Arsenal fell into a state of predictability under Arsene Wenger both on and off the field: an outdated philosophy was religiously applied to a squad which was seldom shaken up by the arrival of a marquee signing; the promotion of youth reigned supreme. “The problem with Arsenal is they always try and walk it into the net”. Boring, boring, Arsenal.
Inevitably and paradoxically, Wenger’s own success was conducive to his demise.
Rather than being taken out in an instant by a camouflaged sniper, the French legend’s character assassination was open for spectators to feast their eyes over during a number of years. As another Arsenal fan TV clip went viral on social media featuring actual grown men willingly signing up for yet another slice of public humiliation, a piece of Wenger’s credibility was removed.
But the three-time Premier League title winner stood firm and by his principles, until less than six months before his watch came to an end. Wenger stood before his sworn brothers a broken man, battered and tired of the familiar narrative, before confirming that Mesut Ozil had been awarded a £350,000 per week contract amid fears that he could leave the club.
This was an aberration in the Wenger era but one deemed necessary after losing Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United just a few days before. The figure was unprecedented for a club who had seemingly been unwilling to join their top-four rivals in offering mega wages to star players.
With the benefit of hindsight, though, Arsenal will be deeply regretting their decision to break the mould which they had kneaded for themselves. Ozil has fallen from grace at a rate akin to that which 99% of reality TV stars experience exactly four weeks after they disappear from our screens, and the club’s hierarchy may well be questioning whether they should have caved to pressure from supporters who vehemently called for a new deal.
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Alex Iwobi is a fine example of how promoting from within can be incredibly cost effective. The Nigeria international may not unanimously scoop the plaudits for his style of play, but in terms of value for money he serves as a quintessential example of why promoting youth remains at the core of Arsenal’s DNA.
That Unai Emery has consistently trusted the 22-year-old this season – including in games against top-six rivals – underlines how highly he is regarded by the Spanish tactician. And when directly placed under the microscope alongside Ozil it’s clear to see exactly how dramatically Arsenal’s agreement with the enigmatic playmaker has backfired.
The above comparison demonstrates how the numbers simply don’t add up. Just over ten minutes of football for Iwobi is worth just one minute of Ozil’s time on the pitch; Ozil’s goals have been seven times more expensive than Iwobi’s; there is little to separate Iwobi’s yearly salary from the price of a single Ozil assist.
The master is not justifying this mind-boggling financial disparity over the apprentice.
A break in the trend was perhaps only a temporary blip: Emery’s willingness to stay true to club principles has manifested itself through the selection of academy prospects Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock, Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka.
Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira and Bernd Leno – earning £40k, £75k and £100k per week respectively – all represented progressive signings with the long-term firmly at the heart of the decision-making process.
In light of the disastrous panic-stricken decision to offer Ozil a bumper new deal – one made with a warped perception that somehow his experience compensated for the lack of leadership credentials which the club are craving – it’s fair to say that there is now concrete financial evidence to vindicate Emery’s emphasis on providing opportunities for young players.
Perhaps Wenger was ahead of the curve all along.