Having written the case against Arsene and highlighted what in my amateur opinion his mistakes have been this season I would now like to try and make a case for Arsene. The past is the past, most people probably know that the happiness he has bought me previously colours my views of and has increased my tolerance for the great man. I want to set that aside though and look just at the last 3 years and highlight why Wenger has done an exemplary job.
1: Changes: Since our last trophy the team has lost Vieira, Henry, Bergkamp, Pires, Campbell, Ljungberg, well every invincible apart form Kolo. The first 4 players on that list would make any sane fans top 10 of the clubs greatest players. Of course it is the manager’s job to replace those players, but it is crazy to imagine it will be easy or instant. History will remember these players as standing out because they will do just that for decades yet.
The team that went undefeated was one of the greatest ever to play in England, there had to be a drop off. Had they not allowed manure to steal the title in 02/03 they would have had 3 in a row and cemented their place in history, they also should have won the Champions League in 03/04. (These still bug me) Incidentally, that league title Fergie nabbed from us was his only 1 in a 5 year stretch after he broke up his great side, despite the finances he had to throw about.
Don’t forget with the Invincibles, that it also took them 2 years of near misses and cup final losses to finally crack the code and win a trophy. This in spite of the experienced that was still at the club, the likes of Adams, Seaman, Keown, even Vieira had done it before. We are only in year 2 of the post-Henry era, who was the planet’s best player for 5 years straight, a period that produced 2 league titles.
2: Money: The implication of the last paragraph is that we are too demanding, unrealistically so, of our current young side. Some people obviously associate the fact we have a young side with Arsene, it is of course connected, but I think it is also partly financial reality. Whilst we are more secure than most clubs, we are not so insulated that the current financial crisis hasn’t had board members making scared noises.
The simple fact is that in the last 3 years we have spent less than half the teams in this league and considerably less than our direct rivals. That our direct competition remains Europe’s elite and the other members of England’s ‘big 4’ is in no small part due to Arsene’s ability to work on a shoestring budget.
Whilst these sides spend £20/30 million on world class players we must develop from within. That is reality. That Wenger can do that and stay competitive in the short term is not to be scoffed at. How many other clubs have a production line of talent like ours? Sure, they may not have collectively blossomed yet, but who would deny the quality of: Cesc, Clichy, Walcott, Vela, RVP, Adebeyor, Nasri, Djourou, Fabianski, Wilshere, Ramsey, and many more.
3: Stadium: Now it should not always be the case that we play on an uneven playing field with our main rivals. The plan, and it looks good so far, is that the move to the new stadium will generate massive new revenue streams that will allow us to compete globally with every side. We are London’s most successful side (can’t argue with facts), have the best stadium, and most loyal fan base (just check attendances). We should soon be generating funds to compete with other sides from Europe’s big cities.
That said, as a club we should not disregard the move as an achievement in itself. This is a massive moment that will secure the long term financial viability of the club, but also a great moment for any team, as we now have a home that befits a modern giant of European football. Wenger deserves some praise for this, both for his role in making it happen, but also in guiding us through this testing time without dropping our level. Trophies may not have come, but we remain at the top table of European football.
4: Measured expectation? We cannot have it all and there are limits to what we can do simultaneously. We could not stay at Highbury and remain financially competitive with other big clubs, so we had to move. We could not move and throw money around to rival manure and the chavs whilst we moved home and they borrowed to invest in the team. It was either or and long term there was no choice, so lets accept that.
In light of this, are we demanding too much from the team? In the last 3 years we have made the Champions League final, Kiddie cup final and regular semi finals. We have reasserted ourselves as a perennial top 4 team after a very close shave in the last season at Highbury. Last season we mounted a strong title challenge.
We may not have added pots, but we remain an excellent side capable of challenging. In light of everything said above, perhaps this in itself has not been a bad period for Wenger, just relatively not up to his high standards. No one knows what we will get from this year yet so let’s hold judgement. For fans of irony beating a lower league side in the CC final would be a giggle of a way for Wenger to get that silverware monkey off his back. Still, the measure of a coach is not entirely down to trophies, if we played the three years again and Wenger did the exact same things it might work out differently. Just ask Avram Grant on that one.
5: Near misses, luck, and injuries: Over the last 3 years we have been very unfortunate in various ways. Without moaning, or blaming anyone else, it is possible as passionate, fair fans to bring to mind several moments that make you think “if only…”
Of course the CL final, when Jens got sent off and Henry missed two chances to seal the game looms large. We played well, were the better side for 70 minutes against Chelsea in the CC, even though Senderos couldn’t contain Drogba we came close with a weakened team. The FA cup season before last Blackburn should have been buried, but for ridiculously not given penalties. Last seasons CL quarter final was the tale of two penalties, if those decisions were made correctly we play for a place in the final. As for last seasons league, that is old news.
Rosicky and Eduardo have both missed nearly a year, RVP nearly 18 months if not constantly. The list is longer than that, but the point is that we have not been lucky. Ironically, although we have deserved more than we got recently, we definitely didn’t deserve our last pot. Such is the fickle nature of the game.
5: Competition: As touched upon above, Arsene has had had less of something than each of his major rivals. Fergie and that cock Mourinho each had huge sums of money. Chelsea bought their titles pure and simple. Manure finished the game against us with £90 million quid worth of strikers in Rooney, Berbatov, and Tevez, we had Bendtner up front alone. All the strikers at our club cost less than £20 mil, that is 5 players counting Eddy, Vela, NB, RVP, and Ade. That isn’t down to poor management, it is our reality. Rafa has had luck, pure and simple. We have been a better side than Liverpool for the last 3 years, but they have charmed their way to a European Cup on the back of a local lads brilliance. Tactical genius has nothing to do with being 3 down at the half then coming back folks.
I would like to end though with an example from beneath, to show why it is a fallacy to imagine that Arsene is the problem and that if you change managers it will improve our fortunes. Someone said recently Billic was the man, but you can pick any hot shot young coach and insert the name there. For a decade money has flowed into the premiership and teams have been trying to crack the elite by spending it. The fact is that coaching a team, getting them to play well together, let alone quality football is very difficult. The list of names that have come and gone is long, big money buys have flopped, and no one has really come close.
The best of the rest has been Everton under David Moyes, who did finish 4th one year. They of course were 1 and done in Europe after that, then back in the pack domestically. Arsene for the last 3 years with less money, younger players, a more demanding schedule due to Europe, and greater style has finished above 16 teams in this league. Don’t assume it is easy, or that our beautiful football would continue as a given – it is very rare in the whole world and acclaimed for it. Beyond all the obstacles listed above that Arsene has dealt with and maintained this club at its current level, a very high one, here are two words that should make anyone think long and hard about the next great can’t-miss coach wherever he is: Juande Ramos.
Who I think has more trophies than any other manager globally in the last 3 years…Which tells us what?