Is Wenger the great visionary in need of an eye-test?

Two straight defeats in the Premier League, and it’s time once again to question Arsene Wenger’s position at Arsenal. We’ve been here before, and with the trophy cabinet continuing to collect dust, Wenger can expect such inquests at regular intervals until he starts to deliver titles once more. The post-match comments from the Frenchman have been almost universally derided by the football media, with Wenger’s assertion that Aston Villa is a ‘long ball team’, and Chelsea is characterised by dullness and fouling, doing ‘the professor’ few favours. Wenger’s stance that his side’s brand of football makes them morally virtuous has received condemnation from both pundits and some Arsenal fans, with the latter’s stance an example of just how fractious Arsenal’s support currently is. The two extremes amongst Arsenal fans can be split into those who follow Wenger’s philosophy unwaveringly, and those that, whilst recognising Wenger as an Arsenal legend, believe it’s time the man stepped aside. It is a subject that every Arsenal fan has an opinion on, and until Wenger addresses certain issues within his regime, the debate will rumble on.

One issue Wenger has already addressed is the myth that Arsenal has a war chest to rival that of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. Wenger has finally wilted to pressure from the media and supporters in disclosing the financial constraints that he must work under. Arsenal is one of the richest clubs in Europe, and boasted a club record turnover of £313 million for the last financial year ending 31st May 2009. However, Arsenal is burdened with debt from the building of the Emirates Stadium, as well as becoming victims of the downturn in the property market with regard to the Highbury Square development. Arsenal’s resulting debt is considered to be around £300 million, and whilst the club has no trouble servicing this debt, the club does not have excess resources to compete with the likes of Chelsea or Manchester City in terms of wages or transfer fees. For example, the club’s annual wage bill stands at £104 million, whilst Chelsea spent £172 million last year. Aside from rising operating costs, one third of Arsenal’s annual turnover is already spent on wages. Anymore high profile signings would put too much pressure on Arsenal’s current wage structure, and so the club cannot compete with Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United in this respect.

However, fans are confused as to why the club pays such huge wages to players many supporters deem average as a wage bill of £104 million is still amongst the highest in the league. Supporters all have different opinions on their clubs players, but some Arsenal fans question why players such as Almunia, Eboue, Denilson, Diaby and Bendtner are on big, long term contracts at Arsenal, when they would receive significantly less at other Premier League clubs. In the case of Denilson, Eboue, Diaby and Bendtner, perhaps Wenger is so focused upon seeing players he brought to the club as teenagers succeed, his vision is blinkered. Whilst players such as Clichy, Fabregas, Song and Ramsey are all examples of quality players brought in at a very young age (and relatively cheaply) there are players that Wenger could bring to the club that would surely not break the bank, and yet outperform some of Wenger’s current crop.

Although not your typical Arsene Wenger players, Richard Dunne and Gareth Barry (before Manchester City were interested and Sheikh Mansour inflated his wages and transfer fee) both represent the sort of player that Wenger could have signed without breaking Arsenal’s wage or transfer fee structure. Most Arsenal fans will doubtlessly disagree with these two examples, but experienced Premier League players in central positions would greatly complement the talent Arsenal have at their disposal, if only Wenger were willing to concede defeat with regard to some of his prodigies.

Unlike billionaires Chelsea and Manchester City, Wenger has grown a club at Arsenal, not bought it. Once Arsenal have paid for their brand new stadium (which is the envy of most clubs in the country), Arsenal will no longer owe huge interest payments every year, and money will be freed to recruit some of the Premier League and Europe’s best talent. Further, by continuing to invest in youth and install a unique philosophy at the club, Arsenal will save millions of pounds in years to come by producing homegrown talent. However, in the meantime, Wenger must stop frustrating fans and commentators alike with his eccentric post match analysis of matches, and admit to his teams short comings. Morally, Arsenal may be superior to debt ridden clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City, who are dependent on the whim of a billionaire owner. They may even play the best football in the league. But fans want trophies, they want days out at Wembley, and they want to compete with the best now. Perhaps Wenger should pop down to Specsavers and have a vision check. There’s not a lot the Frenchman has done wrong during his 14 year career at Arsenal, but by setting too much store in ‘the beautiful game’, and failing to spot holes in his youthful players, it could cost the Frenchman titles. And if the unrest at Arsenal continues to grow, it could one day cost him his job.