The mantra ‘Arsene knows’ has been around for quite some time now; ever since Arsenal’s unbeaten season in 2004, Wenger has been acknowledged as one of the best manager’s in world football. Whenever a minority of fans question him, this mantra is used to emphasise his apparent omniscience and quell any doubters. Wenger has been at Arsenal for 13 years and throughout this time he has had Pat Rice alongside him. In comparison, Wenger’s far more successful rival Ferguson has had a succession of high profile assistants including Brain Kidd, Steve McClaren and Carlos Queiroz. Partly as result of these men, Ferguson has been able to construct a number of title-winning sides and his team’s style of play has adapted over the years. So the question is, would Arsene benefit from a new assistant who could provide some fresh ideas?
First of all this is not a criticism of Pat Rice; he is a top coach and has played a key role in all of Arsenal’s successes under Wenger. But it has been over 4 years since Arsenal won a trophy and as each season passes, the mantra of ‘Arsene knows’ sounds more and more desperate. Wenger is known for his stubbornness; despite his fantastic record of player recruitment and development, he is prone to blind spots. His persistence with Manuel Almunia is a case in point; the Spaniard is not good enough to be first-choice goalkeeper for a top English side and despite numerous high-profile errors, Wenger has kept faith in him. Is Pat Rice a strong enough character to put forward to Wenger that a replacement is needed, or does he just accept Wenger’s steadfast belief in the Spaniard and try to work around it. It is widely thought that Arsenal would benefit from a dominant central-midfielder in the mould of Patrick Vieira to add steel to their team, but this deficiency has been clear for a number of years and yet nothing has been done. Again Wenger has kept faith in his youngsters; while this should be applauded, the youngsters themselves would benefit from some more experienced players with quality. An assistant with a stronger personality than Pat Rice may be able to make these points to Wenger and maybe make him listen; at present you wonder if he is surrounded by a group of yes-men.
If Wenger needs to see evidence of what difference a new assistant can make, he needs to only look at the goings on at Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson has benefitted from the injection of fresh blood into the coaching setup as his recent assistants have all made their mark on the team. McClaren introduced the use of video analysis and sports psychologists to Old Trafford and some of his methods continue to be used at the club. Ferguson is astute enough to know that even with all his talents he can always learn from others, such is the nature of football, it is always evolving. Carlos Queiroz in his two spells with United had a massive impact as his connection to the Portuguese league facilitated the arrivals of Nani, Anderson and Cristiano Ronaldo. In addition, Queiroz also played a part in changing United’s formation; the team that was known for playing 4-4-2 embraced the 4-3-3 formation with his help. A strong assistant can be the difference-maker and Ferguson is well aware of this; his previous assistants have gone on to find success as managers themselves, those are the characters he recruits; strong-minded individuals with fresh ideas.
Arsene Wenger is a great manager and by all accounts a great man, but stubbornness is his main vice and he would benefit from a strong-willed assistant to temper this. Having someone to bounce ideas off could improve his fortunes with Arsenal as the pressure builds to end the trophy drought.