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Written by Alastair Brookshaw on Monday, 16 September 2013 08:25

For the peddlers of certain myths about Arsène Wenger there is an uncomfortable fact about this recent transfer window that they are surely hoping won’t get too much comment. And it is this one simple truth: that in the FIRST transfer window in which both the club and Wenger openly stated that our spending power had increased, Wenger went out and spent big. Just as Gary Neville predicted in that now famous monologue in a Sky Sports studio at the end of last season, Wenger did indeed know that it was time to make his move and, in a complete contradiction to every narrative that has been spun about him, went out and spent over £40m on one of the best players in the world. So perhaps now is the time to re-evaluate the myths and challenge the narratives that have been constructed about Wenger and the past 8 years at Arsenal.

The Emirates made us a hugely profitable organisation

Well…no, it didn’t really, or at least not at first. The club’s accounts are pretty complicated, but there is a basic trend that is clear – that if we ignore player sales and one off property deals, Arsenal have, give or take, been breaking even since moving to the Emirates. It is only with the newly negotiated sponsorship deals coming into effect that any reliable, regular profit will start to be seen.

Wenger has ALWAYS had money to spend and has stubbornly refused to

Ok, so I guess this is the big one. We’ve all heard about our ridiculous cash balance. The most recent figure is £154 million, but let’s knock that number on the head right away – that’s not our transfer fund, and it never ceases to annoy me how many tweets I see declaring that it is. A great deal of the £154m is needed to pay the running costs of the club (not least the players’ salaries). However, at the start of the recent window, the super-reliable Swiss Ramble believed £70 million is a pretty good estimate for our transfer kitty. He notes that we might have made it to £100 million had we used an option to take some of our new sponsorship money a year early, but since that’s essentially money from the future I won’t use it whilst we’re considering the past 8 years. (You may care to notice, however, that the AST misleadingly used the higher figure in their latest statement, despite the fact that this money isn’t actually ‘in the bank’ yet.)

But still, £70 million! That’s some serious cash. But let’s register a few caveats. Firstly, we’ve not had anything like that kind of money for the entire trophy-less period. Back in November 2006 the cash balance was £53 million. Well, if a balance of £154m only gives us a transfer kitty of around £70 million I think we can assume things were pretty tight back in 2006! Furthermore, as recently as 2009 the club took a pretty big hit on its property profits – selling a set of flats at a £10m discount to a real estate group to free up some funds. This is not the act of a club rolling in cash, it was a fairly desperate act of a club trying to keep all its financial balls in the air.

In fact, I’d argue that the club had very little financial clout to go into the transfer market with until 2010, at the earliest. Firstly, this was the point at which the debts on our property business were paid off, so any property sales from then on made the club a profit. Secondly it was the summer after we made £30 million in profit from selling Adebayor and Toure. Certainly, that 2009 discount sale of Highbury Square flats is a good indication that the turning point couldn’t have been any earlier.

Now, many will leap on this and ask why we didn’t spend big from then on, and truthfully, I have no conclusive explanations for this. I do, however, accept that we never know the whole story, and that there might be good reasons for it. Not least, £70 million really isn’t that much in football terms. It could be frittered away in 1 season by missing out on the Champions League, and at the same time making one major transfer that doesn’t work out. It’s all very well spending that money in our heads in 2010 and dreaming about what we could have achieved, but if the club chose to be cautious for a couple of seasons whilst they waited for the commercial deals to kick in, is that really so great a sin? Given that the club claims to budget for the possibility of falling out of the Champions League it doesn’t seem that crazy to believe they wanted to build up a ‘slush fund’ before loosening the purse strings. It is certainly preferable in my eyes to gambling the immediate future of the club with over-optimistic spending.

But even if the club got it wrong, even if we might have been better spending 2 seasons sooner - if the club’s greatest sin is simply 2 or 3 years of over-caution, I’m not sure what the hell are we so angry about?! It’s certainly not the ‘8 years of neglect’ that certain fools paint it as.

The Board have been desperately fighting with Wenger to get him to spend money

This is a narrative that, to a great extent, Arsenal brought upon themselves via an (ultimately misguided) PR policy to present the club’s finances as far more robust in the early Emirates years than they in fact were. This PR policy is also a root cause of the previous myth about our spending power. I use the words ‘ultimately misguided’ because in the early days it was a sensible policy. For countless reasons it made sense to give the impression that the building of the stadium wouldn’t impact our spending power or ability to perform on the pitch. For starters, the fans had to be won over to a move to a new stadium. Furthermore, at board level, it was important to give the impression from as early as possible that the stadium move was a success to foster confidence in ‘the brand’.

And so, soundbite after soundbite emerged from key figures on the board making it clear that Arsène had all the money he wanted. The board essentially banked on all the goodwill Wenger had built up over his wonderful early years to carry them through the hard sell. After all, if it was WENGER’s decision not to spend, who is going to criticise the genius behind two double winning seasons and an unbeaten League triumph? As early as 2005 Keith Edelman told us “There are sufficient funds available to the manager for transfers”. In 2007, he said “We have got plenty of financial firepower to make the transfers Arsène wants to make. We had over £70 million of cash at the end of the year and if Arsène wants to spend that money, we will make it available.” Then there is the famous Fiszman quote claiming that, if he were offered £100 million, Arsène would ‘give it back’.

The interesting thing here is that none of these quotes need to be wholly untrue to still be misleading spin. If we assume that Wenger and the Board were entirely united - wanting to build the best team possible, of course, but accepting that the best thing for the club was to tighten their belts for a few years - then those quotes take on a different meaning. Read between the lines and they are essentially saying ‘We have no more money to give Wenger, but he accepts that.’ It was always ‘IF Arsène wants more money’, because they KNEW he wouldn’t demand it, because he accepted the strategy as the best thing for Arsenal Football Club. Instead of throwing his toys out of the pram like Benitez did in his final years at Anfield, Wenger protected the club and took the blame, slowly seeing the goodwill and credit he had built with the fans being chipped away by a lie that was the best thing for the club, but the worst thing for him.

The frustrating thing is that, in recent statements, the club has admitted that we were, for years, massively constrained financially. Whenever the club have talked recently about our increasing financial clout, the unspoken (and even spoken) subtext each time has been an admission that there WAS a previous period of enforced austerity. They can admit that now, since the hard times are past. They no longer need to use PR to convince the world that we are on the right track. But remember the phrase, ‘A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.’ Well, this lie had 7 or 8 years to travel around the world before anyone started even telling the truth!

And so the damage is done. No one even questions the idea anymore that Arsène hates spending, or that he willingly ‘gambled’ the club’s future on a vanity project to prove he could win without spending. So now, when the manager has been instrumental in making a world class signing – even to the point of making a deal-sealing private phone call to persuade the player – now is the time to question it!

The ‘Top 4 Trophy’

Misled by all this, there are those who imagine the board might be considering not offering Wenger a new contract, as if he has in some way failed to fulfil their expectations. These people are morons. If you think for even a second that Wenger’s brief over the past 8 years has been anything other than ‘keep us competitive and keep us in the Champions League until 2014 when we can renegotiate our sponsorship deals’ then you are completely delusional.

The trouble is that people who believe that we have always had money available will always massively underestimate the importance of the Champions League income to our future success. So if you are one of those people, here is the bottom line - had Wenger failed to get us that top 4 spot on just two occasions, that £70m transfer kitty would have been pretty much £0 and Mesut Özil could not have been signed. (Not to mention that a player of his calibre would never have signed for a non-Champions League club).

So if you have found yourself jeering Wenger for his comments about the ‘top 4 trophy’ ask yourself this: which do you think is more important to the future success of Arsenal Football Club, winning a League Cup, or signing a Mesut Özil?

In conclusion

Even if you ignore everything I have written, I have one request: next time you hear someone tell you how things are behind closed doors at the club, even if they back up everything you believe about the club, at least consider that they probably know absolutely nothing for sure. And even if they genuinely have a source, remember that you are still only hearing what one person wants you to hear. And the ONE man whose point of view you will never be hearing is Arsène Wenger’s, because he is the one man in this whole story who is too classy to go bleating to the media to win friends and influence people. So in the end, we have to judge him by his actions. And his actions in the last weeks would suggest a very simple narrative: that in the first summer that he had serious cash available to him…he went out and spent it. In the words of Gary Neville, ‘if they move up now it will look like one of the most magnificent managerial performances in history.’

Follow Alastair on Twitter: @albrookshaw

Comments (59)

  • Mark
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    Bravo...just bravo.
  • Harry Barrracuda  - Thank you
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    For putting it into a perspective that these witless, air-headed whingers simply cannot comprehend.
  • Jishnu  - Brilliant !!
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    Good piece ... tells a lot of things .. Always believed in the professor ... Hope we can hang on to the paper thin squad at least till Jan though !!
  • Sean  - Best blog I've read all summer
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    Like a lot of Arsenal fans, I have read loads of Arsenal transfer rumours, blog posts and articles in mainstream media outlets this summer. This is without question the most sensible and reasoned of them all.

    Nice post, I have just bookmarked this site.
  • Fred
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    £70 million is about what it has cost us to sign Ozil with his wages added. it is worth noting that van persie cost man utd about £80 million after his wages and one off payments were added.
  • K
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  • Mongolian Gooner
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    Thanks for that write up. I defend Arsenal and Arsene's strategy as much as I can, but I couldn't have expressed it this well. Shall favorite and redirect here in the future
  • Kenyan Gooner  - RE the post
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    An absolutely fascinating post..top stuff!!
  • Amos  - Spending big
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    Is this the first season we've spent big? So far (with the winter window still to go) we've spent £42.5m. Going back over the last two seasons we've spent in excess of £50m each time. In fact since Kroenke took control of the club our combined spend in the last three seasons to date has been more then we've spent in the previous 8 seasons combined. And in considering whether Wenger deserves any respect it's also worth noting that we've finished 3rd as many times as we've finished 4th in the last 6 seasons.
  • anicoll5
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    You have set the ducks in a nice neat row, myth after myth after myth that pass for knowledge elsewhere

    And shot them one by one

    A steady hand and a clear perspective

    Very impressive
  • Ovie Oboh  - Class
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    Excellent piece. Its just a shame some fans cant see the class of Wenger. He is a manager who cares about Arsenal Football Club.
  • romel  - planning for Ozil
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    It is still amazing that people believe that a 42 mill transfer that has involved one of the best players in d world happened overnight...there were some tiny reports in d Spanish media abt the entire mid-field at Real being unsettled...due in part to d new manager as well as d Bale deal! Arsenal were always monitoring d situation...and app fig out abt Ozil at least 10 days if not earlier for them to move...and lock d deal. Papers also reported abt Tottenham checking on Ozil d weekend before deadline day only for Real to tell them that d deal was done! C'mon give d prof a break...he went after this and he made a fantastic deal!
  • Nigel  - thanks
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    for an intelligent article. You have won a new follower
  • Vic
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    Thanks a lot for this kinda writeup... ✔ √ √
  • Ole Gunner
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    Nice piece Alastair.

    Actually the reason for an increasing cash balance from 2010 is clear. We sold Fabregas & Nasri, and the RVP & Song but did not replace them with similarly priced players.

    So why didn't we replace them?

    It's the wage bill, stupid. Having cash to buy a ferrari does not mean you can maintain a ferrari. Your wage bill is paid out of your revenue. If the pile of cash you have now disappears you still have to pay wages in 3 years.

    Why do I know this is why they didn't splash the money in the bank? It's bleeping obvious that's why. We spent over £100m in 2011 & 2012 summer. We were more than willing to spend a fair bit. And then, it's a simple principle that you don't blow windfalls on unsustainable expenses.


    The AST guys really poisoned this one issue. Because they were sadly successful as casting it as an issue of cash balance. No, the question for every single club, even the ones backed by petrodollars, is not how much do we have in the bank. The question is how much can you sustainably spend.
  • bhagwt
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    top post
  • bhagwt  - a
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    a
  • vince
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    Great article!

    Finally a different side to the story, the anti-wenger campaign have become boring... I think the man is a genius because of his achievements on low budget and the talent that he can spot - Yes not all of is players turned out to be Henrys.

    Also, the style which he preaches is so nice to watch! He did a lot for our game.

    Now with money, I think he should do amazing things. I hope he stays to long enough to achieve what he has been working for all these years.

    vince
  • paspartu
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    just like your previous articles/posts....simply epic!

    i guess it hurts our fans and bloggers egos to admit they were wrong in critisisisng wenger as harshly ...

    i dotn expect the media and rival trolls to admit they got it wrong but why not our fans

    are our fans and their dumbass opinions bigger than the club then?
  • ONLY ONE ARSENE WENGER  - Superb
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    Knighthood is order
  • finsbury  - Legend
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    Well said.

    It needed to be said!

    -

    On just one example from the above:
    The thing that I'll never understand is how did all the financial experts out there conclude that the club, or any club, would've been able to re-negotiate such lucrative deals such as those made recently with large corporations if they had spent the last five years stating that they were broke.

    "Hi there. We've got no money, none at all. Zero. We have had to sell our best players. But we would like to ask for the biggest commercial deal going, the biggest in the league. How do you like those apples Mr (or Mrs?) Puma? Deal? Or no deal!"

    No. It doesn't work like that.
  • pedantic george  - Truth
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    I/we have been saying this for at least the last 3 years.
    The malcontents wil still not accept it though.
    Great article.
    BTW,the most vocal teller of the truth in the blog-sphere has been Hunter13.Take a bow sone.
    You too Alister.
  • raj
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    U wrote what i believe.. and when AW said top 4 was a trophy it was a polite way of saying ' i have had sod all money to spend so to get top 4....
    People kept banging on about how much we were making but he could only spend what the board made available.. If now he spends over 30 mill on a player in the next 3-4 transfer window then we will be challanging for the league and if we win it with him then he's a Legend twice over
  • Al2.0  - A round of applause
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    Outstanding -

    I don't need to say much when others before already has and in much better words - in effect.

    Ctrl + D.. Will be looking forward to your posts in the future.
  • @arcfunmi  - bitter truth
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    i dnt usually comment on articles,bt yours forced my hand.thanks nice and superb one.maybe we fans are being bit "brain-washed".what is ur twitter a/c? Mine is @arcfunmi
  • Georgaki_Pyrovolitis  - The wise, the patient and the moderate
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    My word! What a magnificent piece yet again Alistair. I kept a reference to a question and answer session Martin Samuel had last 4 July. Here is one response to a typical numbskull, I have added the link should you wish to read the entire piece:

    "He is not an idiot. I think he works with what the board gives him, and they consistently let him down by then trying to curry favour with the fans by claiming he has this huge budget. Some summers he has to sell before he can buy, which is rarely helpful in attracting the best players once they see a talent like Cesc Fabregas leave the club. A few years ago I sat with Wenger and asked him about the unrealistic expectations fostered by the board and he said they had agreed not to do this to him in future; a pledge that would appear to have been broken several times."

    http://is.gd/zNo0JB

    It takes time to gather the evidence to counter the narrative currently peddled by most hacks, including Amy Lawrence. I consider the quote above from Samuel significant.
  • PebblesBerlin  - Big Spending
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    Good job and agree with most of your points. Think Ole also has a point about our wages bill, which has been slashed to make way for Özil plus A.N. Other in my opinion.
    Would suggest the answer to your question about why he did not spend big before is that no-one want to before Özil. They believed the negative spin which hurt as badly. As RVP hinted he did not want to play in a team with the likes of Rambo (see an FT article during his transfer saga. Now whose judgement was correct, Robin - you or AW?). Think some players strung us along to get a better deal from the club of their choice. AW also clearly made big offers that were rejected eg Mario Götze for 30M in summer 2012.
    So happy now. This side has a different feel - think they can go all the way - hope it will be this season! Hope we make it through the group of death - think BVB will finish top.
    Only cloud on the horizon is the question of who will suceed AW. Not sure how long he wants to stay. He hasn't even signed a new contract yet.
    We need to be planning for the post Wenger era. We want to keep our team together and avoid the problems ManUre have at the moment.
  • anicoll5
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    I reckon AW has a little left in the tank, another two years Peebles, is my guess and it is not anything more than that. That he has not signed a contract due to expire in June 2014 in September 2013 is not at all surprising.

    As for the successor we all have a few names I am sure from among the younger generation - obviously Paul Merson is a front runner in my list - impeccable CV - two years down the line though who can say if Merse will still be the strongest candidate ?
  • Captain Fassil  - You nailed it!
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    I was the one and only , among many my friends, who stood by Le Boss all these years. Maaaaan...! You don't know how I felt vindicated when we signed Ozil; this article of yours has reinforced my belief in Wenger. He is the ultimate gentleman and Martyr to the cause he believed in, which is the ARSENAL cause and fair play cause.

    The unwavering commitment to his inner beliefs-with all media hype of our day- is second-to-none. The man deserves a Nobel in ECONOMICS, MANAGEMENT (this is a different kind of management) and of course THE PEACE PRIZE.

    Love Arsenal/Love Wenger
  • Vuja De
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    Very good article.

    I think it was clear from 2005/2006 when Arsene started dismantling the Invincibles team, reducing the wage bill and promoting more youngsters into the first team/squad that the club was entering a period of austerity as part of the process of financing the move to the new stadium.

    This was part of the survival strategy required to get the club to where it is today, and I think Arsene - in various statements about this issue he's made over the years - was quite frank about what was going on.

    I think any misunderstanding amongst certain sections of the Arsenal fanbase was as a result of their own inability to read between the lines, particularly over statements that the Board never denied Arsene any transfer funds, and that there was money to spend.

    As this article states, the Board knew that they didn't need to deny Arsene any additional transfer funds that he might request precisely because Arsene knew how tight the clubs finances were, and therefore would not make any silly requests for additional funds from the Board to supplement whatever was in his transfer pot at any given time.

    There have been transfer monies to spend since 2005/2006, which is why Arsene has bought and signed new players every season since then...but the point is, Arsene was not in a position to spend the kind of money that Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool and Man City had been spending
    at will at different points over the last 7/8 years.

    Keeping the club competitive and in the Champions League places whilst continuing to endure the enforced austerity period is why Arsene believes that he has improved as a manager and done some of his best work following the move to the new stadium.

    I salute Arsene's efforts, and long may he continue as manager of the mighty Arsenal.
  • FLKan  - Hat tip.
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    I have always been a relentless defender of Arsenal to the point of being ridiculed by people who include our own supporters and some who are convinced Wenger has shares in the club ("to justify his 'stinginess'")! Now thanks to this blog, I have got renewed armour.
  • PebblesBerlin
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    Anicoll, Merson? Hum, think we need someone with more managerial experience. On that level of experience I'd take Keown. If we want an Arsenal great Bergkamp has been learning the ropes. But what do we do with a manager who can't fly??? Think Thierry is also interested. But AW was no Arsenal great .... The job is so complex, think we maybe need an outsider. Must be someone with good contacts. My dream would be Jürgen Klopp but he's never going to leave Dortmund.
  • And_Arsene_Said...  - Nice Comments, however..
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    It would have been so good to see such support for Arsenal and Wenger in the face of hostility aimed their way when the going was rough. Anyhow, it's always good to show support; However as it isn't freely given, hold back some of that gun powder for when needed most.
  • anicoll5
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    You may be right about Merson Peebles - not a gentleman.

    On my real list Frank de Boer is rebuilding Ajax as the dominant force in Dutch football nicely. And Jurgen Klopp was sacked by Mainz, who knows where he might be in two years time. And the slightly older Don Carlo will have had more than enough of Madrid in two years (or less). No body in the domestic game really grabs my attention - maybe just maybe Laudrup but again we shall see how he gets on in his second season in South Wales
  • Pez  - You are the chosen one.
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    Truly World Class Article.

    Written in an articulate and more importantly accurate way.

    If only people would realise how lucky we have been (even in the last 8 years)

    Keep up the good work,

    Pez
  • Marko
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    excellent piece - well done
  • PebblesBerlin
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    Great idea, Anicoll, de Boeur and Bergkamp!!
    Think Dortmund will stuff Bayern this year in the Bundesliga - they just crushed Van der Vaart's lot 6-2. Just two great signings. Dortmund are also rich and have some great players coming through their youth. They won't sack Klopp.
    Laudrup will be an interesting one to watch.
    We need someone with class - not Don Carlo. Someone who will stay not go team-hopping for more money and prestige.
  • ^_^GUNNER^_^
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    Brilliant ! Just magnificent !!

    You've got yourself a new fan :twisted:
  • Anonymous
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    How did i miss ur articles before now? well not anymore. one more follower gained! Well written! More articulately and eloquently than i ever would have.
  • team spirit
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    How did i miss ur articles before now? well not anymore. one more follower gained! Well written! More articulately and eloquently than i ever would have.
  • WizardOfOzil
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    No doubt that Wenger has performed that managerial masterpiece purely by signing Ozil and has silenced alot of the critics, myself included. But things could have been done differently. Wenger was devoutly parsimonious with our money, especially in these last few seasons and he could have spent more, he could have pushed the boat out a little further to secure signings ultimately making his own job that bit easier.

    Whose to say now whether that would have been a better option, although it does seem now that the religious austerity plan will reap dividends for Wenger. Out of it he has built an extremely solid platform on which to build and he deserves the upmost of praise and respect for that. He definitely deserves a new contract and a chance to see what he can do with said platform. I hope he won't shy away from making top signings in future windows should the opportunity arise.
  • @pietros1
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    Great piece, excellent points!
  • Fabkamp  - finance & results
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    Clearly a very informed & intelligent mind wrote that article. The angst among fans may be about not winning a premiership or champs league. Arsenal have come close in this ' austerity' period. Champs league final in '06, then that league title collapse after Eduardo's unfortunate injury. Had arsenal won those two, not to mention the circus in the carling cup vs birmingham, then opinions would have been different. Worth noting is that Aw usually finishes above most teams that spend less than him & below those that spend more than him.Even the champs league, he gets eliminated by the likes of barcelona & bayern coz they have 2 or more world class players. Arsenalz squad is still way behind those of man city n chelsea. Lets see if Aw can finish above those two as personally, im no longer very worried about man utd.
  • The Terrible 1  - Thank you Alastair
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    Well written. You avenge all of us who supported the Arsenal throughout these stressing financial constraints years. Really looking to read more articles of yours!
  • Kaygrinho  - Well said
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    U've said it all
  • Double canister  - - Well said sir
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    What the above 45 people have said.
    well done Alastair, but I don't fully trust Swiss Rambles analysis of AFC accounts, I think he is too optimistic in the amount of 'spare' money apparently floating around.
    so that makes Wenger's achievements even more astonishing.

    I'm guessing that a sensible fellow like Anicoll was being very tong in cheek with sir resting merse for a role at AFC, I would be my house on it.
  • thebrotherdoug  - Mic drop
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    I am going to print this out force feed it to the next person who argues we have been sitting idle on a Scrooge McDuck-sized pile of cash for years.
  • zbahmar  - Well said!
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    Well said partner! All love to Wenger from Zbahmar.
  • anu  - Thank you
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    A refreshing straight talking article . thank you . Knew there was a reason I follow you on twitter haha .
  • Thomas
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    Wenger out now! He's past it.
  • Aaron
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    In wenger we trust. Excellent article. This is the only article that gives him credit.
  • goonerkam
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    Wonderful article. All praises have been said and not much I can add.
    I only wish these type of articles were coming out when ARSENAL & AW were under constant fire from outsiders and inside wolves in sheep clothing.
    More power to you. UP WITH THE GUNNERS!!!!!
  • 'desi'gner gooner  - great article and way ahead...
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    Great piece of writing....Agree with all of your points regarding the genius Le Prof....

    With all those financially restrained years that he has endured and still kept us competitive, Wenger deserves a new contract - because he ought to reap the benefits of keeping us financially strong and footballistically competitive through some very tough times indeed....And with that mouth watering squad that is building up here at the arsenal - who better than him to lead it forward and to some much awaited and deserved silverware...
  • guitougoal  - bravo
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    Nice piece to read slowly, savoring every word. Arsene rehabilitation indeed.
  • JaketheMus  - In Wenger we Trust!
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    8) Just what I've been trying to tell the Arsenal PlayStation Crew for years
  • marxdrive  - meh
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    "in the first summer that he had serious cash available to him, he went out and spent it."

    DID HE?

    £70m + player sales = £78m

    Spend = £43m


    Maybe we should put a fat check on the bench!
  • ROLAND C ROZARIO  - That Persona Of Arsene
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    ARSENAL is ARSENE WENGER and ARSENE WENGER IS ARSENAL!
  • roi amran  - well done!!!
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    i'm so proude to be arsenal fan Especially after the win 3-1 yestarday

    arsene you think we can win a thropy this year? :D
  • ben  - b/man
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    i,m impressed of the comments made by mr vid.
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