The State of our Club and it’s future prospects Part IIIa – The Manager

My original trilogy was derailed by the recent series of defeats and the removal of two directors from the Board. Now that the transfer window has closed, I am able to conclude this work by reflecting upon the man who has brought to Arsenal Football club his very own unique formula for professional football. I shall concentrate upon the players in the second instalment of this final part. I do not intend to conduct a biographical critique, others far more qualified than me have already had their say. Neither are my observations intended to be the definitive statement on this most immense of personalities. Rather, it is to address the recent turmoil and ambivalence that surrounds the man who originally could do no wrong in any Gooner’s eyes. I need to start by asking myself why are we so divided?
One of the most difficult things to stomach as a fierce supporter of Arsene Wenger is to witness the growing division amongst Gooners who are unable to  deal with the fall from grace of our great side. If we realise that we are playing awfully by our own high standards yet we are fifth in the Premiership. If we realise that we have yet to play five games in a row with the same back four because of injuries then perhaps one can begin to understand the frustrations being experienced by players and supporters alike.
We have so much to thank Arsene Wenger for, in terms of the repeated successes over the 12 years, and what annoys those who are angry at the moment is the perception that AKB’s or those who see Arsene Wenger as someone who walks on water, are failing to acknowledge his failings. One of his repeated failings has been the inability to buy decent central defenders. From Stepanovs to Senderos he has singularly failed to establish a high class centre back pairing that would come within a country mile of the Adams/Bould and Adams/Keown partnership.
Yet it was Wenger who placed Kolo Toure as a centre back and despite his deficiencies aerially, he became one of the first athletic centre backs to grace the premiership. The Premiership style of football is rapid and requires high levels of fitness. The changing style of play and tactics mean that reflexes and anticipation have to be developed to a high standard. The old fashioned tall centre back is not agile enough to possess all that we need, and yet there are aspects of defensive strategy and awareness that require an old head. Young players have enthusiasm and desire, but what they lack is the ability to calmly assert their skills in such a consistent way so that defeat is avoided. I understand the Wenger vision, youthful athleticism with a football brain. Precious commodities and currently only possessed by the likes of Fabregas, Jack Wilshere and Carlos Vela. Yet these legends in the making need to rest and much of Arsene Wenger’s strategies are based upon improving weaknesses and lifting confidence.
The division among Gooners comes I believe from the failure to accept that
a) Arsenal are allowed to lose games, b) Young players have fragile confidence c) Trophies are not a divine right
This combined with an unrealistic expectation of regular and recurrent success that has in part been fuelled by Arsene Wenger. The division also derives from a new breed of fan whose loyalty is based upon the extent of their patience. They are impatient beyond what I would describe as logical. How can they be calling the team rubbish one week, yet cheering when that very same team takes to the field and beats Man United? So Arsene Wenger has to accept that under his tenure this club has become very divided. It is not just the new fans that have occupied the Emirates that are often used as scapegoats, because there are now long established Gooners who have become disillusioned with the way that a team full of World Class stars has been dismantled and replaced by young players who are not yet world class. The older Gooners understand that it is because of financial constraints, but they can remember when Arsenal football club used to regularly break transfer records. They see all of this success and cannot be blamed for asking where has all the money gone? My reply… is into the player’s bank accounts and building losses connected with the Estates division of Arsenal Plc.
We are aware that we have some very overpaid average players at the club, but for some reason Arsene Wenger refuses to let them go. The excuses given at the AGM is that we have to be sure that any player coming in is better that those we all ready possess. Well seeing some of Niklas Bendtner’s misses of late, I can think of at least three strikers who are better, but of course they would cost more money. The reason for picking on Niklas Bendtner, is that he highlights some of the failings of Arsene Wenger. Failings? I hear you ask… Well in my humble opinion Arsene Wenger has shown startling errors of judgement in his manhandling skills, such as placing his faith in William Gallas when the squad appears to have had no confidence in him as Captain. Yet the biggest error of judgement is to stand up and suggest that this first team squad is the best that Arsenal have ever possessed and that any new player has to be better than one of the existing, when everyone knows that this is blatantly not the case. So is Mr Wenger stubborn or arrogant or just plain provocative?
In Support of players, here are some quotes from Arsene…

“I feel we are very close but the players have to remember that when it doesn’t work for you, it’s not a coincidence, you have to be better at what you do. So we want to continue to play our style, but better, more simple, more efficient, and more as a team.”
“The morale is positive at the moment. Of course the players are frustrated, disappointed, but I believe in the strength of the players, These players are champions, they won’t give up. They are a good unit, and I’m convinced they will show that tonight.”
“I am very positive about the quality of my squad,” he said. “Many people write us off but if the players believe like I believe in them they will go in thinking they can do it.”
“We have been touched by the departure of Patrick but we are getting better in that way. Slowly, every day we are getting stronger and stronger. At the moment we have focused just on the physical and technical side of our game. You could see our sharpness was better in the last game against Utrecht so I am very happy with the camp.”
“But we will have focus on the mental side the closer we get to the competition. The final part of our pre-season will be about that.”

There is  no better example of his understanding of the fraileties of the young player than how he dealt with Denilson earlier in the season. Remember the Fulham game? Denilson may as well have had a white shirt on for all the passes he gave away. The next game however he was again selected, and despite his poor play this was done as some may reflect at the expense of the team. Denilson’s confidence has increased and now he has pass completion stats of 89%. Where would he be had Wenger dropped him? Many anti-Wenger Gooners point to the loss of Patrick Vieira as the beginning of our fall from grace. I was at the Millenium stadium for Paddy’s last kick for the Gunners. The penalty that beat Man Utd, after we had been battered for 120 minutes. PV4 reminded me of Tony Adams, a real leader. It is that sort of personality that we lack on the field of play at the moment, not just a DM.  Again I shall use Wenger’s own quotes to illustrate how he handled the loss.

My Revenge On Ben Foster

Wenger admitted Vieira’s departure would leave a “h uge gap” but he’ll take his time over any signing and may look to promote from within. I am not in a hurry,” he said. “We have Gilberto, Flamini and Fabregas. Pires can play in there also so we have plenty of players.”
“We have to compensate for Patrick’s departure but at some stage that will happen. Unless he plays forever you have to replace him sometime.”
Wenger also confirmed that the revenue from Vieira’s sale would be re-invested in the team but he was not prepared to give a timeframe. “It will go into football,” said the manager. “Today or tomorrow or next year but it will go into football.”
Did he regret selling vieira?
“I never said that,” he told “I think we have to go on with what is in front of us and not look backwards. Many times in our history we have lost big players and we have lost another one. We don’t deny that he was big player for us but I feel we have the needed quality to achieve what we want this season.”

Some would argue, and I would have joined them in accepting that despite the improvement in Diaby’s play, there was no one yet at the club to replace Paddy, but wait… what about Flamini? the french man is currently keeping the bench warm at AC Milan and may even now go on loan to Napoli. He was the player that was moved from full back to DM, what a stroke of genius. Anyone who could keep Gilberto out of the side must have been either very good or just plain lucky. So now everyone talks not of a PV4 replacement, but a Flamini replacement, so Arsene was as good as his words. He did have enough quality from within. However when Flamini left, there was no-one to fill the void. Unfortunately for Gooners, leaders on the football field do not grow on trees.
Arsene Wenger is also roundly criticised for not spending money. Some argue that he sees this as a challenge, and that he would prefer to mould and develop a find, rather than deal with an established persona. I think that the Arshavin transfer has blown that one out of the water. My assessment is that Arsene Wenger ‘s principles are similar to a small Business man. He must make ends meet. This is where I believe that Arsene was exploited by the Board. They have in effect hidden behind Arsene’s frugality and genius, and when it didn’t serve their purpose, they countered by suggesting that we had tens of millions to spend on players. Well no-one knows the real truth as published accounts only give a one sided picture. I suspect that Arsene Wenger’s desire to turn relative unknowns into stars has been encouraged by necessity rather than choice. Again using his words, try and read between the lines…

2005April :”This year we have the money available and I will spend it if I find what is really needed for the squad in any department. There will not necessarily be a revolution. You know me, I go for stability. We will be confident with what we have. But I will try to add one or two. I have an Under-21 team then we have those in the over-30s category, exceptional players like Bergkamp and Pires. We need a little more in the 24 to 27-year-old bracket.”
Aug 2005 : “The project (The Emirates Stadium) was vital,” said Wenger. “It was this or dying in the longer term at the top level. It is as simple as that. What is unbelievable to me is that the resources are linked not only with filling the seats but the merchandising and other income [from it]. It is a lot of money and will improve the natural potential of the club by 50 per cent when it is paid back. That puts us up to the level of Manchester United.”
2006 :“These players are very young. We made a choice when we built the stadium to build a new team and sometimes you struggle a little bit when you move into a new stadium. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time for the players to develop but I’m very confident they will be great players.”
March 2007 :”It will be maybe one or two – maximum,” he said, “and then only super, super-class because we have what is needed. If someone is available I would always try to improve my team but the basis is inside the club.
“Of course [our situation] is frustrating but as well it is promising because we are five to six years younger than everyone else. I know that people want ‘here and now’ – we live in a society of ‘here and now’ – but unfortunately unless we have massive amounts of money we have to be patient.
“And I feel we are not far away from the other teams.”
Sept 2007: Wenger believes the revenue created from the ground move will have increased his spending power in the transfer market. “I think that we will see the difference at the end of the 2008/09 season,” he told France Football. “We will have many more funds available. My priority will be to keep the players I already have. I believe in the virtues of the team and I think that we can only keep and develop the players by transmitting a club culture – a culture from generation to generation.”
“They must be impregnated with the Club’s culture. If a club is only an entry and an exit door, you do not go far. The love of the game must be transmitted.
“But, if one day, one player can help us reach another level and he costs a fortune, we will still be able to get this player.”
Sept 28 2007: “I said that because I think I would ruin the work I have done in the last five years,” he said. “You develop players and, just in the last minute, you put £30 million into a player who is not necessary better than the ones you have, just to keep everybody saying ‘oh, have you seen Arsenal, they’ve bought a super player’.
“There might come a time when I need to put my hands on it and I say ‘listen we need to put the money in for one special player who could give us a plus’. But I don’t see this player at the moment anywhere.
“Take Ronaldinho, maybe one year ago he was the best player in the world. Is he today? No. What people have problems to accept in football, like tennis, you can be No 1 in March and No 10 in November.
“You have to trust your judgement knowing you will make mistakes. I always say you have to be relaxed about that and smiling knowing that you have a bomb in the right hand and a hand grenade in your left and that it can explode in your face because you were wrong.”

Another criticism levelled at Arsene Wenger is that he lacks ambition, and would settle for fourth place consistency rather than go for trophies at any cost. ( if the money was actually there!) Again the great man’s words are revealing….

2005 “This job makes you think only about the future. I do not look back and think we have won that or that. I am more concerned about what I lost. Every time you lose is a terrible moment. That means I have had 89 terrible moments so far at Arsenal. You feel the good moments are normal because you have worked for those. The bad moments always hurt you deeply.”
But with 500 games and seven trophies under his belt what still motivates Arsčne Wenger?
“To win the next game,” he retorted immediately when posed the question. “I love football and I am not interested in what is behind me. I want to win the championship, play quality football, win the Champions League, go into the new stadium with a big team and make Arsenal the biggest team in the world.”
Sept 2006 “It is a challenge because we have just moved into the new stadium,” he said. “But we have not won the championship for two years and I find it quite long. We are a very young side and we are very good as well. We have dominated games but we want to add that ruthlessness which makes a big team. Before we suffered in some games but we could turn them in our favour. At the moment we look like we are dominating every team, but we really want to finish teams off.”
“My next goal is to win the championship and the Champions League in the same year, “And if possible in 2007,” he added with smile.
May 2006 : “You thought I was crazy when I said we would reach the Champions League Final, and I still am! We were out of the championship race very early, and maybe subconsciously we have chosen this competition this season. In the Champions League we had a good start, the concentration was fully there, and we had the potential as well.”
Feb 2007: Ahead of the FA Cup tie with Blackburn the 57-year-old gave his reasons for staying in the club game.
“I never felt attracted to them because I don’t find [them] as important as people do,” he said. “I turned France down already. I just find in national teams there is more national pride involved than love of football.”
Sept 2007: So you’ve decided to stay. Can you tell us why you’ve extended your contract?
Because I love the Club. I love the job I have at Arsenal Football Club, I love to win and I feel I can win with Arsenal. They’re the main reasons.
Will you look to stay beyond 2011?
I don’t know. I will see how I feel at that time. Three years more is a long period and you have to see if you can always feel the ambitions of the Club and respond to the expectations people have – results wise and in the way you play. Can this club make another step forward in the next years? If I can, why not? If I’m healthy enough, why not? I want to win the Championship, win the Champions League and be consistent. It’s simple.
Oct 2007: “I want this club to win the Champions League but for my personal ego it is less important,” he said. “I feel a manager should be judged more on his overall career than just winning one trophy. I was interested in that 10 years ago but a lot less now. You want to win it for different reasons. When you are very young you want to win it and say you are the best.  When you have more experience you want to achieve it for the players and the club. You then want it less for yourself and to say how good you are.  When you are 40 you want to win the biggest one and want everyone to talk about you. But I want to do it for this club because they have never done it.”

Next I wish to illustrate why the future of our great club is safe in his hands. Following the move of Thierry Henry to Barcelona and the loss of David Dein, there was great uncertainty at the club as no-one knew if Arsene would renew his contract. I argue that Arsene should change his name to Arsenal Wenger, as he has demonstrated his loyalty and love for Arsenal Football Club. It is this observation which makes me a firm but critical Wenger loyalist. Mercenaries come and go, but Arsene is one of the Gooner family. The quotes that I have chosen span the worries about take over, David Dein and of course Arsene’s future.

Sept 2006: “I find it more reassuring that my owners are English and they are, first of all, fans of Arsenal Football Club,” said Wenger.
“I will go one day and the players will go one day but the owners will be the same. They are the people who really transmit the values.”
March 2007: “Talk of takeoever? It doesn’t worry me at all,” said Wenger. “Apart from speculation you don’t know how much truth is in there.
“It is true that the shares are moving and they have risen a lot in price. But that is more to the credit of our policies. If you look at the level of the shares 10 years ago and where they are today then you can be actually quite proud of the increase.”
Reaction to Stan Kroenke purchase of shares April 2007: “positive for Arsenal”.
“I don’t think that the club has been bought by somebody,” he said. “It’s just somebody who has bought shares. To me it seems this is an investment not an ownership.
“You have to wait for the future to see what his intentions are. But he has not come out and said wants to buy the club, he wants just a partnership and that should not change anything inside the club at the moment.
“At the moment 60 per cent of shares are in the hands of three people and he has just put 10 per cent, so that means nothing will change for us.
April 2007 Departure of Dein: “It is a sad day for Arsenal Football Club,” said the Arsenal manager. “It is a huge disappointment because we worked very closely together. David has contributed highly to the success of the Club in the last 10 years and even before that as well. Red and white are the colours of his heart.”
At the same time, Wenger confirmed his commitment to Arsenal and his bond with the other directors.
“My position is that I am linked with the club very strongly,” said the 57-year-old. “The relationship with the rest [of the Board] has always been very good and we try always to have a good understanding.”
“We lost a man of class, intelligence, and competence who has contributed highly to the success and the development of the club,” he said.
“It is a big disappointment and a big loss. But David always had in his heart the best interests of Arsenal Football Club. I feel even if I am very sad that I am faithful to what we have built together. It is important that we keep the best interests of the club in his mind and especially my mind and focus on the future. We have built a team together starting from scratch again with many young players and I want to develop this team and go as high as we can together.”
“I have no influence in the future. I’m not a shareholder and I’ve never bought one share in this Club because I felt I am an employee and I never want to be in a battle for things I don’t feel I have to. I’m responsible for the technical policy of the Club and only that. What’s happening around the Club is not my problem.”
Aug 2007: “At the moment we have 50 per cent shares inside the board and 50 per cent outside, which are very much shared. Who will go wi th who I don’t know and basically it’s not my problem. Personally I cannot sell one share because I have none and don’t want to help anybody. I don’t want to be involved in a strategic struggle for shares because I consider myself an employee who wants to do well for the Club.”

Finally, I end this long blog on our great Manager by asking you to read again his words given in an interview to the Independent Newspaper. It sums up Arsene Wenger, the genius, the leader and guardian of our club’s heritage. If you eat sleep and breathe Arsenal Football Club, then after reading his words, surely you must accept that Arsene Wenger loves this club so much that it hurts…

“When we decided to build the stadium I wanted to anticipate the possibility of financial restrictions, so I concentrated on youth. I also felt the best way to create an identity with the way we play football, to get players integrated into our culture, with our beliefs, our values, was to get them as young as possible and to develop them together. I felt it would be an interesting experiment to see players grow together with these qualities, and with a love for the club.”
“The challenge we face is to keep them together,” he admits. “It is very important to meet their needs inside the club, the way we play, the way we behave, with success on the field and in financial rewards. If you can achieve that as a club you can keep them together. I don’t feel at our club you have to make any other sacrifice than financial, because all the other aspects are better at our club than anywhere else.”
“I believe you need a wages structure,” says Wenger, “if you want to be fair with everybody, or try to be as fair as possible. You could make the odd exception but you need a logic in the way you pay your players and in the way you structure the whole wages bill. Personally, I don’t think it is right to lose £100m and to play football. I feel that the skill of a manager is to do the maximum with the resources he has and try to be successful. I don’t believe that [£100m losses] can last a long time, it will not be accepted, not only because it will implode [if the benefactor pulls out].”
“If you do not balance the books you go bankrupt and die. I could push the club into big debt. I go away with success and the guy who comes after me suffers for five years because he cannot buy a player any more and the club goes down. The guy who comes after me has good players he can work with, he has a healthy financial situation, and he has a club in good shape. That is part of management as well.”

Well done those of you who managed to get this far. In conclusion then, the state of our club and it’s future prospects are secure in the management sector as long as we keep hold of Arsene Wenger. He has the reputation to attract star players be they young or old. This is an asset that dissenting Gooners should not ignore. Arsene Wenger has also shown himself capable of lifting his players to beat the very best that was put before them. AC Milan, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, the icons of Eurpean football have all fallen before Arsenal. This season alone we have perversely beaten Man Utd and Chelsea, yet we lie in fifth place. Is it that we are over performing or inconsistent? The facts are plain and simple. We have not had the benefit of having all of our potentially best players all fit at the same time. In addition, certain players have let Arsene Wenger down by not earning their high wages. I remain convinced more so than ever after researching this blog, that Arsene Wenger is the best thing that could ever have happened to this football club. We will become Champions of Europe under his stewardship, and we will win the Premiership title again. But for all that to happen we also need a little luck to go our way.

Fabregas the King.

The final part IIIb will focus on the players and the balance of the team.

(All Wenger quotes can be found in the Arsecom news archives)

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