Monday, 5 September 2011

Arsene Wenger: A hard look

Arsene Wenger seems to be running the wrong race! He is the best in the world at producing a profitable football club. Through a mix of smart expenditure and above average on-field results he has made Arsenal into a consistent profit maker. The unfortunate part for him is this is not something we judge football managers by- not only that, this is not even something we ought to judge football managers by. Results are what count the most.

What I care about as a die hard Arsenal fan is not value for money but about turning Arsenal into the best football team on the planet! Certainly when we were winning, it was good to point out how little we spent on our success, but without winning there is no argument. I do care that we play pretty football. I do care we have a nice stadium. I do care that we have made it to the Champions League a gazillion times in a row. But most of all I care to believe that Arsenal is capable of beating any team in the world- of at least winning a few trophies. The difference between the last 6 years (despite not winning trophies) and this year is that I don't honestly believe we can be the best in England, let alone being the best in the world. That is a step back.

 Let me lay my cards on the table. I have been a great supporter of Wenger and have extolled his virtues before (here). Arsene knows, we used to say and I firmly believed it. When he was under pressure in the middle of last season, after five seasons without a trophy, he said judge me after the season is over. So I did. We were two or three players and a lot of experience short of the best.

So what happens in the transfer window? Man U spends a net £43 million, Chelsea spends net £42 million, Man City spends net £52. Arsenal, they make a net £16 million profit! Even the two teams behind Arsenal out do them, with Liverpool at £34 million and Spurs at £13.5 million. In fact no other team other than Aston Villa make a bigger profit (£20.5 million). For all the sighs of relief among the faithful after the late splurge of spending after the 8-2 thumping by Manchester United, Arsenal have in effect exchanged Fabergas for Arteta and Nasri for Benayoun- both are down grades. The jury is out on Clichy for Santos and Park for Bendtner. The only real addition being Mertesacker, who despite fitting the bill, did not appear to be even among the top three choices for that position. Arsenal are better off from before the Man U game, but they are worse off since the end of last year. The five teams around Arsenal last year, are all stronger. It is a long season but three games in the conversation has already changed from winning the league to challenging for the fourth Champions League spot. That is Wenger's failing.

I was at the Stade de France in 2006 when we were leading Barcelona 1-0 with 10 men. It never crossed my mind that we couldn't win that match and be the best in Europe (and by extension the world). Fast forward to 10 days ago when we were visiting Old Trafford and I could feel a thumping coming- and I wasn't the only one. Despite having the same average squad age, the chasm in class between United and Arsenal- and believe me it hurts to say this- was huge.  And there is absolutely no amount of profitability that can compensate for that. Arsene knows, but he should know that his legacy will be measured by the number of trophies, not the numbers on the balance sheet. Time to stop burying your head!

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