone toe-to-toe with Ferguson and stuck around long enough to try again. Mourinho left after 3 years, while only time will tell how long Benitez sticks around for. Wenger is up against one of the greatest managers, if not the greatest, of all time. Joe Frazier and George Foreman were not bad boxers, the reason they only held the Heavyweight title for a few years was because a certain Muhammad Ali was around at the same time and he kept winning it back, then keeping it.
Whether or not Wenger does win the title again he will still go down in history as one of the best managers ever to work in England. There’s a good chance that sooner or later though Wenger may just prove his detractors wrong and win the one big trophy that’s eluded Arsenal. Excuse me for being honest, but I hope not.
Read more of Justin Mottershead work at his blog ‘Name is on the Trophy’