Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Arsene Wenger: The Professor who lost the race against time

"If you don’t believe you can do it, you have no chance at all”

These words by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger are still fresh in the memories of the Arsenal fans, who have maintained a lot of patience in the last 10 years but have started to feel the heat of the trophyless years that are eclipsing the shadow of the Emirates. It would be quite fair to say now that after Le Professeur himself has admitted it would be difficult to chase leaders Chelsea after a defeat against Stoke City, that he is contradicting his own statement a bit.

Agreed, the faith that he has shown in some of his players is commendable, especially when they were going through difficult times. The dressing room still echoes the words "In Arsene we trust" and so do most of the Arsenal fans around the world. The players have reciprocated by putting their faith solely on the manager, standing by him with all his decisions, fighting the critics and believing that the trophyless era will soon be over. Some fans have even gone to the extent of hating on Arsenal legends Tony Adams and Ian Wright for their comments against Wenger’s managerial decisions. So much loyalty and faith can only be dreamed about.

However, amid all this, there seems to be a vibe that is slowly chiming in the minds of Gooners, a vibe that is steadily fading the trust out of their hearts and arousing questions in their minds. A vibe which very much is justified now that Arsenal seem close to completing a decade of EPL title-less and 9 years of barren trophies. This vibe was recently sped up after the mastermind Chelsea manager dubbed Arsene Wenger as a "specialist in failure", although many football pundits predicted it way earlier when Wenger decided not to buy an acclaimed striker in the January transfer window.

Frustration among fans has boiled to a level where disrespectful banners against the manager have been put up during Arsenal matches. One example of it is of ‘Buy Buy Wenger – Or Bye Bye Wenger’, which was showcased in the last few days of January transfer window. To be honest, the love that Arsenal fans have shown for their manager is unmatched, but there is always a limit to everything. We can load the camel with lots of straw, but finally it will be too much and the camel's back will break. And it is only a single last straw that does the complete damage.

So what’s the problem? Does Arsene Wenger not see what the world sees? Did he not know in January that the present attack of Arsenal is mediocre compared to those of the other top teams in EPL, or is it the trust that he puts in players that has backfired?

The answer to all the above questions is a ‘Yes’. The problem is that Wenger is still stuck up in his world of ‘creating talent and not buying it’, so much so that he was not ready to replace Giroud, who we all know looks average compared to the likes of Suarez, Rooney, Aguero and van Persie. A better striker, even though costing the club a lot in transfer fees as well as wages, would provide Arsenal with an attack that has been leashed since 2 years.

The tactics that are played by the Arsenal men during transfer windows are sharp but they are starting to grow roots. The transfer saga of Luis Suarez was one example of a failed attempt by Arsene Wenger and his men. The very fact that he bid '£40 million and 1' for him showed that not only is he disrespecting Liverpool, but he is also not taking Suarez seriously.

At a time when Arsenal were desperate to sign a striker (especially when Suarez was ready to join and Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had clearly stated that only a good sum of money for Suarez would be acknowledged), Wenger should have tied his boots to land in a situation of negotiations over the deal rather than having a word-feud with Brendan Rodgers. He didn't, and we all know the result.

The same thing happened in January with Draxler, where Schalke's owner Horst Heldt clearly stated that Arsenal did not meet the asking price. Arsene Wenger managed to calm the supporters down by convincing them that a deal for the Schalke star could be done in summer, but now it is almost probable that he is heading to Bayern Munich.

With Arsenal, it’s the same story every year. It would be fair to say that the stubbornness of Arsene Wenger in the transfer windows has cost them a well-deserved title this season. With probably the best midfield in England even a decent attacking front could charge the team to the title, but clearly the recent performances of Olivier Giroud have proved that it will take him a long time to match the level of Robin van Persie.

Change is the only thing that’s constant. With the revolution in European football and the advancements in the game of the English Premier League, it has become a must for managers to not only perform well in training grounds, but also in the transfer windows. Arsene Wenger must realize that the Financial Fair Play he wishes for the FA to adopt is only a possibility, and until it is enforced (IF it is enforced) – market activities have to be kept moving. Besides, there is no guarantee that the rules of the FFP would be in sync to Wenger's wishes.

The very fact that the last hour panic buy of Mesut Ozil was only a result of anti-Wenger rallies and criticisms proves that Arsene Wenger is not a man who likes to spend. However, it is high time he realized that his frugal game will not go on for too long as the public is starting to get frustrated. It is time Wenger accepts the fact that creating talent is important only when one has the time for it.

Gambling cannot be done in football; there needs to be a full-fledged master plan. For a club to be ambitious, it is very important for the manager to be the same. The complacency that Wenger has shown in the past years (being satisfied with top four) is clearly weakening the team. Wenger must change himself before he gets changed.

While Arsene Wenger has been quick to boast that although Arsenal have not won a title in the last 8 years, they have always been able to play Champions League Football, Chelsea have been qualifying for CL consecutively in the last 10 years, not to mention winning it once and the Premier League title thrice along with other cups. In these relatively better 10 years, Chelsea have changed their manager 8 times.

Fans might argue that the money has been holding us back. "What can we do to counter Russian billionaires when we are crippled with stadium debts?", they'd cry. However, a glance suggests that Arsenal weren't as debt ridden as the club made it out to be.

In addition to the article linked above, the fact of the matter also remains that Wenger has rashly spent the money that he did have. It's frightening to phantom how much money was thrown down the drain over duds like Aliadiere, Bentley, Stack, Stepanovs, Jeffers, Wright, Inamoto, Hoyte, Cygan, Shaaban, Awusu-Abeyie, Senderos, Lupoli, Traore, Almunia, Poom, Mannone, Denilson, Diaby, Nordtveit, Bartley, Merida, Bischoff, Silvestre, Squillaci, Wellington Silva, Arshavin, Chamakh, Gervinho, Andre Santos, Park Chu Young, Bendtner, etc. Couldn't one argue that had these players been off the books much earlier and replaced by genuine quality, we would have been in a much better position to win titles?

Wenger's selfish socialist wage structure clogged up the wage budget, which meant that overpaid deadwood were difficult to be sold once it was clear that they weren't Arsenal material. His wage structure was questioned in 2009 as well, to which Wenger replied:

"If we do not deliver in one or two years I will be responsible. We are going in the right track and everyone at the club is convinced we are doing the right thing. If we do not get there next year or the year after then I will be responsible and stand up for it, don’t worry."

It's been five years now and the club is only going backwards, yet Wenger seems to have conveniently forgotten his promise. He instead chose to deliver another at the start of this season, saying:

"I've said many times I want to do well with this club and, in the end [of this season], I will sit down and think how well have I done with the team I have had. That has to be sufficient for me to decide yes or no."

The point is moot whether this season will be a success or not, because the fact remains that Arsene Wenger has been pretty lucky with Arsenal.

-Vib_H (Follow me on Twitter @Vib_Hafc)