The second part of the series looks at Wenger’s misgivings and whether his presence is hindering on-pitch success.
By Arnold Njue
When he came to England in 1996, he completely changed the way football is played . He reformed the training and dietary regimes, ridding the club of drinking and junk food culture and brought in dieticians to explore the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
He changed Arsenal football club . He endeared Kenyans to the team who in turn filled pubs and restaurants to watch Arsenal.
He is the best Coach Arsenal have had and you could bet your money that he might be the best ever Arsenal manager. Yet the question still remains, why has Arsene Wenger failed so spectacularly in his last six years of managing the club.
In Part two of this series, l would like to highlight the observation I have made since the good old days of winning trophies, what changed along the way and why Wenger’s methods are not working anymore.
1. He does not teach defense
When he first came to England ,Arsene inherited a defensive unit of David Seaman, Lee Dixon , Nigel Winterburn , Steve Bould , Tony Adams and Martin Keown . These defenders with the proper scientific methods and diet introduced by Le Prof formed the backbone of his first league and cup double in his first full season in charge. It is noteworthy that all of his titles winning sides have had a core of experienced defenders who helped the team overcome training ground deficiencies or lack thereof . (Vito Mannone, the 4th choice Goalie currently on loan said that sometimes he plays midfield in training!)
Ever since the 03-04 title winning team, conceding goals from corners and free kicks has become the norm rather than exception. You cannot win the league without a measly defense.
Some positive developments after being thrashed 8-2 by United is that the defence now trains together, though am yet to see the improvements on the pitch .
2. His stubbornness is surreal
When Arsenal reached the Champions League final in 2006, Arsene managed such a fete with the help of one Martin Keown. His input in the defensive aspect of the game helped Arsenal go ten games to the final without conceding a goal. One of the revelations was that of playing a right footed central midfielder Mathieu Flamini as a left back. When Keown got all the plaudits for that achievement Wenger by design or circumstance quietly let Keown’s contract run out so that he could resume working alone .He does not share the platform with anyone else ; he is a complete control freak. He has made Arsenal the biggest’ “Phrench” club in the world.
3. Rewarding Failure
Arsenal’s wage bill was £111 m pounds while that of our bitter rivals Tottenham was £ 67 m in 2010. The media portrays him to be a wheeler dealer but the truth is he hides behind a facade. In order to have a happy go lucky dressing room, where nobody knocks on his door complaining, Wenger pays ridiculous wages to players who are average. For example Manuel Almunia, Fabianski, Denilson, Diaby , Squillaci, Bendtner, Carlos Vela and Lukasz Fabianski are all on £50, 000 a week plus (allegedly). To put that into context, that’s more than the wages of Luka Modric at Spurs . There is also another bunch of well-paid young players who get their contracts renewed, sent out on loan and have no resale value because no team would touch them with a 9 foot pole .
All this unnecessary recurrent expenditure negates all the ‘saving’ he does by not buying expensive world class players, making his mantra of building a team without overspending a fallacy.
Did you know that during deadline day Arsene was attending a coaching clinic in Switzerland as he left the dealing to Ivan Gazidis, the CEO back in London? Did you know that Yossi Benayoun came to Arsenal without undergoing a medical? Or that we missed out onXabi Alonso because of £2m , missed out on Yaya Toure because of dilly dallying, or worse still, missing out on Ibrahimovic because he wanted to take him on trial! (Yet he could keep Jeremie Aliadere at the club for 8 years where he only made 8 EPL starts). These are some of the transfer howlers that have been made but you know the old cliché, no one is without blemish including football managers.
What is inexcusable is the quality (or lack thereof) of his squad since Arsenal last won a trophy in 2005. Wenger’s squad is never big enough or strong enough, so he never gives himself the tools to do the job. After the 8-2 humiliation, Wenger began changing and accepting the fact that you cannot have youth without experience. Relying on cheap young players without established players won’t work. How he has gone about recruiting senior players is still questionable given he added quantity on the cheap and not necessarily quality.
Its intresting to note that Wenger was the only Premier League manager to have made a profit on transfers as of 2007; and between 2004 and 2009, Wenger made an average profit of £4.4 million per season on transfers, far more than any other club. That Arsenal makes more money selling players than what they spend on players contrary to all top clubs is maybe an indicator that the profit motive has superceded success on the pitch as the prime indicator of success at the club.
Essentially, Arsenal is a business whose mission is (1) respectable failure (2) making a profit. No one can achieve these two objectives as well as Arsene does hence being indespensible to the board.
5. Change of playing Style
4-4-2. This has been the hallmark of all Arsenal trophy winning seasons and marked ArseneWenger‘s foray into the English game. The type of 4-4-2 that Arsenal played was basically having overlapping fullbacks during attack , box to box midfielders ( who had an extra responsibility on their shoulders knowing that they had to work extra hard for each other and for the team) .
With this kind of setup, the dynamic four as I would call them i.e. the right winger attacker ( Freddie Ljungberg) ,the left wing attacker (Robert Pires) and the two strikers (Henry, Bergkamp) would roam freely interchanging positions in attack. No tika taka or shaq attack or whatever the Catalans call it . The midfielders in this regard would be the likes of RemiGarde, Emannuel Petit, PatrickVieira, Ray Parlour and to a lesser extent Gilles Grimandi and later Edu and Gilberto . These were hard grafters and not playmakers passé. The playmaking/creativity job was left to the aforementioned dynamic four and the fullbacks (Winterburn, Sylvinho, A.Cole, Lee Dixon, Lauren or Van Bronckhorst). With this kind of system, fullbacks could end up with 5 to 7 assists per season and a few goals.
The wide midfielders became goal scorers of note especially Ljungberg and Pires .In the last 6 ‘barren’ seasons, goals from midfield have dried up like a seasonal stream in Ukambani . For example the following wing attackers; Sylvain Wiltord (though sometimes used as a striker scored 32 goals in 104 appearances), Marc Overmars (25 goals in 101 appearances), Ljunberg (46 goals in 216 appearances ) and Robert Pires (62 goals in 189 appearances). Such figures are now a pipe dream.
The goal drought from midfield is alarming. The main reason for that is that after the ‘invincibles’, Wenger introduced 4-3-3. Out went flair and hard men, in came the small nimble injury prone footballers with no tactical nous or fighting spirit.
He also started building his team around a player read RVP and Fabregas before him. Intrestingly, the change in formation coincided with the move to Emirates stadium from Highbury. Since then, the trophy cabinet has been reduced to useless piece of furniture at the stadium.
6. Four High Quality Strikers
Arsene Wenger once said that to compete for honours you need to have 4 quality strikers. With this in mind ,the title winning sides had four strikers (two main with the others beng rotated).
For instance, the title winning side of 97/98 had (Ian Wright, Dennis Bergkamp, Nicholas Anelka and Christopher Wreh). In the 2001/02 season, we had Henry, Bergkamp, Wiltord and Kanu; and in 2003/04, Bergkamp, Henry, Kanu and Reyes.
Currently, we only have one striker doing the business of getting goals. The only other out and out striker Chamakh has not scored a goal in since 1980. Park Chu Young could not get into the under -18’s team if they had injuries. One would hate to imagine what would happen if RVP got injured.
7. Hard men with Team spirit
Few people know that Lauren and Vieira had a huge disagreement between themselves after a draw against Rosenborg in 2004 in a European game they expected to win. It took the intervention of police to stop them. I’m not encouraging violence here but the passion to win and only win was evident in this generation of players.
Martin Keown once told off a new signing at a corner during a match telling him to “Play like you are playing for the shirt, this is the Arsenal”.
The teams of yesteryear had leaders all over the pitch. Lauren, Lehmann, Parlour, Vieira, Bergkamp, Petit, Adams, Gilberto, Sol Campbell (before he decided to eat lots of potato chips) to name but a few.
I am not saying that players should disagree or fight but the will and passion to win and the team spirit supersedes all else. They would never just lay down and go through the notions even when a match was already lost. Whether such mental fortitude is present in the current set of players is doubtful. If fingers are to be pointed, most would point to Le Prof as he is the overall head of the team.
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In conclusion, there is so much to address at this beloved club of ours. Clearly Arteta, Mertesacker and Benayoun have brought about some fighting spirit, have enough experience to mould the younger players (or those who care atleast, stand up Sczesceny and Wilshere) to make Arsenal compete for 4th or 5thplace.
This is the State of affairs at AFC from a Kenyan perspective. Things might get better, things might get worse especially as billionaire owners continue buying into the EPL with limitless spending thereafter .Personally, I think bar the Emirates cup, Arsenal will never win another trophy with Le prof as the Manager! Of course I may be so wrong but only the future will tell. In the mean time, we diligently continue our duty as supporters hoping for better days.