I was watching the Arsène Wenger interview yesterday on Arsenal player about his 1000th game in charge of Arsenal. He doesn't like talking about past achievements or landmarks such as the one coming up tomorrow, instead preferring to look forward towards the next game, but in this instance he couldn't really shy away from it and spoke about his time here, thanking those who has worked around him. It almost sounded like the beginning of the end and I began to face the possibility of his departure. I am the kind of person that pushes concerns away if I do not have to deal with the concern immediately. I have to admit that I felt a little sad for a moment, sad that this great man will one day be no longer a part of our great club. It's ok though because Wenger's words this afternoon in his press conference point towards a continuation at Arsenal so I am going to put future concerns to the back of my mind like I do so well.
Wenger: "I'm extremely motivated to stay for as long as possible but I accept that the next 1000 will be difficult" #CFCvAFC— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) March 21, 2014
So where do I start? I would like to give you my own feelings on the man and why I appreciate his work so much. My recollection of his take over seems somewhat hazy. In 1996 I was 18 years old and I remember being somewhat shocked to hear that a man that sounds like Arsenal had taken over because I wanted Johan Cruijff in charge, but I also remember the appointment being the worst kept secret because we had signed a couple of players on the advice of the new incoming manager. So I am a little confused about that.
Anyway Arsène's impact was instant, I mean winning the double in your first full season is taking the piss, especially when you consider that the club had not won the title since 1990/91. To be honest it must have been a piece of cake to a new man who came into a league where post match pints and a fry up was the norm. Also the technical level of the league was poor considering the limited amount of foreign imports in the country at that time. It must have been like walking into a race where all your competitors were off their faces after an all night bender and you are one of the few sober runners.
This isn't to down play Arsène's early success but he was a man way ahead of the opposition. The only club Arsène had to deal with was Alex Ferguson's Manchester United who were ahead of the game themselves not down to foreign methods but down to excellent commercial success. They were the Bayern Munich of the league, hoovering up all the best of the Premier League rest and then turned into winners by one of the biggest winner in the game Alex Ferguson.
Arsène was the only manager able to compete against Manchester United's financial power. The developmental Frenchman won another double in 2001/02 and then produced what was his best team in 2003/04 the invincibles. This is not to mention the other FA Cup triumphs.
Those were happy times, Arsène could focus on the football on the pitch and compete against the dominant team in English football. So what changed after Patrick Vieira swept home the last penalty kick in the 2005 FA cup final? Why did we go from top of the English game to finishing 4th or 3rd if we had a very good season?
When I have debated the topic of Arsène Wenger with those who are very keen to see the back of our current incumbent, I often get told that I am making excuses. Reasons often do not exist in this sport, it is excuse making. Having two men sent off unjustly and the opposition given three phantom penalties wouldn't be reason to lose the game, pointing such things out would be to excuse the managers failings.
Well I am here to make some more excuses for Arsène Wenger's success during the period 2005-2014. Yeah that wasn't a typo.
Highbury to Ashburton Grove
Listen before I start, I would like to hold my hands up and admit that I am not a football financial guru. To be honest over the years this talk has bored me to tears but I like to think that most of what has happened is pretty self explanatory. If that is not the case then please point that out to me in the comments (requires registration to block the spamming bar stewards)
So Arsenal had to scratch together as much cash as possible and accept long term commercial deals, deals that would hamstring us down the line but essential at the time. The housing market crash was a further hammer blow to the club as the club scrambled to sell the Highbury flats.
Wenger broke up the invincibles too soon
Why did Wenger sell off his invincibles so quickly? As soon as they got to a certain age Arsène sold them and replaced them with younger and less talented players. Why not do this over a longer period? I am guessing this was done because the financial constraints meant that our wage bill had to be trimmed massively. The likes of Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell were being paid around £100k pw and this was not manageable over the longer term. Not only this but given the need to generate transfer profits he needed to sell when a player was just ending his peak and approaching the decline so he could get the most amount for that player.
Over 30s policy & Youth development
Why does stubborn Wenger persist with this over 30s policy? We should be keeping the experienced players around like they do at Old Trafford. I've heard that one a lot over the years and without a doubt that would have been a help during the early Emirates years. But like the previous point, it simply was not cost effective at the time. Many disgruntled Arsenal fans were suggesting that Arsène's preference for buying young cheap players and developing them into first team players was an ego trip, it was to show the world that he could win it this way and he simply did not want to spend the money. If it wasn't utterly ridiculous, I may even find that notion pretty funny.
I don't know the goings on in the managers head but I am guessing that bringing in top teenagers for cheap and then allowing them to flourish at Arsenal meant that 1) we could have world class players at the club without having to pay world class transfer fees and also they were an investment so if they were sold we would make huge profits on those players as well as reinvesting back into the squad.
4th is a trophy vs Domestic cups
Everybody knows that ending up in 4th place in the table is not a trophy, everybody knows that Arsène Wenger knows that it is not a trophy so I am a little perplexed as to why this upsets so many people. It just requires people to look a little deeper. During a time when we were racing towards new commercial income but a long way off getting over the finishing line the Champions League revenue became vitally important.
So what of the cup competitions? Getting 4th in the league should not impact our need for a cup right? I'm sure that is how it was supposed to be on paper but when it came down to crunch time and our squad was depleted with injuries the manager often prioritised the CL for a chance at winning the FA cup for example. Stripping away the fan emotion for a second, winning the FA cup and not achieving CL football would make life more difficult for the club.
Luckily we managed to get in the Champions League every season from 2005-2014 so we do not know how much missing the CL would have effected us.
Specialist in failure?
Oliver Kay summed it up perfectly in a tweet this morning.
"Specialist in failure"? Wenger is a a specialist in things that Mourinho has never even had to think about at Chelsea, Inter, Real.— Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) March 21, 2014
After doing an excellent job at Porto Jose Mourinho has gone to clubs with huge amounts of money to buy ready made players. Jose Mourinho came into a Chelsea squad worth less than only Manchester City in the league and he was bitching about not having exactly what he needed. Can you imagine Mourinho accepting the challenge to make huge cuts, make money every year and keep the squad competitive for 7 years until new revenues came in? Nah didn't think so either.
Mourinho is unbeaten against Arsène Wenger when we were trying to develop youngsters while Chelsea were pumping in big money on ready made internationals. Is it a big surprise? With Chelsea trying to reign in spending or so it seems and the difference in points, it looks like the playing field is being leveled now.
Failure? I don't think so. A different goal yes but certainly not a failure.
1. The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted: attributed their success in business to hard work
When the board members and Arsène Wenger were talking about an ambitious stadium move back at Highbury (without the many hiccups) I think they would have classed 2014 as a successful ending to that phase.
I might be in the minority but I am convinced that Arsène's second part of his reign was far more difficult and required greater qualities than the first part of his time at our great club.
This quote says it all really.
Wenger on the trophy-less seasons at Arsenal: pic.twitter.com/xExrrPTsVF
— Samuel (@samuelj29060) March 16, 2014
Of the stats, surprising to think Wenger has a better win % than Ferguson in his first 1,000 games. This also his 2nd best season for win %— Jeremy Wilson (@JWTelegraph) March 21, 2014
Before Wenger, Arsenal recorded 23 top four finishes in 92 seasons. They are about to make it 18 out of 18 under him....#Wenger1000— Jeremy Wilson (@JWTelegraph) March 21, 2014
Arsene Wenger hasn't always been right, he has made mistakes and we have lost finals in which we should not have. Birmingham City springs to mind but a cup loss here or there is small change when you look at the mammoth task he has over seen. We are in a wonderful position both off the pitch and on the pitch with a squad full of top talents, many young enough to keep improving. This my friends is no accident.
Tomorrow marks his 1,000 game in charge and he deserves all the praise he is getting today. How sweet would it be to mark it with a victory.
Thank you for all the memories and dedication Arsène, I look forward to a good few more memories. Hopefully some more of the kind that stick out to everyone rather than the amazing unseen work that has not always been appreciated.
One Arsène Wenger.