After Arsenal drew away 2-2 in the Champions League to German outfit Schalke last night, after letting a two-goal lead slip in the process, club legend Tony Adams’ critique of the club’s transfer policy and belief couldn’t have been more accurate.
Of course, former players having a pop at an under pressure manager for this or that is all part and parcel of the game and Adams has shown himself to be rather colourful individual since his retirement from playing, but that doesn’t mean his opinions, in this instance at least, weren’t right on the money.
“If Wenger gets them into the top four he’s done brilliantly. You need to keep your best players and in recent years we’ve let them go a bit easy. I never got anywhere near the last year of my contract. You don’t let them go into their last year and run their contract down. It’s about winning, and how do you win? You have the best players, and if you keep selling your best players you’re not going to win. If you sell your best players you’re not going to challenge for titles.”
I’ve highlighted in past articles the fallacy of the Steve Bould effect on the back four while taking a look at the team’s lack of creativity in the final third this season in another but do the problems go a lot deeper than that? Is the root cause of all of Arsenal’s ills the dreaded reliance on Financial Fair Play? Or does the blame lay squarely at the door of Wenger?
There seems to be a reluctance by many to criticise Wenger, out of loyalty for his past achievements at the club. Arsenal have no entitlement to be part of the footballing elite in this country or in Europe and for quite a few years prior to his arrival, the club were drifting. However, at the same time, that is what makes it so galling that they have gradually been allowed to drift from the summit and never before have I witnessed such a slow and gradual decline.
Replacing the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie with Mikel Arteta and Olivier Giroud will only deliver one result. While Arteta is a fine player and that I hold a personal affection for, he’s simply not on the level of the Barcelona maestro and the French striker may well turn out to be a success at the club in the future, but with Peter Hill-Wood trying to absurdly claim that van Persie was allowed to depart for ‘football reasons’, then you leave yourselves open to a downward spiral with this endless cost-cutting.
Cutting corners in such a manner can only lead to an absence of prolonged success and the playing experiment has failed and Wenger’s stubbornness has had to eventually give way. This has seen a shift in the club’s transfer policy in recent times to bringing in more experienced and seasoned internationals rather than an endless obsession with the future, but the results have largely been the same because the club has become indoctrinated into accepting second best under Wenger’s guidance in recent years.
That they have placed all their eggs in one basket, banking on FFP being a success, which only serves to highlight how poorly managed the entire situation has been and even if it does have a lasting impact, a return to their previous place as the team to beat looks unlikely. There is nothing wrong with putting your club on a financially sound footing and in a way that makes it able to stand on its own two feet for years to come, but how that transition has come about means something has been lost along the way in terms of the team’s competitiveness out on the pitch, not to mention the contradictory evidence that their exorbitant yearly wage bill provides.
Praising Wenger for achieving fourth against the odds in recent times completely ignores the fact that it’s only an achievement in the context of his own making. He’s the one that’s plied the squad with deadwood and wasted players previously considered gems of the continent such as Arshavin and Rosicky and the team still looks as if it lacks any sort of plan B. There are no new ideas and where he was once innovative, he is now simply dogmatic and increasingly zealot-like.
The seven-year trophy drought shows no signs in the near future of ending and that’s a sorry state of affairs considering their slump could have been avoided with investment at certain key junctures after the stadium move, with noises from the board that the money was always there to invest. Turning around a sinking ship, with star players routinely leaving each summer is going to prove not only difficult, but it is going to take an extremely long time.
Forsaking competitiveness for the bottom line has cost the club dearly and it’s an approach that few can see dividends from in the short-term at least. Patience is in short supply these days, as is the delusion of hope, but in an increasingly cut-throat industry, Arsenal look to be playing by their own set of rules and there’s a reason not many others are following suit.
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