In the end, they did it. After 38 games and a...
Making a Case For Arsene Wenger
A lot has been written about Arsene Wenger in the last few weeks and rightly so. Gooners via blogs, social media and supported by a rabid pres hungry for any angle are debating the tenure of Arsenal’s greatest manager.
And that’s okay. Based on the results, questioning Wenger’s position has to be acceptable even though some refuse to do so (and that’s okay too.) But for the last week and a half the skew has been decidedly negative (again to some extent rightly so). However, a few things have popped in the last day and half with a different twist. They were pundits and blogs making the case for Arsene Wenger to stay at the club.
Let’s look at the some of easy considerations why removing Arsene doesn’t make sense:
- He is architect of the era of success that makes the current era of un-success look so miserable.
- The winningest coach in Arsenal history.
- Oversaw and managed the only undefeated team in the English top flight since 1889.
- He built a defense on £6 million that went 10 games without conceding in the Champions League.
- His Arsenal squads, during their peak successes, played the game with more style than any other team in English history.
- He changed the way English football clubs think (global scouting networks, training, targeted players no one heard of, introduced more foreign talent to EPL, substantial financial partnerships)*
When discussing the removal of Arsene Wenger the successes listed above have to be considered. It cannot be done in the vaccum of current status it has to be a reviewed in it’s entirety. It’s very easy to get mirred down on the recent results and even the last few years but there is a 15 year career at the club that has to be considered.
There are also more nuanced and probably considered controversial reasons why Arsenal should keep Arsene Wenger.
I was particularly interested in Lee Dixon’s commentary regarding Arsenal after the loss to Olympiacos last night. Next to Gary Neville, I find Lee one of the brightest and most talented pundits in England. He is fair and balanced (without being part of Fox) and he is all too willing to criticize his former club as well.
But he also made a valid argument for retaining Wenger.
Dixon basically breaks Arsene’s tenure into 3 eras – the first was when he came in and completely altered the team (and subsequently the league) through the innovations cited earlier. Through those innovations and the league being where it was at the time, the team prospered and won. The second era occurred when Roman Abramovich took the helm at Chelsea and the influx and influence of oligarchs and oil sheikhs grew. Abramovich threw money everywhere to instantly build a winner and forced everyone to catch up and has resulted in the birth of clubs like the nouveau riche Manchester City, PSG, Malaga, etc.
This is the era we find ourselves in now. And based on the fact that the club hasn’t ever changed its financial model – (prudence was always the way even before Wenger got here), Arsene has had a team that has been competitive inspite of the environment. But Dixon concedes to remain financially prudent and try and unearth talents Arsenal have become a selling club. He goes on to say that unless something changes, that may be the case.
Dixon and Chiles go on further about lack of experience but Lee gets back to the point and the change he forsees is that with FFP coming into play that Wenger may yet enter a third era where the playing field is leveled to the club’s and his mindset and he should be given time to be successful in that era.
Now, I’m no big fan of FFP. It is designed with a fatal flaw that will essentially secure financial power in the top clubs able to secure mega-commercial deals. Smaller clubs that aren’t as globally known as the big clubs will still fail to have the resources to compete. It wreaks of the top five English clubs securing the best TV deals for them (Arsenal being one of them) in the 80s that would be the catalyst for the formation of the Premier League.
However, there does seem to be the residual effect of getting some of the bigger clubs to temper their spending. Manchester City has gone cold turkey on its spending sprees. – much to the chagrin of Roberto Mancini. And before he captured the Champion’s League prize and jettisoned older out of contract talent, Chelsea were also trying to comply (their surplus cash this year is likely a one-off based on proceeds from winning the Champion’s League) Throw in the improved commercial deals (Emirates secured, kit supplier next) and Arsenal do look to be moving once again into an era where we are once again on a level playing field of sorts.
So to sum up Dixon’s comments – it’s fair to criticize Wenger. The teams are his and he has some issues to deal with (big ‘uns) but shouldn’t the man who brought all the success we’ve listed above be given a chance to be successful again with all the pertinent resources?
Sure, you can argue that Wenger has been given the resources to spend and he hasn’t. How does anyone really know what has been told to Wenger. In a great piece on Wenger today, Brian Phillips on Grantland wrote this –
“As outside observers, however knowledgeable we are, have no idea what the Arsenal board has demanded of Wenger. If they’ve made vast sums available for his transfer spending and pleaded with him to build the strongest team in England, then yes, his determination to buy bargain players and stick to his own vision has hurt the club. But what if they’ve ordered him to keep costs down, control wages, and just do the best he can while they get the club’s long-term revenue and ownership structures worked out? “
Brian is right. There is a lot of speculation on what goes on and who’s in control. But unless you are in the room you just don’t know. In my research I’ve yet to find one person who truly knows what directives have been given to Wenger regarding the running of this club.
I want to switch gears to a point of view I’d like to call the My-Lai defense of Wenger. My-Lai being a reference to the Vietnam massacre where the defense was they were just following orders.
In today’s Mirror, writer Oliver Holt wrote a piece about the “Secret Life of Arsene Wenger.” Those of you hoping to find sordid tales of his reported affair with a French female rapper will be disappointed to learn that basically Holt opines that Arsene is doing all he is doing to heroically protect the club.
He is essentially taking all of this on and not criticizing the club and taking the heat when he “doesn’t deserve it.” The background of this argument is set against the backdrop of Robert Altman film “Secret Honor” that says Nixon let himself get eaten up in the Watergate affair to foil the plans of a cabal (I love that word) of business leaders who were set against him.
So Ollie is basically asking to believe that Wenger is presiding over his own demise by being the dutiful soldier and not speaking out against the fact he is given limited resources.
Holt rightly argues that Arsenal aren’t necessarily set against spending money – they have one of the highest wage bills in the league, so it’s ridiculous to argue that Arsene won’t spend money.
The financial model is as I have argued the way it has always been done at Arsenal. We’ve always been prudent in the dealings we’ve had. It’s not new and it is not Wenger’s model. The fact that he has a degree in economics probably only fits in with his ability to believe in the club’s model and help support it.
The fundamental flaw in Holt’s argument however, is why would Wenger preside over his demise. There isn’t anyone to protect unless he believes as some have argued that his removal would sink the club further – especially if as I have argued nothing changes above him. The other problem is that Arsene is paid handsomely to be a company man. For £7.5 per annum I could find it very very easy not to speak out against my employers.
However, the protective nature of Wenger fits in with my profile of him. Wenger gets a lot of stick for how he waxes poetically about the club and players in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary. When everything is negative Wenger through his Arsenal colored glasses paints a picture that amazes even the most ardent of fans.
But I often wonder what do you want the man to say – we sucked, Chamakh’s mousse cost us the game by getting too much grease on it and Gervinho plays worse than a plastic garden gnome standing still? No, publically he is going to defend his players and his club because that is what managers do. And unless you are privy to the dressing room discussions how and what he says in private is another matter.
As I mentioned it is only fitting that given the run of form the team is in, that the manager’s tenure get questioned. But as strong a case that can be made for his removal, a similar strong case can be made for keeping him. As Chris Toronyi of the Arsenal America Podcast told me today – the only thing that is off limits for discussing is the name of the club and the color of the home shirts.
We’ve been beat over the head these last two weeks with all the problems beset Arsenal. And there are many. The manager is just one of them but at the same time his status within the club is without question. I do not think he becomes another Cloughie. As sunken as he looks at times, you just don’t preside over those achievements listed above or keep Arsenal in the Champion’s League when everything seems stacked against you if you aren’t a good manager.
There is a case against Wenger and there is a case for Wenger.
Ed Note: comments are welcome. As always. But if it resorts to foul claims, idiotic language and not basically what we would call a tempered well thought out response (either pro or con) don’t waste your time. We’ve all seen ‘em before and they are tiresome