This summer has seen Arsenal fans seriously questioning Arsene Wenger’s stewardship of the club for the first time in a widespread fashion. Perhaps most significantly, this has come to reflect a growing unease not just with certain specific decisions, but his project for the club as a whole. What I mean by this, is that the doubts do not rest, say, on an issue such as whether we should have bought in the January transfer window, but rather on the style the club is run in, manifested most obviously in the reliance on youth in the first team. This is something that I fell is unique to this summer; Wenger having always enjoyed a great deal of overall trust and security due to winning the double in his first season in charge.
Now, I am an avid Wenger loyalist; but my aim here is not to push my conclusions, rather to highlight issues. As far as I am concerned, Wenger deserves no small amount of loyalty for what he has done for our club and trophies or not, I adore the unique and beautiful style of football he provides for us all to watch. That said, whilst I believe that you take the rough with the smooth, and for me his virtues far outweigh his faults; this piece is about picking out those faults.
What I would refer to as the lunatic wing of Arsenal supporters, who in reality are as small in number as they are in perception or intellect, have come to polarise the debate about Arsene more than it needs to be. Only this imbecile minority seriously think that Wenger’s job should be in jeopardy; however their attacks have led to situation whereby all criticism on the club or Arsene seem to demand stiff defence and professions of loyalty. They are in this regard not too far removed from the talk radio and tabloid press, who have obvious Spurs leanings, as was evidenced in a recent blog by this sites editor.
I think that for most people it is obvious why calling for Arsene’s head is a moronic and overly reactionary point of view to take. Before that position can be taken seriously at all I think that it has to come with a suggestion of a successor to the Professor. At some point one must face up to the fact that in the last decade of English football Ferguson and Wenger are not just the only 2 managers still in a job, and the most successful in the country between them by far, but their clubs are 2 of only 4 that have played top level European football all of those years. It simply is not the case that what Wenger has done could have been achieved by anyone in a similar position; the trophies, style, and stadium are all distinctively his glories.
Put simply, why have so many come and gone, tried and failed, often spending so much more than Le Boss to do what he has done? Because it is hard, he is a rare talent, and any attempt to deny this is wilfully blind or morosely stupid. That said, Wenger is evidently not perfect, there is no credit or insight involved in making that statement; although many of his detractors feel it proves a point, it is clearly very obvious.
Firstly, I would say that his teams do not always display a ruthless winning mentality. There are many trophies and great successes that can be thrown against this, but I feel that the suspicion is they should have won more. When one considers the talents he has been able to acquire and develop, plus the achievements they have had, perhaps they should have won more. This is feel is very much a personality issue, Wenger himself has said before that he feels a team ultimately is a reflection of the personality of the coach. Wenger’s teams have the artistic and purist elements preached in to them, their defining feature is grace and aesthetic beauty, of course fused with athleticism.
Compared to Ferguson, his great rival, and the man who has denied him even greater success, Wenger’s teams do not appear to have a killer instinct. We so often seem to think domination and technical superiority is a substitute for goals, Ferguson’s teams strangle opponents at the first sign of weakness and always try to run up the score. This I would identify as Wenger’s one consistent frailty, However it must be remembered that you cannot have it both ways; the choice is one or the other, not the best of both worlds – that is reality. Personally the artistic temperament has given me greater joy than sadness.
Wenger’s stubbornness, I believe underpins what had so many fans vexed this summer. As we reflected upon a season that seemed destined to provide such glory, but fell away so depressingly, the general mood was always likely to be one of resilience. I feel that is the trend at present, fans want money to be spent to strengthen a side that was so clearly so close last year to push it over the top and bring home the big prizes.
Now, Wenger is sticking to his policy of youth, frugality, and fiscal prudence so strict it could make a constipated accountant wince. Thus far this summer, half our midfield has left, plus our most experienced back up in that department; so has our back up goalie, but that is more significant in name recognition than team quality. Surely one would assume, with the wage bill looking leaner than ever, and money having come in, we should now spend big to consolidate our position and push on for silverware?
We get the impression that Wenger thinks not, money will be spent, but carefully and only one a few players. He has highlighted the need for an extra midfield “body”, the implication perhaps here that whoever arrives will be an older cheaper player to add depth whilst the kids mature, but not stunt their progress long term. There may or may not be an extra centre-back arriving, this depends upon whether there is still faith in Senderos; but even if there is, he will probably be younger, to work into the team as a replacement for Gallas longer-term – Zapata fits this mould. If big money is spent, it will probably only be on one player.
Clearly criticism of Wenger’s summer spending must hold off until it has actually happened, no less than we cannot yet condemn the coming season to failure already. However, this is a big moment for Le Boss’ desire to win things with youth, playing attractive football and all on the cheap. This framework may be seen as both a reaction to Chelsea’s blood money and degraded titles, as well as economic realities imposed by the new stadium debt until all redevelopments are sold. However, with fans starting to grumble, and three years removed from a trophy, this could be a defining moment in our history.
If Wenger sticks to his principles and succeeds, getting either the Premiership or Champions League this year, then watch out. We would be 5 years younger on average than our major rivals, with room to improve, and a genuine threat of creating a domestic and European dynasty over the next 10 years. If he fails, then the club, with predators circling for ownership, could have to face one of the hardest moments of its history; replacing its greatest ever manager. I see the risk, but I for one will continue to give the boss the benefit of the doubt until proven wrong, his record, faults considered, and my sense of loyalty demand that I feel.