The pitchfork army has been banging at the door demanding the head of Arsene Wenger for years now. Fresh off a sound Champions League thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich, that army broke in the house and now have the Frenchman by the legs; dragging him out the back door, half dressed, fingers clinging to the door frame.
The 20th year of any manager’s reign should be a celebratory occasion but Wenger’s tenure is now discussed like the black plague. Oh God will it(he) be here next year? This season would be 15 years without a Premier league title so the angst could be forgiven within the context that 99.9% of Arsenal fans joined that wagon during the Invincibles years.
But in order to successfully solve any problem grasping basic cause and effect is usually paramount. You sneeze or cough, deduce the cause as a cold and then pop a Tylenol accordingly. If Wenger is the cause of this 15 year malaise, how is he linked to the major problems(symptoms) at the club? What are in fact the major crimes of the club? Can we convict Wenger of those crimes?
Problem No. 1 if you polled the Arsenal fan base is the lack of spending. This makes sense right. The one common thread amongst Manchester United, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona i,e. clubs that win things, is that they all nestle snuggly in the top 10 earning (and spending) clubs as released every year by Deloitte. It would be no surprise to the Arsenal faithful, especially those who take out loans to attend games, that their club always ranks on this list. The spending side though has been absent for some time and therein lies one cause of the club’s lack of success. Again, nothing novel but worth stating.
Arsenal spending compared to Premier League Rivals – as at August 2015
Large sections of the fanbase blame Wenger for the club not spending. Last we checked the owner’s name is Stan Kroenke of course but there are feeble claims that Wenger has shares at the club and is more vested in the financial success of the club. As far as we can tell from discussions at the AGM over the years this claim of share holdings is categorically false. So with that out the way what motivation does Wenger have to bind the club to its legendarily strict wage and transfer framework all these years? Who really drives the framework? A decent guess is the guy who writes the cheques.
What we do know about Stan Kroenke, who also owns the L.A. Rams, is that he is consistently rated one of the worst owners in the NFL. A real estate investor of some repute many allege he leveraged wealth from his wife’s Walmart inheritance and like any bastard who stumbled into a fortune craved more free money. When the city of St Louis refused to pony up for a new stadium, Kroenke dashed the team to Los Angeles dismissing any sentiment you would think someone born and bred in Missouri may carry. These happenings should inform why Arsenal has been run the way it has been run since he acquired control in 2007.
So when Arsenal fans boo Wenger out the door do they think all of sudden an Aubemeyang bid follows? If so we have a bridge to sell them.
Problem No. 2 has been what has been described as a “lack of spine ” or “lack of heart” or a “lack of winners” in the team. The thought here is that Viera and Petit in the glory days were physically and mentally strong players when Arsenal were dominant so that has to be part of the formula. In a tough game these two would control the game . But now? “We have too many little players passing around the ball”
Viera was a world class performer in the middle of the park and no doubt one is needed in a winning team, we agree, but the cause and effect falls down again if one alleges Wenger was purposely aiming NOT to have a physically imposing midfield. On the contrary, Wenger‘s comments suggest he twice tried (and obviously failed) to sign N’golo Kante. The backup option of Granit Xhaka was expensively deployed and that failed miserably as we predicted but the intent was still there. The record sum spent suggested to us this HAD to be Wenger’s last year just as Manchester United granted Van Persie to Sir Alex his last season. We digress. The point is the transfer failure is not about Wenger who, as discussed earlier, is likely told what wage he can offer a player….he doesn’t tell Kroenke.
Promising midfield enforcers are around – Frank Kessie and Willliam Carvahlo come to mind. That said, even if Wenger is booted this summer won’t Manchester United/City simply outbid them leaving fans once again longing for the assets of another club? It’s all about clout/wages in the end.
Problem# 3 is known but not properly considered by some in the context of this 15 year nightmare – we refer to Arsenal’s dreaded injury record. The Surgeons have done a lengthy diagnosis on this record which you can see here. The results were alarming to say the least and have to be considered a large part of the failures over the years. Arsenal‘s second best player, Santi Cazorla, has hardly kicked a ball this season. Would that not be impactful to the club’s chances? How would Chelsea have managed this title run without Kante or Hazard?
We focus here though on the role some ascribe to Wenger in these injuries. In some circles the thought has been that his training methods contribute to the injuries or that he failed to wean the club to less fragile players. We wouldn’t dismiss these charges outright but ask for evidence to corroborate. No evidence is produced on the former charge(not having access to training or accounts of former players) and the latter charge assumes he has a crystal ball to know the replacement players will be less injury prone. We concede here though he persisted way too long with the “Mr. Glass” of football – Abou Diaby.
So what changes things at Arsenal? That’s easy as we have precedent. The same thing that changed things at Manchester City – cold hard cash. More specifically, a change to the financial structure is required to retain and attract world class stars at the same pace as their rivals. As long as ownership remains though that appears unlikely. You can drag out Wenger and beat him . The effect is that you would likely only hold warm feelings for a month or two but you surely won’t hold a trophy when you’re finished.