Money always wins in the end. It’s a mantra which is familiar to millions, chanted with an alarming regularity and typically accompanied by the hoisting of a white flag over the Emirates, London Colney and a sizeable portion of the Arsenal nation.
Teambuilding, the art of building a competitive squad using knowledge, gave money a bloody nose this week in the Champions League. Leicester City and AS Monaco both progressed to the last eight unexpectedly, and in the case the French club, delightfully against Manchester City.
Aside from the obvious exit, Arsenal has much in common with the losing clubs, Sevilla and City. Close to the money of the latter, the mindset of the former: Arsenal is a small club mentality in big club clothing. We have developed an inferiority complex over the past decade, one which should not exist. The problem is, we don’t operate with anything like as much football savvy as the Andalusians. The summer has a sense of crossroads being reached. Famed director of football Monchi is reportedly heading to Roma, although his services are much in demand.
Not with Arsenal, you suspect, despite the fact that the tools are there for him to thrive, as he admitted in this interview.
When he arrived at Arsenal, Arsène possessed the golden touch when it came to creating winning squads. Inside knowledge of the French game gave him a head start but he inherited a strong core to build around. Come the 21st Century, his squad evolved once again. He lost his way with ‘Project Youth’, casting the Invincibles to the wind too quickly and willingly putting himself on the back foot with a reliance of youth.
If Arsène had remained faithful to his trusted method, he may – there is no guarantee, of course – have found himself in a stronger position now.
Contrary to popular belief, ‘Project Youth’ was not the club’s only option on moving to the Emirates. But we chose it. The wage structure at the club during that time proved to be an abject failure in keeping players at the club and hampered signing quality replacements for the experienced players who left. For anyone who disagrees: Mikael Silvestre, and the returns of Sol Campbell and Jens Lehmann.
The wilful misconception promulgated is that Arsène had no cash. We know we had more than he spent; we know he structured pay so badly that it impacted on his transfer funds and we know he wasn’t in that alone; the board agreed with every aspect of this. They had to be in total agreement otherwise it wouldn’t have happened.
A ludicrous proposition was expounded yesterday that if players left Arsenal for trophies, they would have earned less money at their new clubs. It’s the height – or depth – of stupidity and underlines how weak the arguments defending the manager have become.
But the issue is squad building. At Arsenal, we were proud of the scouting network but it, as is a common theme at the club, has lost its’ edge over rivals. We’ve been caught up by the rest and while it is hard to substantiate the claim we’re falling significantly behind, it’s certainly impossible to prove we’re leading the pack. It’s this aspect which makes me believe Wenger is planning to stay.
As I wrote the other day, the infrastructure of the club, the transition of Arsenal then to Arsenal now, that is Arsène’s legacy but increasingly, the ‘legacy’ is viewed in trite terms of squad ‘health’. This definition is the egotists version, the one where parting is held back because the subject cannot be bear the prospect of being badly thought of.
George Graham’s rehabilitation shows it is a long journey. For a few years after his departure, he was routinely criticised for the football; his ‘legacy’ seemingly tarnished. Now, his reign is genuinely recognised for the achievements and trophies. It took time to reach the point where the flaws of his latter years are recognised, as well the success.
The same process will happen with Arsène. Let’s not beat about the bush; the squad is in a mess. Wenger isn’t leaving us in any better state squad-wise than Ferguson left United. Sadly, staying won’t fix it either with chances of him significantly improving it, quickly diminishing . If anything, this summer looks like we might take a massive backward step. I’d venture that Arsène finds the prospect of short-term opprobrium excruciating. It is no comfort to him that we all know he will receive the proper recognition in due course.
The longer the situation drifts, the harder Wenger will find to rectify it over any extension to his contract. One thing is pretty much certain. If he renews the criticism won’t stop. It’s fast becoming a ‘no-win’ situation and that’s not healthy for him or the club.