This is the second in a four part series on Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager in 2012-13. A lot of focus is placed on where Arsenal sit compared to where we feel the Arsenal should be in the table.
Right now, granted, the Gunners are well below the position they should be in, but they are not as far adrift as you might think. This segment explores how we compare to our contemporaries and where we should place our expectations.
So where are Arsenal falling short? The way Arsenal is falling short is different from each of their main competitors principally, but there is also a similarity across the board. Against Chelsea and Manchester City, Arsenal is not competing on the same financial level. Against Manchester United, we are not competing with the same level of skilled players. Similarly, our contemporaries have better depth and prominence in the transfer market; players want to go to winners, that’s the prestige that Arsenal have lost in recent years.
Compared to Manchester City and Chelsea, Arsenal does not have the financial resources available to the manager. I have chosen those words carefully, it’s important to acknowledge it in those words, rather than – Arsenal does not have the financial resources. Silent Stan is not a poor man and can invest money of his own or combined with an investment from other large owners. Usmanov is the only other large owner of shares, but is not the only other owner of large personal means. Usmanov has dazzled fans with goals of bringing the best to Arsenal and spending the dollars required to win, so maybe he would kick in some money for more trophies. I think there would be the obvious caveat in that any such investment would need more shares going his way, and without a doubt, a seat on the board.
The ownership structure of Arsenal FC/PLC, however, will prevent enormous sums of money being invested; no smart individual owner would invest huge sums of cash for which the smaller owners would reap the rewards. If Stan Kroenke were to invest £50M to purchase two marquee players, the other owners would reap the benefit of more valuable and desirable shares, should more success (financial and tangible) be achieved by the club. On the basis of Arsenal’s ownership structure alone it would be tough to compete with clubs that have a single owner or an oligarchy with similar interests. Abramovich (Chelsea) and Mubarak (MCFC) can unilaterally decide to spend millions in an instant. The speed at which money can be made available and with such impulsiveness appears to be advantage with the flow of players arriving at each club, but even when Arsenal made record signings the decisions were not impulsive, but calculated.
Against Manchester United we struggle based on the key personnel topic. Manchester United have Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, Arsenal have Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. The disparity gets worse the deeper you get, Welbeck and Hernandez versus Walcott and Gervinho. The midfield should be stronger with Arsenal, but being decimated by injuries has not helped the cause. Defense is the one area where Arsenal are stronger, but that is buoyed by the best defender of the bunch, Vidic, being out. If Vidic plays for United, then Arsenal would be outclassed in
the defensive department. Vidic is on his way back from injury, and that is a massive boost to a club that has been winning, despite conceding many goals.
Gone are the days when Arsenal had the riches of multiple superstars. When we had Bergkamp, Henry, Pires, Vieira, Cole and Adams on the pitch we had players that everyone wanted, feared or were happy to not face on a regular basis. Arsenal have some very skilled players. Cazorla has tons of talents, but if Real Madrid felt he was a stud, they would have taken him and saved some money by not taking Modric. It is quite reasonable on that basis to say that Modric is a better player. Podolski has had a good career, but did not materialize when he played for Bayern Munich in Germany. Walcott is probably the most prized possession with Arsenal. He’s blessed with speed and his finishing has improved tremendously. He provides options that most clubs do not have, and that makes him valuable. Even with all of that in mind, losing him would hurt the onfield product far less than losing Cesc and Robin van Persie has in recent memory. Arsenal simply lack the crown jewels in the squad.
Look at the starting XI of Arsenal’s contemporaries (Chelsea, City, and United), they have guys on their bench that would start for every club other than them. The Citizens have Dzeko and Balotelli on the bench, sitting with Milner and Garcia. Chelsea can leave Oscar, Sturridge, Lampard and Marin on the bench. Manchester United has Hernandez on the bench with Nani, who while inconsistent are supremely talented players. Arsenal’s bench has maybe one player who maybe you could argue deserves to start elsewhere and that is Gervinho, but that is a huge stretch in my mind. He really does not have the form to go and be a difference maker at the top three clubs.
If Arsenal could put out their first team, healthy, no fatigue, and full of confidence every single match of the season then Arsenal could keep close to the top three. Yes, I truly believe that, you might think I’m delusional for that, but I honestly believe that our healthy best can keep up with the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea. As soon as someone gets injured, that’s when it gets dicey.
It’s not a level playing field in that respect. The Arsenal have become the team that leads the rest of the pack; the Gunners now represent the best of the rest. That said, Arsenal is not sandwiched between the top three and the other 16. The Gunners are dropping points to other squads where points should never be squandered. Unfortunately due to money to buy the best and buy a deep squad, Wenger has been handcuffed. It is also not solely Silent Stan’s fault as our ownership structure is not conducive to large investment. All of these issues are piling up, now the fans are piling on the pressure too.
Stay tuned for the third part of our series where we discuss tactics.