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Has anyone seen Arsene Wenger?

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Arsenal’s 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday only papered over cracks that are fast becoming chasms.

When a team once talked about as the English Barcelona are reverting to swan dives in order to score goals, something isn’t right.  And it is becoming clearer by the week what that something is.

arsene wenger Has anyone seen Arsene Wenger?

Arsene Wenger isn’t Arsene Wenger anymore.

He no longer bears any resemblance to the man who brought innovation and invincibility to North London.

When he was first appointed in 1996, the question on many fans’ lips was “Arsene who?”

Those not au fait with French or Japanese football saw the appointment as left-field, but with further investigation (and hindsight) Wenger’s CV already looked impressive, in both achievements and football nous.

While Wenger’s first managerial post at French club Nancy was disappointing, what does any manager learn from instant success?  Only that success is easy when it is anything but.

It was in his second job at Monaco that he began to show real promise, winning the league in his debut season.  And while two third-placed finishes followed, it was this failure to recapture the title that ultimately proved the making of him.

In his fourth season in charge of Monaco, he focused more on youth, signing Youri Djokaeff and promoting Lilian Thuram and Emmanuel Petit from the reserve team.  And despite no further league triumphs, he won the French Cup, reached the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final and later the semi-finals of the Champions League.

It was this run of successes and almosts that led other clubs to take notice, and despite a poor start to the 1994-1995 season that saw him leave the principality, Wenger was high on many a chairman’s wish list.

But after eighteen very successful months at Nagoya Grampus Eight, what he ultimately achieved at Arsenal surpassed all expectations.

In just his second season at Highbury he became the first non-British manager to win the domestic double, a huge achievement in itself before you add the fact that Arsenal clawed back a 12-point deficit on Manchester United to secure the league with two games to spare.

And while the following years saw near misses, second-placed finishes and final defeats, Wenger was building something, much as he claims to be doing now.  The difference is back then the fans believed him.

For along with his professorial reputation, he identified talent better than most.

The list of Wenger signings reads like a who’s who of great Premier League footballers from the past: Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pirès, Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka to name a few.

And that is without saying how little he paid for them and how much he sold them on for, most notably Anelka – signed for £500,000 and sold for £22 million.

It was these players that formed the bulk of the team that won a second double in 2002, before their undefeated league triumph two years later saw them branded the invincibles.

arsenal invincibles Has anyone seen Arsene Wenger?

And that may just have been the last sighting of the real Arsene Wenger, because in the eight years that followed, they finished second once, third three times and fourth four times.  And while he used to have the choice of players at their peak, in time they appeared to lose faith in him.

Not instantly.  And a remarkable run to the Champions League final of 2006 pointed to a team still with much to offer.

But if you look at his transfer dealings it could be argued that the summer of 2003 was his last great year.

That was the year he signed Robin van Persie for £2.75 million and Cesc Fabregas for free.

Since then he has signed 48 players, and only eight – Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Song, Bacary Sagna, Samir Nasri, Thomas Vermaelen and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – are even close to the talent that once arrived at Arsenal on a seemingly-endless conveyor belt.

Wenger has built a legacy.  And in times when football clubs face ruin as a result of greed and over-ambition, Arsenal are a model of good practice.

But that model won’t change with a new man in charge; not if it is the right man.

Fans may point to the fact that Wenger makes his own transfer budget, signing players for pennies and moving them on for considerably more.

But those moves are now the players’ decisions, often to win trophies they don’t feel they can win at the Emirates. Both Nasri and van Persie cited this as a major reason in their decision to leave… but yes, Fàbregas probably just wanted to go home.

Arsene Wenger has done great things for Arsenal.  He is already a legend.  But all his greatest achievements are in the past. Some of them probably need dusting.

The real Wenger isn’t coming back any time soon.  He was left behind in the halcyon days of trophy wins and undefeated streaks.

So it is someone else’s turn now; if they are prepared to take on the challenge.

Comments (4)

  1. English press needs to show themselves as un-biased to regain the respect they used to have. Santi Carzola dived on Saturday and there was storm about it Rooney dived against Arsenal to stop the 49 games unbeaten run but it was hardly mentioned. Young dives a lot and not much is said about it, please get real!!

  2. When a team like Arsenal reverts to Swan dives? Gerrard, Rooney, Young and Bale are serial divers. Its never used to chastise the club.

    I have not read on from that statement, it completely ruins any argument you may go on to make.

    Ridiculous statement

  3. All of this Wenger bashing is absurd. I simply do not understand it. Arsene at Highbury was a great but Arsene at the Emirates is a flop? What he woke up one day and forgot how to spot talent? Or lost his marbles and became a penny pincher?

    Understand 2 things:

    One:
    At Highbury Arsene took Arsenal from a popular and followed team in EUROPE to an Internationally renowned, loved and recognized club. Arsene’s time at Highbury and his successes there have led to the creation of possibly millions more Arsenal supporters worldwide as the Premier League expanded its marketing efforts outside Europe and into the Americas and Asia. His success was built on the philosophies or grooming talent and playing attractive passing football. The move to the Emirates was a way to organically increase revenues without needing a “sugar daddy” to come in and pump up funds.Taking that step to move to the Emirates was a wise decision and it required sacrifice.

    Therefore, the modified strategy of grooming youth, not paying top dollar for players and still staying competitive enough to qualify for the Champions League had to be adopted for the medium term so as to ensure stadium debts were paid off and finances could be restored. Hence the appointment of marketing specialists to take Arsenal to the next level in terms of commercial deals as well.

    Two:
    Back during the Invincibles era, how many foreign owners were there in the league? How many of them were splashing cash in the manner that United used to, and Chelsea and City now do? It was a different playing field. No team had the luxury of just buying 4-5 top class players like Oscar, Torres, Mata, Dzeko, Balotelli, Aguero and Tevez over the course of only 2 seasons. These billionaire companies and owners have come in and inflated the prices for any quality name by raising the bar on what can be spent. This is not sane – if this is the only way to compete it can’t be done over the long term.

    Arsenal will go back to being England’s Barca – this is still the goal – the difference is that Barca has years and years of success and Catalan funding behind it. Arsenal’s success is still relatively recent and their journey towards becoming a world class club that is consistently winning has taken a necessary detour for the sake of the bigger picture.

    Arsenal will be able to pay wages that top players these days demand and will probably be willing to spend reasonably healthy transfer fees once their finances get to the point they need to. They will have to do this to get back to winning things, after which more and more quality players will want to join the club.

    Regarding all the signings referred to that have been quality – you forget several quality signings (Arteta, Nasri, Cole, Toure, Clichy, Gallas,etc) and other signings that had the talent but have been unlucky (Rosicky, Diaby, don’t forget Van Persie was a constant injury scare until last season) or not lived up to potential (Arshavin, Walcott, Hleb). When you cannot buy an established player this is a risk you take. I point back to the Van Persie example you gave – he was always talented but lets be honest until last season he was not really referred to as one of the best strikers in the world. Who is to say that Giroud doesn’t show the form he showed at Montpellier last season a couple years from now?

    It seems like these articles are written just in the now. Probably Fergie will be getting a bashing a couple of seasons from now too should United not win anything for a couple years…

    • Thank you for such an articulate and well-thought-out response. It’s rare and welcomed. You make a very good point about the lack of outrageously wealthy club owners back during the invicibles era. In the years that followed, Wenger certainly wasn’t competing on an even playing field financially.

      Regarding the players you mentioned that I hadn’t, I did mention Nasri as one of the eight, while Cole was a youth team player for Arsenal and Toure and Clichy were signed during or before the summer of 2003 that I cited as his last great transfer year. I’ll give you Gallas though.

      Do I think “Highbury Wenger” and “Emirates Wenger” are significantly different? Well yes. Because it’s not just a couple of years without a trophy, it’s approaching eight. And I think Fergie would be getting similar criticism if that were the case at United.

      I just see a very deflated man these days. I fully acknowledge his past achievements, and his continuing ability to qualify for the Champions League. But his team, flagging for a while now, are in danger of being cast adrift.