The past eight years
have been trophyless. We know that, and the media have forced it down our
throats for so long that it seems to be all Gooners can think about these days!
For me though, it hasn’t been quite that simple.
Personally I’ve archived the memories of the past eight
years into three distinct folders. 05/06-07/08, 08/09-10/11, and 11/12 to the
present day. For me it’s only really been two squads have been trophyless, and
there’s a key difference in that approach.
Hear me out
The reason I reason this way is that in all
honesty, it gives me peace of mind. Our manager is Arsene Wenger. We know who
he is…he’s an alchemist. He’s the alchemist. The
quality of his ingredients can affect how long it takes him to blend a winning
formula, and it’s clear that he hasn’t wanted to spend money while we still had
stadium debt looming over us, whether it had been made available or not.
That’s the boss, that’s who he is. Stubborn? Yes.
Frustrating? Yes. At times impossible to understand? For fans, yes.
The big question has been ‘why not spend when
you’ve come 4th, you haven’t won anything, and you know you need to improve?’
Fans look forward to the season ahead. Fans want
glory and we want to brag. We loved the feeling during the early Wenger years
of being a real power, and understandably a lot of fans feel that Wenger’s
philosophy has taken that away from us.
Ok, maybe briefly, yes. But it all depends on how
you choose to see it.
As Gooners, we know that we should always aim to
challenge for trophies, and so do the club. Believe me, they know. But they
also know that consistently challenging for titles against two teams with
limitless funding AND an already established superclub in our own domestic
league, not to mention the heavyweights in the Champions League and their
capabilities… would need consistent investment. In order to do that you need
enough money behind you
“But we’ve had at least £70m to spend for two
Maybe. But it’s not enough to splash just because it’s
there, not to me. Not unless the players you get are ‘the ones’ and will
definitely carry you to glory and repeat the trick year on year to ensure you
keep winning since you’ve already spent your money.
Not really an attractive gamble for Arsene and, so
long as he feels there’s growth in the group I can understand why: He buys one
or two worldies to add to his DEVELOPING squad, as a result one or two players
that are ready to kick on, don’t play as much. Manchester City add a few more
worldies to their world class lineup to stay ahead, they beat us for another
year or so as we get the supporting cast up to the level to challenge. And then
our shining light decides he wants to go and play for them instead.
The idea was to have a bit of patience, polish the
raw young talent into something special, and start collecting silverware.
Two out of three isn’t enough. It isn’t bad, but it’s not enough.
If your signings don’t work out and you fall short
of the big two trophies (PL and CL), you may need to buy additional top class
players the following year to improve further still. If you’ve spent your money
already you could quite easily drop out of sight with an empty trophy cabinet,
empty bank account, and the unenviable task of finding a manager good enough to
drag you back up into the elite with no money, no pedigree and a poorly
When City and Chelsea can do it every year, going
down that road without a considerable financial buffer would have been the
first step to self-sustainability unravelling. In the past couple of years
especially that could have been catastrophic, and would have undone the
patient, prudent work that Arsenal have done over the last decade.
Having said that it’s not unreasonable to suggest
he could have strengthened in certain areas, but hey. Big picture. We’re a Champions
League regular, he didn’t strengthen on a world class financial level but he
worked with what he had for a year, players got better, we still have CL
billing, and we’re looking pretty strong now anyways. Plus we’re minted because
he didn’t empty the coffers chasing instant success.
Now’s the time to buy, not last season or the year
before. Before we didn’t need to buy…we had Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Alex
Song, Gael Clichy and Robin van Persie. It’s after they left that we needed to
Wenger having money available to him in recent
years doesn’t mean that:
a. It was enough to spend, keep the wage bill
manageable AND grow our cash reserves while shrinking our stadium debt to 4% of
revenue by this summer, the summer before FFP kicks in.
b. The targets he wanted were available, or:
c. He didn’t try to buy players.
But what he hasn’t really received much credit for
is that each time he lost an important piece of the original blueprint to
either developmental stalling, injury, ‘player ambition’ or anything else, he
replaced it and kept the squad moving forward.
The blend of experience and youth in this team is
not because Wenger has learned from any mistakes: that’s a whole other
discussion based more around contract security. But bearing in mind our need to
build our cash reserve behind the scenes for a period, the theory and the
principles behind his approach have been spot on.
If you buy young players, iron out their flaws,
make them better decision-makers on the field and give them game situations in
which they can utilise their natural strengths, naturally they get older and
gain both experience and cohesion. If you’re a world class coach and the
players you’ve selected work hard, eventually they start popping up to elite
Unfortunately for Arsenal and Arsene, they popped
up at different times and were plucked away as soon as they ripened.
The problem became how to keep Arsenal steady while
losing your star players, and not over-investing too early and weakening our
ability to spend big and COMPLETE a squad, not merely enhance it.
He replaced the attributes. He upgraded on certain
youngsters that didn’t make the grade, but he also replaced lost experience
with experience to make sure we weren’t an eternal kindergarten… another
false accusation I hear levelled at Wenger all the time.
He doesn’t only go for youth, he likes youth when
working on a budget because they have plenty of space to grow. He’s had to spend
2-3 years on his players because he couldn’t spend £30m, until recently. But he
managed to keep the attributes in the squad that were parts of the original set
of options he wanted available.
And there’s the genius of Wenger and his alchemy.
Granted it takes a bit longer, and losing key players is a much bigger problem
for Arsenal than for our rivals. Since he’s opted to buy less polished players,
he’s had to spend the time on them, to turn them into a group that can compete
with squads full of top class, readymade players.
Whether I agree with the path Wenger has taken or
not, I understand it. And he truly believed it was best for the club in the long term. He’s taken this route because he wanted the wealth
to be available at the right time, which is most definitely now. In the
meantime, he’s mitigated his losses by working smart and being patient, knowing
that as long as Arsenal are in the Champions League, we have the reputation and
pedigree to attract top talent at the right time.
As he cultivates this third squad, players will get
better, new partnerships will develop and grow stronger, key skills will become
more apparent and the vision will take shape again. That’s what I watch and
believe me, it’s much more relaxing and infinitely more interesting than
berating the club every time Aaron Ramsey doesn’t play like Bastian Schweinsteiger.
We’ve moved forward off the field, we’re more secure on the field, we’re about
to add to the squad.
Now we can COMPLETE the squad over the next two
summers, but with the mix we have right now, this is the year that we get back
to challenging. If we’re lucky we’ll do all business this summer, but if not
and we only get one or two then it’s fine. Really. We got one or two of what he
wanted, the rest will come later.
It’s all part of the same team.
Every player serves a purpose, it’s all very
measured. I prefer to try and see exactly what it is about them that our world
class manager looks at.
We won’t sell our top assets again unless we
actually want to, so I think the ‘selling club’ perception will also be proved
false over the next couple of years. We can afford not to sell now and they all
have new contracts. That’s because we trusted our squad to keep us at elite
level, and love them or hate them, they did. Now they have to carry us to the
top of the elite and personally I think they’re well placed to do so if we do
good business this summer.
Each week I’ll try and focus on certain attributes
that have been consistently present in Wenger teams. Not necessarily about
player positions, but the ‘personalities’ of the players and how they mix
together. Hopefully I’ll provide a refreshing viewpoint on this aspect and we
can have good discussions in the comments sections below.
Next week: Perpetual Motion. See if you can guess
who the recent and current players are that we’ll discuss.
Thanks for reading.