For a long time now, the media have portrayed us as a club in crisis. Over the last few years, Arsene Wenger’s methods – which were once admired and revered – have been questioned and put under scrutiny. We, as Arsenal fans are very loyal to Wenger as we don’t – or can’t – forget all the great work he’s done in the past. It seems anyone who wants to speak about Wenger are told that they lack loyalty and aren’t ‘true Arsenal fans’. This slightly worries me. Are we Arsene fans, or Arsenal fans?
After every game, we’re constantly reminded by Wenger that we have a young team. This spiele usually happens after a defeat. The trouble is, it’s Wenger who signs these players. It’s no use telling us to be patient and that we have a young team when all Wenger does is invest in youth. We’ve been hearing this mantra about ‘young players’ for how many years now? We’ve always thought of Wenger as shrewd and astute in the transfer market. He’s unearthed some true gems in his time in England – notably Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, not to mention Nikolas Anelka, Cesc Fabregas and Freddy Ljungberg.
Nobody could have predicted the impact they’d have in this country and it made the club – and Wenger – look very clever indeed. Lately though, I’ve started to think a bit differently about it all. When he arrived at Arsenal, the spine of the team was already there. He inherited players who had already won titles domestically and on the continent. The spine being: Tony Adams Steve Bould Lee Dixon Nigel Winterburn Dennis Bergkamp David Seaman Ian Wright David Platt Ray Parlour Paul Merson.
So, all Wenger had to do was add a bit more flair to the side, which wasn’t difficult to do at that time. It also meant that Wenger could afford a few duff signings as the players he was getting to play alongside the men he already had proved to be fruitful (remember players like: Francis Jeffers, Richard Wright, Igor Stepanovs, Rami Shaaban? Unfortunately, I think you do). Couple that in an era where Manchester United were the only real footballing force in the country.
The rest of the teams in the Premiership were lacking in technical ability and creativity to even come close to United’s dominance and Wenger arrived at the right time. The foundation of a successful squad was already there, he just needed to tart it up a bit. When I look back and remember the 1994/95 season, it seemed so far fetched to think we’d be playing flowing football with some of the best players in Europe within three years.
Wenger was lucky that he had a squad with such a strong backbone to it and that all he had to do was replace John Harston with Nikolas Anelka; Ian Selley with Manu Petit and Glen Helder with Marc Overmars. Not rocket science, when you think about it? Not only that, but cast your minds back to the years when Wenger won his titles. 1998 – a great year for Arsenal fans. We were hadn’t won the title for seven years and there was some uncertainty around the club as George Graham (then Bruce Rioch) had gone and it seemed we weren’t really going in any direction at all.
We played some lovely football that year and went on a ten match winning streak, including a famous win at Old Trafford. That season however, Roy Keane only played 9 premiership matches. At the time, he was arguably the best midfielder in the Premiership and they were obviously missing him at the ‘business end’ of the season, where they capitulated in a way that nobody in the country could have predicted – one bookmakers even paid out winnings to people who had bet on them winning it as they were 11 points clear by March. Likewise, in 2002.
Another fantastic season for us; we played liquid football and Thierry Henry and Robert Pires were incredible. But, lets not forget that United had got rid of Jaap Stam, not because he was surplus to requirements, but because of a dispute with Sir Alex. As his replacement, they bought an ageing centre back in Laurent Blanc to partner the comedic Fabian Barthez at the back and you can’t deny it disrupted their season. 2004 was a fantastic year for us and for obvious reasons. But, Rio Ferdinand – their £30m England centre back – missed the majority of that season for failing to show up at a drug test.
The day before Ferdinand was handed his suspension (19th January), United were only two points behind us and four in front of Chelsea. The point I’m trying to make is superficially obvious and you don’t need to me to explain what I mean. We no longer live in a time where if United don’t win the title, then we will. Whether we like it or not, Chelsea and Manchester City are going to be the main challengers to United and all we can realistically expect is a scrap with Spurs and Liverpool for fourth place. This is something we, as fans, need to accept and understand.
We can’t have it both ways; the move to Ashburton Grove has meant we can’t afford to buy the best anymore and now it seems we can’t afford to keep them either. Arsenal’s business plan seems to be more and more transparent these days. We buy young, up and coming players and take a gamble with them. Some make it and some don’t.
For example: Denilson – flop Bendtner – flop Diaby – too many injuries Senderos – flop Walcott – frustrating/not good enough Eboue – flop Djourou – not good enough Fran Merida – got disillusioned and left The players that do make the grade become discontent when they reach 23 or 24, and you have to ask why? They start to become great players and then Europe’s elite come along and we sell them on to put towards clearing the debt to pay for our Stadium. Wenger may put on a brave face and tell us that he will ‘fight’ to keep players at the club, but how can he convince a player to stay when the player knows he can go elsewhere, earn a lot more money (and I mean A LOT more money) and win trophies?
It also doesn’t help that Wenger lets player’s contracts run on until they’re almost at their end. It gives the player so much power and impetus that I can only imagine Wenger on his hands and knees begging them to stay. We screwed up royally with Flamini and you’d think Wenger wouldn’t let that happen again – how wrong we were (Nasri to City). It’s no use saying “at least we got a transfer fee for Nasri”, because a) we never replace these players with the money we get for them anyway (think of Kolo; Adebayor; Henry; Vieira and now Cesc and Nasri) and b) it’s not about getting a transfer fee, it’s about keeping our best players.
I’m sorry, but am I the only Arsenal fan who was utterly unimpressed with Wenger’s summer signings. Okay, the the players he brought in are all right, but all right isn’t good enough. It’s clear that Wenger is struggling to rebuild a team and to sustain it with the limitations he has. Nasri didn’t only go to Manchester City because he can get £120,000 a week there, he’s also thinking about the potential of winning titles and you must be a very naïve individual to think that they won’t.
I can’t see Arsenal winning a major trophy this season and believe me when I say it breaks my heart to admit that. But facts are facts. Football has changed massively in the last five years, especially in England. Even Barcelona – with their home grown talents – still spent over £80m in two years on two players (one of which went on loan for the whole of last season; I am talking about David Villa and Zlatan Ibrahimovic of course) and they spent the best part of £60m last summer on Cesc and Alexis Sanchez (from Udinese).
So, since 2009, Barcelona have spent £140m, nevermind what Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Real Madrid have spent. This is what football is like now, and we need to get with the programme. We’re not going to spend that kind of money simply because we don’t have it, so it’s stupid of us to expect to compete with the teams that do spend that much. On top of all that, what’s equally as worrying as all that was mentioned above, is Wenger hasn’t looked like a man who’s particularly been enjoying his job for the last year and now it looks like the players feel the same too.
I hate to say it, but maybe next summer the club should shake Wenger’s hand, thank him for all the tremendous work he’s done and say good- bye. Nothing is forever and I think we need to freshen things up. The problems Arsenal have aren’t new. We’ve known for YEARS that we’re terrible in defence and vulnerable at set pieces, yet Wenger doesn’t seem to do anything about it. Wenger’s had years to replace Seaman (and even Lehman, but he was frustrating when he was our number one keeper, that can’t be denied) and he allowed Almunia to stay in goal for over three seasons, when we all knew he was rubbish.
Also, the debacles with player’s contracts – I’m sorry, but all of that is just bad management. Okay, a new manager will still have the financial restrictions that Wenger currently has but maybe with a new manager our seasons won’t fall apart at the end of February (as they have done for the last four seasons). Also, can you imagine what happened to us in the last minute of the Carling Cup final against Birmingham (a team who got relegated three months after that game) to Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City? Or even Liverpool or (I hate to say it) Spurs? Since that cup final defeat we’ve only attained 16 points from 16 Premiership games. Is that good enough?
Of course it isn’t. It’s bloody awful. I think we as fans have been very patient – Wenger’s had nearly seven years to sort this out and I’m starting to think that enough’s enough. So what if we qualify for the Champion’s League every year; we have no chance of winning it and it’s only so important for the club because of the financial rewards they get for qualifying. It seems the board are more concerned about the business model than what happens on the pitch. I’d much rather be in the Europa League if it means we can win it, but I doubt we could even win that.
Of course, this is just my opinion and I don’t expect people to agree with me but I’m not making any of this information up and I’m so sick of listening to Wenger in his post match interviews and press conferences as most of what he says (these days) doesn’t actually mean anything. I think the last one I watched was the weekend before Nasri and Cesc left Arsenal and Wenger declared: “I don’t expect any of my players to leave”. Really Arsene? Did you really believe that? Or do you think we Arsenal fans, who pay a lot of money to watch the team, are just stupid and will lap up everything you say? Nothing is forever and Wenger’s almost invincible status at the club is – in my opinion – starting to be damaging. I don’t know about you, but this season all I’m going to do is cheer the team on; hope for the best and hope that one day, our time will come – again.