Has Wenger finally seen the error of his ways?

Back in December I wrote An open letter to my former hero, Arsene Wenger sadly urging him to resign as I could see no way forward for the club the way he was running it. Like many other disillusioned Gooners I’d felt like that for a while but had been holding off calling for him to go in the vain hope that he would soon see the error of his ways and change his management style.

Well now, finally, it looks as though that might be happening.

My open letter contained five main accusations of mismanagement over the last couple of seasons which were allowing the likes of Spurs to catch us up and threaten our Champions League status, which would be catastrophic for the club and inexcusable given our vast resources. They were as follows:

1) He had failed to invest properly in the playing staff despite repeated insistence from Gazidis and even Hill-Wood that funds were available.

Up until Monday that was still the case — and then came the sensational signing of Mesut Ozil, smashing our transfer record but more importantly, signalling a major shift in transfer policy. Finally Arsenal are buying world class players again instead of selling them and hopefully this will continue.

With Ozil’s signing, and the pursuit of Suarez and Higuain, Wenger seems to have compromised his belief that stars should only be made, not bought. Apart from Arshavin (who we bought in desperation when languishing in 6th place with Fabregas out injured for a couple of months) Wenger has never bought an established star. He made many (Vieira, Henry, Anelka etc) and that has always been his preferred transfer policy — to buy potential and polish up a rough diamond. Whether we had money or not didn’t matter.

In fact Sanogo is a much more typical Wenger signing than Ozil and I think that if he wasn’t under massive pressure to spend big he might not have bought Ozil. But it’s a sign of how his mindset has changed (or been changed for him by the board?) that he has gone against his principles by spending an enormous amount of money for fear of being left behind in the modern game. A definite case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”.

2) He implemented a spectacularly unsuccessful wage structure that allowed mediocre players to earn riches beyond their talents. This caused resentment amongst star players who were being relatively underpaid and who then left the club at an alarming rate.

It seems at the beginning of this summer Wenger realised he had to change this. First of all he had a massive clear out to free up wages so he could target stars like Higuain and Suarez. Denilson, Santos, Squillaci, Chamakh and Arshavin were jettisoned and those we couldn’t sell (like Park and Djourou) were allowed to leave on loan again.

Arsene Wenger

Credit to Wenger for splashing out on a world class player at last

But for me the significant sale of the summer was Gervinho. He was a typical Wenger signing — full of potential and from the French league — and yet he sold him on for a loss after just two seasons.

That is extremely unlike him.

Usually Wenger ends up giving his poor buys far too long to establish themselves before realising they will never make it. Look how many times the likes of Senderos, Denilson, Bendtner, Almunia and Djourou played before Wenger gave up on them (which was long after the fans had). I fully expected Gervinho to be given one or two more seasons, but it appears Wenger has become less patient and more ruthless with his players, which is a very, very good thing. It’s the same with Santos — Wenger quickly acknowledged he’d made a mistake, signed Monreal and took a big loss on the Brazilian to get him out of the club.

So this big cull left room in the squad and on the wage bill for some star players. With the exception of Ozil that didn’t quite pan out, but the key here is the shift in policy — being prepared to pay big fees and just as importantly, big wages, to star players. Ozil is apparently on the best part of £200,000 a week.

3) Wenger has failed to motivate his players on a consistent basis for some time. It’s not good enough to only show commitment for the last 10 matches of the season and not bother against Blackburn, Bradford, Norwich etc. They only play for him when the knives are out and are otherwise content to coast through the season, relaxing after receiving a bit of praise.

The casual start to this season against Aston Villa and the resultant improvement after stinging criticism from the media and fans tells me this is still an issue. However, the Spurs victory was a mature, professional performance where it looked like we actually had a gameplan instead of being told to go out and pass it around a lot. The players worked hard and defended as a team. This gives me hope that Wenger has accepted you need to ‘win ugly’ sometimes and maybe he has accepted a season is about who can accumulate the most points, not who plays the prettiest football. I’m not totally convinced, but I’m hoping we can show that level of focus against ‘smaller’ teams as well as in the glamour games. This is a crucial issue, because it doesn’t matter how many star players you have if they aren’t given the right tactics and motivation for matches. The jury is out on this one.

4) Wenger needs a proper back up goalie and his failure to buy any keeper since Fabianski in 2007 is disgraceful.

As with Gervinho, Mannone was quickly sold on when it became clear he would never be Arsenal quality. Now I don’t know much about our new keeper Viviano, and the fact he was signed from Serie B makes me worry he could turn out to be another Almunia. But at least Wenger recognised that Szczesny needs proper competition (the injury prone and useless Fabianski isn’t and never will be good enough) and did something about it. Would I have preferred Cesar? For sure, but let’s give the new guy a chance and just be thankful Wenger no longer sees Fabianski as good enough cover. For me Szczesny will become a great keeper if he is taken out of the firing line once in a while — there has been too much pressure on him for the last three years as he’s been our only competent keeper.

5) Wenger sold Song, our only defensive midfielder, and to hell with buying a replacement, Arteta can play there.

To be fair to Wenger he tried all summer to sign a quality defensive midfielder. He was rebuffed by Bayer Leverkusen over a potential £19m deal for Lars Bender and then Gustavo chose to stay in Germany rather than sign for us. As a last resort he signed Flamini, who is competent but not as good as we could have hoped for. However, the fact Wenger is actually replacing Song is the main issue here. For over a year he’s been told to buy a defensive midfielder (and a goalkeeper) and stubbornly refused, but this summer’s change of heart has seen these two errors belatedly rectified.

Which brings us to the amazing coup he pulled off on Monday. Just how good is Ozil? Well, Madrid players and fans are in despair and Mourinho pulled the plug on the Ba loan deal because he thinks we’re title contenders now. I don’t agree with that, not just yet. Instead this is a project that’s just started. I am happy to wait until next summer for it to really kick on as star players will be more willing to join and play with Ozil. It’s the same kind of boost to the club’s allure that Bergkamp’s signing gave us all those years ago and we must take advantage of it.

So is all well at Arsenal again? No. Performances like those against Villa are still too regular for my liking and more work must be done on the training ground, especially on the defensive side of things. The major shift in transfer policy and statement of intent will give both fans and players a lift, but one new signing can’t disguise the fudged summer. We failed to sign a marquee striker and the way we conducted ourselves in our pursuit of Suarez was embarrassing. We still only have three centre backs and had to resort to Flamini when we could’ve had Fellaini for £23m a month ago. The squad is far too thin and with a £70m kitty Wenger should’ve done better than two free transfers, one loanee and a superstar who, no matter how good, plays in a position that Cazorla is already excelling in.

Mistakes have certainly been made.

But crucially, this feels like the end of one chapter and the start of an exciting new one. Maybe I’m still giddy with the excitement of seeing Arsenal shirts with the name ‘Ozil’ on them and maybe this was just a one off signing to placate the fans and put bums on seats again (it better not be). But I’m hoping Wenger has finally done what the media, fans and bloggers have been nagging him to do for ages and that’s sacrifice his admirable but outdated principles both on and off the pitch to enable Arsenal to move forward again.

Welcome to the 21st century Arsene, glad you could make it.

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Comments
  1. Treacle

    An interseting article. I too hope this summer shows he is changing the way he does things.

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  2. Charley

    Spot on. I was calling for him to go aswell but it looks like he’s finally started to do what we all wanted and use the resources at his disposal to turn this club around

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  3. Michael

    Next month I will have been an Arsenal supporter for 58 years. When I began to follow the team, we were rattling about mid-table and living off the remembered glories of the Chapman days. Terry Neill and George Graham did not provide thrilling Saturdays (even if my season ticket got me to three successive FA Cup Finals including the memorable “5-minute” final victory over MU). Then Wenger arrived and changed everything. It was not just the thrill of silverware but the more important feeling of pride he gave all of us when every football fan in the country wished that their team played like Arsenal. Remember how the bank-resuscitated Chelsea managed to win matches but spectators didn’t notice because they had all fallen asleep at half time? Arsene has raised expectations hugely and has delivered quality play and quality players. “New” fans from the last 15 years can barely imagine how much he has done to deliver exciting football and provide them with real entertainment even surrounded as they are by the new Emirates stadium. I hope Arsene will still be manager when he’s in a wheelchair with two nurses helping him to the side of the pitch.

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  4. GoonerMAC

    Our transfer policy over the last few years has been disjointed, to say the least. However, I think the club has been run in the right way and we’ve not overspent on transfers because we simply didn’t have the money to chuck about like other teams.

    We knew the stadium & Highbury development was going to eat up a lot of funds and I think we’re out the back of that now and that is why we’ve seen a signing for big money.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with fan pressure. If the club did feel pressured into spending some money they could have gone out and bought 2 or 3 players for the price we paid for MO11. We could have broken our transfer record 2/3 times with that money. Would that have appeased fans & the media more? Who knows, who cares.

    We’ve over achieved based on what we’ve spent over the last few years so lets hope now we’ve spent big we can carry that on and over achieve this year again!!

    COYG

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  5. Oguntuase Amox

    It is because Wenger is not a mediocre like you. I respect the man because he believes that money should not be allowed to destroy football. Securing the future of the club, to be self sustained, to guarantee the security of its employees, to be able to discharge some social obligations to the community and the less privileged, to develop future stars and to ensure a reasonable return on investment on the club are more worthy objectives than unreasonable expenses to win an ordinary trophy that on the long run has no real value. Wenger ensures that the club will continue to be at the top without depending on charity. The survival of the club was his priority even when he is in no longer there. Above all, he does not cut corners, he maintains decency and makes football beautiful to watch. Not only that, he had produced stars and he also had demonstrated that he could produce an unbeatable team. Wenger had made his mark and he does not need to impress anybody even idiots like you.

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    • DanS

      He also tried his damnedest to sign a diving cannibalistic spitter all summer, so perhaps he’s only slightly less mercenary than every other manager out there. Let’s not go polishing non-existent halos.

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  6. richard

    Point one is where I will start this is a good point and there would seem validity to this point. however he has purchased well in past henry, Viera, just to name a few yes there have been mistakes too but for a while there was a focus on keeping hold of the money in case we failed to make cl football. Point two well again a well made point and what Wenger was trying to create didn’t work and that was a wage structure that was balanced and fair to all a socialist model it just didn’t work. point three I disagree watch the bradford game he was fuming and swore at the players on the pitch for their inability to pass the ball properly he was angry and it does not matter what you say or do once those players cross the line they have to do the job you ask of them if they don’t then there is not much you can do with three subs.personally however disappointing the villa result was it wasn’t a castrophy the thing that went wrong that day other than a poor referee he had another mare this weekend by the way was once we scored that first goal the players relaxed and thought the game was theirs which it clearly wasn’t. point four again I see your point but it’s wrong, if Wenger is going to buy a goalie then it can’t be a back up option it has to be a keeper that will push for the number one spot i will use city as an example they have hart an outstanding young keeper but pantimillon is just as good and could be number 1 just as easily.point five he did try and get capoue in january and then gustavo recently but failed flamini can do the job until arteta gets back and can also play at full back.Yes mistake have been made but show me a manager that hasn’t made a mistake then i will show you a miracle.

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  7. markp

    Hi Michael,

    I have been a fan for 35 years (about 20 of which I remember well!)

    For me, the early memories are more about Don Howe, and at a stretch, Bertie Mee. I agree with you absolutely. Arsene Wenger brought pride to Arsenal fans. 1-0 to the Arsenal was always a bittersweet response to the not always justified chants of “Boring, Boring, Arsenal.”

    I was even there at Blackburn away when the chant of Ooh to be a Gooner, was allegedly created. We sung it once, mass laughter broke out, we sung it a hundred times. A gay couple ran onto the pitch and snogged, David Batty attempted to assasinate our entire midfield, we won 2-0.

    George Graham’s teams were fun to watch as a partisan supporter, I love Rocastle and Limpar absolutely, but if you compare videos of the very best of those old games with the team’s Wenger has assembled, as an objective observer – the quality of Wenger’s teams is light years ahead.

    I’m reluctant to say I speak for the silent majority of Arsenal fans, but I do hear most people at the games saying something to the effect of ‘I wish all these moaners would shut up and support the team.’ Something I’m proud to continue doing.

    And while I’m at it – the myth that Arsene Wenger doesn’t know how to build a defence need debunking. If I’m not mistaken, he signed each and every player in the invincibles team, with the exception of Ray Parlour, who started 2 games, Martin Keown, who started 3, and Dennis Bergkamp, who played 21.

    I’ve never doubted the big man for a minute.

    Ooh to be a gooner, indeed.

    MP

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  8. Gooner Steve

    Ah I see, those calling me an idiot are AKBs who think one big signing wipes away the horrendous mistakes that have been made over the last couple of years (and indeed, this summer).

    How short your memories are.

    We are the 4th richest club in the world and have had cash reserves of over £100m for a couple of years now. We have a higher wage bill than Bayern Munich and yet for the last two seasons we have had to scramble a victory on the last day of the season to hold off Spurs and get into the CL. This is then celebrated as though we’ve won a trophy.

    With the resources at his disposal, finishing 4th every year is an absolute MINIMUM requirement for Wenger, not something to be grateful for. Yet he took a massive, unnecessary risk with our CL status while vast sums of cash went untouched and that’s not acceptable.

    Every point I made in the article is valid. You only have to read the comments in the original letter to see that the vast majority of Gooners agreed that something needed to be done. That Wenger is now, finally, changing the way he runs the football side of things is a very good thing and I’m delighted.

    But it does not mean his numerous mistakes should be glossed over as if they didn’t happen. There is still much work for him to do, but at least he’s going about it in the right way at last.

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  9. Joe Brown

    You certainly are an idiot because 1. this is the wrong time to write out your frustrations 2. you seems to be shifting every perceived Arsenal problems on Mr Wenger alone and not looking at a broader picture whether they in fact have the financial power to achieve what in your supposed” wisdom” is the best thing for Arsenal !3. From what I can red into your article you are certainly trying to give a dog a bad name it order to kill it or holding brief for Mr Wenger’s rival. The man has done a fantastic job in the face of difficult circumstances!

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    • Gooner Steve

      We have had financial power for quite some time. Don’t believe me? Read this article from July 2011 (yes, that’s two years ago):

      Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis guarantees manager Arsene Wenger has ‘substantial’ funds to spend

      And guess what happened that summer? We sold Fabregas and Nasri, despite our ‘substantial’ funds, and signed Gervinho.

      You are the idiot for thinking Wenger “has done a fantastic job”. He has done ok up to a point, but for the past two years he has made huge mistakes that are hopefully now a thing of the past and just about got away with them.

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  10. wasiu

    Why I supported those calling the author an idiot: 1. if he could recollect that Wenger said that every best player(s) of the club ‘ll be sold every year to recoup loan used to build Emirate Stadium 2. Arsenal is not runs by oil man or gangsters. 3. Arsenal runs by sales of gate fees,Adverts, sales of player(s) and etc. 4. Since the loan has finished,Wenger can buy first class player(s) now. 5. Finally, a good economist cannot run a club as if he is plotting from the tree. He must balance is book

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    • Gooner Steve

      Wow, some of you AKBs are so misinformed it’s staggering.

      First of all, the stadium debt is not paid off. Not by a long way. It actually runs until 2031 but for the last few years it has been very affordable for the club. This is a quote from Gazidis back in February 2010:

      “The debt that we’re left with is what I would call ‘healthy debt’ – it’s long term, low rates, very affordable for the Club”

      So we have not been cash strapped until this summer like many of you blinkered fools think we have, we have had plenty of money to spend for a few years now.

      When are dumb AKBs like you going to accept that?

      One more thing — in my article and my comments I have used facts and quotes, using links to verify the source. My arguments are based on facts. Not ONE person who disagrees with me has used any fact or source to back up their argument.

      It speaks volumes.

      So wasiu, if you’re going to call me an idiot don’t get your facts wrong because it shows everyone who the real idiot is.

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  11. DanS

    I’ll reserve judgement until the end of the season, but I’m hoping the January window will bring at least three more quality signings. My expectations are for 3rd place, no worse. With the cash available, Arsenal should not be struggling to secure a CL spot. The team is cash rich, has one of the best stadiums in football, and is in the preeminent global city. Players will come when they believe there is a commitment to winning. I think its been lacking for years now. Winning is what counts, trying is for losers.

    I think the striker position isn’t as bad as it looks. Walcott should be available in relief. He wants to play up front, and if given more than a token chance, should be fine in the position. Since we are fairly well stocked in the mid-field we should be ok if Theo has to play up front when Giroud needs a rest. We still need another striker, but we can wait until January. Throw in 2 more quality players for depth and competition, and we should at least finish 3rd. Then next year we might be in a position to at least challenge for the title.

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    • Gooner Steve

      Thank you Dan for a sensible, calm comment. I had to delete a couple of abusive comments yesterday from rabid AKBs who have been quiet for the last year or so but were out in force yesterday thinking the Ozil signing somehow justified Wenger’s mismanagement of the last couple of years.

      “With the cash available, Arsenal should not be struggling to secure a CL spot.”

      Exactly right. Wenger played Russian roulette with our CL status for the past two seasons while leaving vast transfer funds untouched. The signing of Ozil gives me hope he will no longer do that. I doubt the players we really need will be available in January, we may have to wait until the summer, but that’s ok with me. There is now light at the end of the tunnel and that’s the main thing.

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  12. Shanzuman

    An interesting article and some very good and valid comments from both sides but everyone is forgetting that as a result of AW’s policies in the last 3-4 years the likes of Fabregas, Nasri, Van Persie and others departed to winning teams and for more money. If we turn the clock back and a player equivalent Ozil was bought would those quality players have left Arsenal??

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  13. Nico

    Think that was a positive article! Positive ness is what the club needs now. Enough negativeness of the last few years. It seems the shift towards logic has started at Arsenal and the fact that £42m has been spent on one player is firstly unbelievable and secondly shows intent. Bums on seats were sold and filled way before this signing and I am shocked that Arsenal are the second highest paying club for one player in UK.

    This signing is not only great for footballing terms but has lifted everyone at the club so lets all enjoy this time and hope this is the start in buying ready made class. One or two a year is enough and this is better than buying 5 or 6 mediocre players in one hit throw them in the team and expect results.

    Most importantly for me is the fact that we have spent a hell of a lot of money on a player that the rest of the world recognises as world class and with money that Arsenal has generated and not handed over by a sugar daddy. Title contenders maybe not but lets see I have noticed a maturity in the team and a great team spirit. The UK core are positive and there is a togetherness only achieved by years of being together add sprinkles of star quality, Carzola, Ozil, Wilshire, we do have something. Still short in defence and one star striker but once that is sorted we have something to be excited about. Suarez in the January window?

    All in all a great signing signifying a shift in policy and a signal to “super” players out there that Arsenal can attract them and are still one of the biggest clubs in the premiership. Too little too late this season maybe however it’s a start.

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    • Gooner Steve

      It’s about time Wenger gave us all a reason to be positive Nico, and boy did he ever! I look forward to writing more positive articles as hopefully this is the start of an exciting new era for the club.

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  14. Nico

    Lets hope so Steven – got a good feeling this year!

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