What Arsene Knows

I’ve been criticised recently for being ‘anti-Wenger’, which I’m not. I’m just pro-Arsenal. I also believe that however goods things are, there is always room for improvement. A wise lady once said to me, “Unless you strive for perfection you’ll never achieve it.” That’s why I criticise; that’s why I’m never satisfied. Not because I think perfection can ever be achieved for more than a fleeting moment, but because it’s always worth trying to get closer to it. Like a moth chasing a bicycle light, unless you keep trying to get there you’ll soon end up a long way away.

Let me tell you what I think of Arsène Wenger.

In 1996 Arsenal were going downhill as a result of George Graham’s lack of imagination and complete failure to build on the crop of young home grown players he was lucky enough to inherit. Bruce Rioch had steadied the ship but was never going to take the club anywhere: he was an old-style manager whose time had gone. He believed that you had to have been a top player to be a top manager, and British football was best. His record since leaving Arsenal shows that the Board were right not to indulge him too long. Wenger on the other hand never played at a high level, and thus he doesn’t have the false beliefs that still dog English football. Because management is different to playing. The best players rarely make the best managers, because the best players play largely by instinct. The best managers are the thinkers, not the ex-pros trying to recapture their youth. Arsène knows this.

In his time at Arsenal, Wenger has been supported all the way by a Board who have never had knee-jerk reactions. They may sometimes be too slow to make decisions or even too feeble-minded to notice a decision needs to be made, but either way the effect is the same: there is never an over-reaction. One game really makes no difference, even if it’s losing 3-0 to Chelsea at home. The media and pundits look too short-term. The number of times the title race is proclaimed as over from January onwards, only to see it back on again two weeks later, demonstrates this. Arsène knows it.

Nearly every club wastes money in the transfer market. Some clubs don’t even try to get value, they’re too busy buying big names to appease the fans or to go along with this season’s manager (Spurs and Newcastle are classic examples). Arsène is the first person in English football to beat the transfer market consistently since Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. And when I say beat the market, I mean he can sell players for more than he paid, even after several years of great service. Spending big money on transfers doesn’t guarantee winning the league, as Liverpool demonstrate quite well. Arsène knows this.

Sure, he’s missed out on some players by waiting, but generally he’d rather buy too young than too old or not at all. Once he’s got youngsters in he waits till they get to their early twenties to fully work out their potential before, if necessary, ditching them – that’s one reason players rarely if ever go on to better things after leaving Arsenal. We end up with a huge squad of 17-21 year olds while he waits to see which ones turn into top class performers, but that’s the price we’ve had to pay. He also knows not to be led astray by short-term hype, and not to buy based on one World Cup or Euro finals (Milan Baros, anyone?). Most managers still don’t get this. Arsène does.

Much evidence has shown that players’ performances start to decline as soon as they hit their thirties, if not before. Arsène knows this. The first club to use science to address the problem was Milan. They don’t reveal their secrets, but whatever they do, it works. Maldini was 38 in 2007 when they won the Champions League; Inzaghi who scored both goals in the final was 33. Arsène famously extended the careers of the squad he inherited, but he doesn’t have the Milan Lab behind him to keep everyone going as long as Maldini. But he does know better than anyone in football when it is time to let a player go. His record of getting the best from players is truly incredible. When a player is past his peak, Arsène knows.

Many say that Arsène indulges his players too much, and he probably does. But if he makes sure that when a foreign lad arrives on our shores he feels at home, because the club has arranged for his girlfriend or some of his family to come with him, has found him a nice house in a good area, has sorted out a school for his kids if applicable, has got a proper programme of English lessons available if needed, then that player is not going to be distracted by finding his life in a mess off the field. He’ll play a lot better as a result. Look at Nicolas Anelka: well looked after at Arsenal, and by all accounts he was happy, it was his brothers who wanted him to move so they could leech off him. Real paid £23 million for a shy, socially awkward, immature, self-centred and not very intelligent teenager, then did nothing to help him settle in. The story goes that on his first day at the Bernabeu no one even allocated him a locker or introduced him to the other players, so he kept trying to claim lockers and was moved on by his unwelcoming new team mates. When he later complained to the coach that the other players wouldn’t pass to him, he was ignored. It’s no wonder he failed in Madrid. Arsène would have seen that coming.

However much you criticise the Board, they allowed David Dein to bring Arsène to Highbury. Think how revolutionary this was. The easy thing to do have done would have been to appoint a British ex-pro, a manager who would have continued to do everything the way it was always done in English football. If an Allardyce or Redknapp had failed, so what? The fans collectively shrug their shoulders and move on. If a nerdy Frenchman had failed the Board would have been slaughtered. Most managers in England are chosen because they’re available and they won’t cause a riot among the  fans. This pretty much limits it to white, middle-aged male ex-pros. Arsène single handedly removed most of the objection to foreigners – now the complaint from the ignorant is that there are too many, just when English football is starting to learn from them!

So Arsène is – or was – a great manager. The greatest managers in English football have generally either died in their posts (Chapman) or walked away (Busby, Shankly, Paisley); only Clough that I can think of just couldn’t give it up. Clough kind of has an excuse, because once Taylor had gone he was only half the manager, but was desperate to prove that wasn’t true. Arsène is a one man band, so if he’s going downhill, what’s his excuse?

From the outside it seems obvious that these days Arsène could do some things better. It hasn’t always been like that, but now it is. It’s fine being a one-man band, but there are some tunes you just can’t play so well. Lyon have revolutionised French football in an even greater way than Wenger did in England, but their record-breaking seven consecutive titles from 2002 onwards were under three different managers. The Board and all the coaching staff at Lyon work as an integrated machine, of which the manager is but one cog. Liverpool in the 1970s and ’80s had a less formal version of that in the boot room. To me there’s a lesson there. Where is the alternative view for Arsène to consider?

It saddens and annoys me that a truly great manager has seemingly become blind to his own faults, and perpetuates problems by a lack of self-awareness. Arsène reportedly doesn’t read newspapers and doesn’t care what others think of his team or his methods. That is really his, and our, great tragedy.

A version of this article first appeared in The Gooner, issue 211.

Follow me on Twitter: @AngryOfN5


27 thoughts on “What Arsene Knows

  1. A well balanced argument. However, I still like that Arsenal should stick with Arsene. I acknowledge that winning silverware is an issue, but surely there is more to football than that? I respect they way both Arsenal and Arsene can take the footballing moral high ground (and rightly so). Surely the arsenal/arsene model should be a beacon for all other footballing clubs? Ok we might not (at the moment) be able to compete with PSG,MALAGA, MAN CITY etal, but what is the alternative? I cannot believe any Arsenal fan would be happy selling their footballing soul to some Russian Oligarch who will destroy the indentity and credability of Arsenal.

    • “I acknowledge that winning silverware is an issue, but surely there is more to football than that?” You’re you kidding right? Football is all about winning. Maybe its been such a long time that we’ve won anything that you have either forgotten or don’t know the great satisfaction of winning silverware.

      • Andy your a moron.
        Trophies are nice when earned, but bought for starters.
        Also, if football is all about winning then why do 95 other football league clubs plus the other how many hundreds who are less successful teams have any fans?
        Football should be all about fair competition, we are where we are because we cannot compete with financial doping, basically football has sold its soul. Its people like you with your trophies are the be all and end all attitude that Arsenal football club don’t need.

      • Hi Dave
        I don’t think we need to compete with the ‘rich’ clubs.. There are some genuinely top class players out there, for transfer fees and contracts, way within our reach. I think we are capable of buying the right players and WINNING the premiership. There are other reasons we don’t compete. Our squad as a whole is not strong enough but all the players we need to have a strong squad are available within Arsenal’s capabilities and resources. If you research Kroenke you will see that he ‘Starves’ all his clubs. Nobody can own more than one league club in this country. Trouble is that Kroenke owns another 5 in America. Check what is said about him there. This is not about spending big money, it is about a particular owner who does not nurture his clubs and starves them. I hope our present squad will challenge, but it would not cost a lot to make them premiership champions.

  2. that was a really good post

    i will admit i have been on the hate arsene band wagon
    but this post sets me straight

    just miss the trophies so we can shove it down the mancs/chavs/spuds throats

  3. It’s not a tragedy that he doesn’t read papers or listen to what you or I think. Should Arsene Wenger be taking football advice from the likes of Henry Winter or Martin Samuel? You may have your opinion as do I, but I would never be so pompous or arrogant as to think I have the football knowledge as compared to our manager or any other manager really. They have been given the job, and let them get to their jobs. They know their teams. They know all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes that informs their decisions. I hope to God, that the manager never listens to me or you or any hacks in the paper. He might fail, he might succeed, but it’ll be down to him and his staff and the players. Not any outside influence.

    • Well said, son. You can add mugs like James Lawton, John Cross, and Steve Stammers to the list. They, too hold PhDs in the Science of Sweet Fanny Adam.

      I remember a banner unfurled in the east stand at the first home game last season (which we lost to Cheaterpool) proclaiming ‘spending some money would make happy fans’ or some such trite, nursery school logic, patently ignoring the departures of the homesick chronic hamstrung Cesc and the want-a(payday) away nasri effed up any semblance of a decent pre-season.

  4. There is something obvious if we do examine it. Imagine an English player going to play in Italy. At some point, especially, if he is married, he will want to come home. By the same token this happens with our foreign players. At some point we will lose them all. There are only a few Bergkamps who stay the course. It is totally acceptable. Of course some may move on for honours, if their team has no ambition. If they are a top class player, of course they would. The one that sickens us us is the mercenary. The one, only in it for the money. The Gollum, Nasri, became the object of derision, because of ‘his precious’ money attitude. Therefore logic, in general, dictates a faster turnover of foreign players than home grown players. So……one would think Wenger would always anticipate the obvious.
    Also the world changes. Adaptation is crucial. To stick to outdated ideas has never worked in history or even now. Business in the modern world requires borrowing to create growth. If one just reinvests profits then long term will be compromised. There will not be enough growth. All big businesses invest in their products. They will borrow to do so. In the case of Arsenal there is little risk because they will not need to borrow much to buy the players available at the moment. There are bargains at the moment. The problem is a little different to what is imagined. Mr Kroenke….Stan Kroenke, has 6 clubs in his collection. He is a collecter of clubs. If he had one club, Arsenal, he could invest. With 6 clubs he cannot invest in ANY of them. Each club is a risk against another. Kroenke will NEVER invest in Arsenal. There should be a worldwide limit, rather than a league limit, to the amount of clubs owned. Kroenke is a club collecter and guess what…..in America he is accused of not investing in the clubs. Ask Americans!. So whilst I humbly thank Arsene Wenger for our past glories, I see two things. Our foreign players will always move on for some reason. Therefore we need to invest in quality replacements. Neither of those is happening due to the business methods of Stan Kroenke, and to a smaller degree Wenger’s trait of sticking with presently outdated business methods. I still think as a coach Wenger is great. As a club manager he is, at the moment, excacerbating Kroenke’s distorted business policy.

    • Exactly. And to make matters worse, we have TWO billionaire owners who don’t talk to each other. How is that in the best interest of Arsenal FC. Its a joke. Also, what value does Kroneke bring to Arsenal if all not going to invest and protect his asset.
      I like the idea of a sustainable business model but it has to balanced with success in terms of SILVERWARE. Winning brings in extra fans, tv rights, commercial sponsorship, quality players, etc. Having an ‘idealistic’ business model
      wins you nothing.

    • There is a huge disincentive for Kroenke to pay off our debt-by doing so he increases the value of the shares of the club by the amount that he pays off-this means he would increase the value of the shares of his his main competitor Usmanov. Kroenke’s value is as a long term investor-opening up revenue opportunities from the USA.
      He was only sold shares by the club’s shareholders order to keep the status quo and block Usmanov. Arsenal’s BoD would rather the club be playing in the championship than sell to Usmanov- and the way they are going we will be.

  5. great post! I have said for many years that his stubbornness will be his downfall and I still believe that now but can you imagine the sort of people that would have been in charge over the wenger era?
    The board, useless as they currently are, do deserve some praise for not having knee jerk reactions to lack of silverware because once Wenger goes I can see us having a steady stream of “big name” managers at the club trying to reproduce what Arsene has managed.
    Playing devils advocate now though but I would love David Dein back by his side as there is an obvious link between success achieved with him at the club and lack of silverware since he left.


  6. This is the true verdict of arsene’s life.he prove to know it all,he dosent believe he can be wrong,he believe his method is d best and flawless.man utd brought scholes,pirlo won d scudetto for juve.pls wenger we need a roller-costa,a player with name dat can scare opponent.Ronaldhinho is wasting away,sneider is unsettle,Riqueme is still waxing stronger.i will personaly curse wenger for his role in my pain as an arsenal fan.

  7. I’m still not entirely sure what you’re saying about what it is that Wenger is doing wrong. He’s stubborn, always has been and he does things his own way, as he always has, nothing is different. I think he hears enough of what the hacks are saying and puts across a cogent enough argument to show that he is spot on the money for what others think of him, he simply doesn’t agree. I think he has been failing partly as a consequence of misjudging modern footballers, thinking there was more loyalty there than there is and partly down to the simple facts of modern football, we don’t have a scouting advantage with modern media tools and we are at a severe financial disadvantage in the top player market. I think the main issue is that he’s having to change with the times, rather than refusing to adapt, which is akin to what I suspect your conclusion is, and in a hard period for Arsenal those changes aren’t quite enough, yet.

  8. What evidence do you have for your conclusion that Wenger is ‘blind to his own faults’?! Sounds to me like just another lazy opinion that fits right in the narrative of ‘why Arsenal are so terrible’ along with Wenger being ‘unable to coach defending’, poor at motivating his players, ‘tactically naive’ and, more recently, the board ‘refusing to spend any money’. I suppose the more you say all of these things, the more people take them as a given. Even though they are utter rubbish.

    It saddens me because you write well. You made some great points! But then the great weight of tabloid/skysportsnews/ex pro pundit drivel seems to have wearied you, as it has so many people. There are narratives in football. We all know what the one about arsenal since 2005 is, I don’t need to bother explaining it. Basically until we win the league or the CL, that’s not going to change. It doesn’t matter what the reality is, how close or unlucky we are, how warped and unsustainable the business of football has become, how righteous the club is about its model, how other clubs behave. The simple truth of this narrative seems to be that unless and until arsenal win one of these two trophies, we will be failures.

    There it is. Leave all rational analysis at the door.

    • There is plenty of evidence-lets start with the team’s defending. Three year ago Wenger said he had to strengthen the defending of the team-yet last season we concede 49 goals. Bear in mind no team who has won the EPL has conceded more than 37 goals.
      We currently have 1 goalkeeper-who played the last 6 games with a shoulder injury because Wenger did not trust his understudy, 1 right back who suffered 2 broken legs last season, with no effective understudy.
      Its not just about the failure to invest in capable defensive players-Wenger has not modified the tactics of the team-we still play such a high line we regularly get caught on the break.
      The evidence of Wenger’s actions in strengthening defensive capability is?????

      • Hi goonerman.
        Leaking 49 goals shows the reality of our team. There is a more sinister reason why that happened and shows that although we came 3rd we were genuinely reliant on RVP. During the 2010-2011 season we topped the possession figures in the premier league. We only has one league game that any team had more possession than us during that season. Last season 2011-2012 we were 7th overall in the possession league, but 13th (THIRTEENTH) away from home (46%). That meant, particularly away from home other teams had way more possession, and they would get more scoring chances and sometimes score more goals than us. For whatever reason Wenger went against his own attacking football philosophy, by not getting in players who could keep the ball. Those who watched all the games last season know we were often dominated away from home. If we do not get players who can change this, i.e a midfield maestro, we will suffer and have NO chance of winning anything. Although Jack Wilshire is a wonderful player, he is not a midfield distributing maestro. So if we cannot create an away average of about 56% possession we will have no chance of the Premier League or Champions League. Unless Kroenke opens up his purse we are in big shit…. fact.

  9. What AFC Need to do became clear to me watching FA cup 1998 Final is that we need Usmanov in!
    Times are changing!
    Watching this team and now it becomes apparent that comparing this team now and then is laughable!
    We had both Bergkamp and Wright on the bench yet we won comfortablly!!!
    This will never happen with Croenke on the board as time has put the schedule to a point where AFC need to put cash before pride!
    We will never again have that luxury having those world class players on the bench winning trophies without billionaires taking part of our club.
    As much i hate the club being run withiot being English though i am Swedish this is the sad truth of todays football!!
    Cash is King now more than ever sack Croenke in with Usmanov!!!

  10. Well the truth is he has integrity. He has stuck by both his board and his players even when they haven’t deserved it. AC Milan may have prolonged their players’ careers, but if you talk to the World Anti-Doping Agency, you might start to wonder how this was achieved, e.g. changing blood and oxygenating it twice a year (apparently Zidane also did this accoridng to some sources).This is actually illegal.

    The problem with Kroenke as with most sport in North America (where I am these days) is that they are run as businesses to make money and trophies are very secondary. Wenger is otherwise determined to win and has come so close since 2005; 9 minutes from a 2006 UEFA CL victory having played with 10 men for most of the match; 2007 Leage Cup Final defeat where the ref didn,t award a penalty that could have made it 2-0. 2008 – the horrid injury to Eduardo that upset what really could/should have been a Premiership title and also a Liverpool penalty in the UEFA CL when Dirk Kuyt blatantly dived; admittedly thereafter to 2009-2010 AFC trod water rather than went forward and 2011 a Van Persie red card may have robbed Arsenal of a famous victory over Barcelona. A nearly in the League Cup.

    And then he’s been massively let down by players such as Adebayor, Nasri, (less so Fabregas) and may be now Van Persie and Walcott. Wenger needs to be more ruthless. If Walcott wants a 100k salary, then give him a 1000 a week payrise for every goal and assist he scores. If he can’t make 30 combined, then he’s not worth the rise to a 100k.

    But relying on the Fair Play rule to come to Arsenal’s rescue could backfire and almost did last season. A couple of seasons of not moving forward nearly through away 3rd place through a lack of depth in squad and we could have easily ended up in Spurs’ positions. The ambition needs to come from the top…. then Wenger might be handed the resources required.

    While not necessarily after Usmanov as the club owner, at least he would be ruthless in getting what he wants – trophies. And he would provide the resources to add the edge that Arsenal need.

    We’re almost there and let’s be honest, Chelsea and Man Utd and the top European clubs have huge resources and the level set by Arsenal and Man Utd was so high, they needed stacks of cash to try and catch up. It’s also likely that indebted clubs like Real and Barça receive some significant funding from their municipalities as they are good for regional tourism. This could now be financed through the EU bail-out packages to Spain.

    So how do you feel about Ars`ne Wenger now? He’s helping Arsenal remain an institution and not be a fly-by night outfit. Imagine where Man U will go once Ferguson leaves?

  11. We finished 3rd last year, a remarkable, if lucky achievement after conceding 49 goals-a result which was down to one player who now intends to leave, that and the inconsistency of 2 rival clubs. Take RVPs goals away and we would have finished 12th or worse- a position which more accurately reflects the squad’s overall strength. I cannot remember seeing any top side so reliant on one player.

    Wenger is hugely powerful at the club and has a free hand-because the BoD have given him this power. He has rightly been applauded and rewarded for our past successes, but why is he not held accountable for our consistent failures to challenge for major trophies and the abject decline in the strength of the squad over the past 7 years?

    No other top club would hang on to a manager in these circumstances-but then no other club is reliant on the team manager to make a profit from the sale of its players each year and still make big money by qualifying for the ECL. Wenger is a strong advocate of the financial policy of the club but it would be wrong to blame him for the effects of under investment in players this policy results in.

    At the end of the day Arsene Wenger is an employee doing the job that his employers want him to do. Are you going to blame the monkey or his organ grinder when it doesn’t meet players and fans expectations?

    • Take away the 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford (which was an anomaly) and we conceded 41 goals last season. Still a lot, but close to what you would expect a team finishing third to concede.

      “I cannot remember seeing any top side so reliant on one player.”
      You cannot remember the 2003-04 season then. Arsenal score 73 goals. Thierry scores 30. Arsenal win the league.

      Wenger isn’t held accountable for our drop in standard in relation to other teams because he is not responsible for it. The board are realistic in their assessment of the club and don’t expect the team to win the league when other clubs have invested in their squads so heavily. If anything, Wenger is over performing and the board are aware of this.
      Have a read of 7am Kickoff’s write up about our financial position and how that should influence our league position: http://www.7amkickoff.com/2012/how-much-money-would-it-take-to-bring-arsenal-level-with-the-big-spenders/

      conceded 27% of their goals from set-pieces last season as opposed to 54% in 10/11.

      • Zywiec
        Sorry mate but there are good players out there well within our financial capabilities. You are purely misleading the public. The board and Wenger have said there is money available. Do we take it that they always lie to us and really there isn’t. Wenger has admitted he does not like spending it, but he has it. Fact. If you are implying that because we now have conceded only 27%, rather than 54% of goals at set pieces that every thing is roses, you omit other big time serious stats. In that same 2010-2011 season we had the highest possession stats in the whole premiership. In fact there was only one game a team hadmore possession than us. Last season 2011-2012 we were 7th overall in possession but 13th…yes THIRTEENTH away from home! Although effeciency is important it is possession that generally dictates success. Possession is nine tenths of the law and if we do buy players who can improve our possession we would have a chance of winning trophies, seeing as we have revamped our strike squad with the best striker in France and one of the best in Germany. Did you watch last seasons away games. We were mainly poor. Very poor. If we do not buy the players to finish our team jigsaw it will be purely Wengers choice and not because the money is not there. Van Persie may well be right, it could be about ambition.

  12. I’d say you summed it up, though I think there was too pro -Arsene exaggeration. He wasn’t that faultless, even in his glamour days. He missed on players even then, he got failures & he released great players too soon. But there’s no point to address the past really. We seem to agree on the tragic current situation

  13. I watched a replay of WBA vs Arsenal. After going a goal up ,the gunners went behind and as luck would have it finally won and clinched 3rd place.Hopefully Bould can fix the defence.Wenger is deluded if he thinks he doesn’t have to modify his kid policy.Many fans believe there is an over emphasis on kids in place of experience.Too many kids bought and farmed out. Some were not given enough time in the epl Three to five years have been wasted.
    If the fm had bought experience things could have been much better.If things don’t work out this season,he better go.Enough is enough. let the fm go and manage another club and he would be axed after ten matches . He will find his new employers aint going to give him years to win trophies.

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