COMMENT By Editor
Arsene Wenger has his vision and come high or hell water he sticks by it. Nothing, no-one and notwithstanding a bank account £200million in credit will make him change his mind.
The biggest stick with which to beat Wenger should his baffling 2015 strategy backfire emerged with the deadline day revelation that Arsenal were the only team among Europe’s major leagues not to sign a single outfield player this summer.
For long-time Wenger observers, quelle surprise. The Frenchman is his own man and does things his own way.
Yet any neutral examination of a squad that won its second consecutive FA Cup in May but never really threatened to challenge for the Premier League title would conclude that the manager’s way is misguided.
Arsenal badly need a prolific striker, a penalty box killer who can score 30-plus goals a season. Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck and wide forwards Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott are not, and never will be, this kind of player.
Wenger knew this and targeted Karim Benzema and, then, Edinson Cavani, two elite strikers who represent an upgrade on what he has at his disposal.
The problem is that there is a market value for top players and then a Wenger value. A chasm exists between the two. Arsenal’s all-powerful manager spends the club’s money like it his own and will not overpay. Old habits die hard.
Extensive talks took place with Benzema and Cavani’s clubs, and their representatives. But Wenger deemed the pair to be too expensive – at the £45million-plus fees quoted – and would not play ball.
All the while Arsenal’s rivals tweak, top and tail their squads in a bid to present their own managers with a set of players better able to challenge for the big trophies.
The general consensus is that Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool overpaid for the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Anthony Martial, Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmono, while Chelsea would certainly have been deemed to do so had they been successful in their pursuit of John Stones.
We know Wenger would not have sanctioned those kind of fees. He would have walked away.
Gary Neville is right. Wenger is naive and arrogant. Naive in assuming his old-fashioned transfer market valuations can succeed in the modern, inflated market and arrogant in dismissing the inevitable criticism that follows.
Little wonder Arsenal supporters went into meltdown on deadline day. Their frustration boiled over as they watched their rivals enhance their squads and saw a wasted opportunity to improve their own.
This is not a new issue. For half a decade, Wenger has chosen to leave money in the coffers rather than spend prices that he does not consider to be good value.
The problem for those hoping for change is that there will not be one while the Frenchman is at the helm. When it comes to transfer market strategy, there is a committee of one at Emirates Stadium.
The club’s directors to not attempt to hide this fact. When Wenger talks, they shut up and listen.
Should Arsenal not have an 11-year Premier League title drought, that might be a sensible policy. But Wenger’s methodology can hardly said to have been a resounding success during the last five years when money has been available.
He spent big on Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez (£40million and £32million respectively), but those are the exceptions that prove the rule.
Intriguingly, Wenger considers financial fair play to be dead. The shackles have been unleashed this summer for City, in particular, and Chelsea.
There is no point talking about shareholder investment or rights issues. If Wenger had another £100million at his disposal, he would not spend it anyway.
Arsenal are in danger of being left with a complacent squad with little competition for places. What happens when the impressive Francis Coquelin goes off the boil? The likely replacement is Mikel Arteta, whose best days are long behind him. Where is the proven screening midfielder who Wenger so obviously needed? Why where there not further attempts to inject greater pace into the squad?
The managers methods are counter-productive. Inertia reigns, both in the first-team squad and in the backroom staff. Where is the creative tension? The necessity to succeed?
Instead, Wenger has created an environment of stability and complacency. It is hopelessly naive and arrogant to think that this can produce a title-winning team.