16 years. 16 consecutive years of Champions League qualification, with little-to-no spending, is what the pro-Wenger section of supporters throw at you when questioned about the ambition and desire of current and long-standing Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. The glory days of Arsenal are well and truly behind them now and the club hasn’t added any domestic or continental silverware to its trophy cabinet for the last eight years, a cabinet that looks pretty deserted at the moment. But the signing of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid, for a club record fee of 42.5m, much to the delight of the Gunners, has raised a lot of eyebrows around the football world, with fans and neutrals alike. So is Arsene Wenger willing to compete for the highest of prizes again? He is sure to have sent a message out there, a strong one perhaps by signing a player, certainly a world class one, that almost no footballing team on earth would refuse.
Whilst there was a period when Arsenal v Manchester United was the biggest fixture in the Premier League and in the early years of Arsene Wenger’s career, the acquisition of Chelsea by Russian Roman Abramovich aided by bucket-loads of money has no doubt had an effect on Arsene Wenger’s ability to wrestle the Premier League title to the Emirates. Added to this is the arrival of Manchester City, owned by Sheikh Mansour and the expansion of domestic competition, seems to have hit Arsenal and its hopes of winning silverware on a regular basis.
With the talks of a possible extension of Arsene’s soon-to-be-expired contract set to begin, let us discuss how well he’d deserve an extension and what he can do/has to do, to win over that set of fans that are not happy with his stay at the club.
To start with, we will assess what he has done already and what he is good at. He’s managed to ensure his club always has a place among Europe’s elite and has been doing this for a massive consecutive 16 years; despite moving from the trophy-laden Highbury to the Ashburton Grove and making the difficult transition look easy.
The 60,000 capacity Emirates Stadium is arguably the biggest legacy of Wenger’s reign as a manager. Despite the lack of trophies since the move to the Emirates and the debts that come associated with a project of such a large scale, match day revenues have increased significantly from the days of the 38,000 seater Highbury stadium, allowing the club to enter the group of elite clubs who have large stadiums.
He’s been a manager who sticks to what he believes in, much like Sir Alex Ferguson, and putting the club and its values in front of everything else. This is evident from the support he gets off his players whenever the media questions them regarding Wenger’s lack of ambition or more of a material success of late. Fan favourite and lifelong Gooner Jack Wilshere, has even gone to the extent of saying he would have to reconsider his future if Arsene Wenger leaves the North London club.
This epitomises what Arsene Wenger is all about, the amount of faith he installs in his players.
Besides his faith in his players he has always been good at spotting bright young talents. Despite the fact that most of them have jumped ship looking for greener pastures, this is a trait which very few managers in Europe can claim to possess. Whilst much is made of the English defence that Wenger inherited from George Graham consisting of: Seaman, Adams, Dixon, Bould, Keown and Winterburn – the Frenchman’s own signings: Vieira, Petit, Overmars and Anelka, no doubt gave Arsenal the kind of flair that allowed for controlling games in the midfield area, and the attacking ability to score goals at will.
Arsene has been known to be a shrewd businessman in the transfer market. Signing Anelka for 0.5m and then selling him to Real Madrid for 23.5m, which was later to be reinvested into the signings of Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, is a testament to this fact. The signings of Henry and Fabregas need no explanation, highlighting Wenger’s astute scouting ability and genius in player development.
Arsene has always been under criticism. Some for not being able to compete with the big boys in the transfer market. Some for not being tactically as astute as he is economically. For the record, he has an economics degree to justify this. The Ozil signing should silence a lot of critics regarding the inability to sign top players. The latter has to be proven wrong by the players themselves through their performances. Performances in big games. Domestic and Europe.
All in all, the contribution of Arsene Wenger in the building of Arsenal is that of a man deserving credit, whilst one should not take out of consideration the impact on the club from the departure of assistant manager Pat Rice, who was so influential and of great service. Not to forget, when he had the chance to move to bigger clubs he always remained fiercely loyal to Arsenal and it’s time the fans remained so, to the man who literally is the reason why the club is what it is now. So much was/is spoken about replacing the Frenchman, but with the club running a self-sustaining model and stadium debts, who could possibly step into Wenger’s shoes and maintain the club’s high standards, let alone create a trophy winning side?