Transfer myths and targets pt.2: Arsenal don’t make players, they buy them

As we saw in Part 1 of Transfer Myths and Targets, Arsenal have the money to buy nearly any player in the world. With some of the healthiest balance sheets in world football, Arsenal Football Club is not going to “do a Rangers” or “pull a Pompey” and go bankrupt any time soon because of a transfer. Nor do any fans want the club to break the bank signing Messi.

Arsenal also have less competition for players than people like to imagine. The idea that as soon as Arsenal make a bid for a known player it will start off a “bidding war” that Arsenal can’t win is largely overstated. It has happened that Arsenal has been beaten to some high-profile signings such as Cahill, Mata, and Hazard but Arsenal has also purchased Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski without a single shot being fired in any kind of bidding war. Moreover, one could argue that any top player at any team has basically slipped through the Chelsea/Man City/PSG/Mackachacolata’s noose: Falcao, Capoue, Cavani, are all examples of players who have been performing at a consistently high level for years and who are only now being touted (by the press) as a top, top talent.

Falcao has scored nearly 30+ goals every season since 2009, Capoue has put in two consecutive seasons of outstanding play and Cavani has scored 30+ goals for the last three seasons. No scouting required, these are top players.

There are top players out there right now, waiting to be brought into a club like Arsenal. The problem is finding them. But first, we need to deal with this myth that Arsenal “make players”.

Arsenal don’t make players, they buy them

The Arsenal team that went 49 games unbeaten had just one academy player counted among the starting XI, and he was only there because of luck. That academy player in question was Ashley Cole.

Ashley Cole was thrust into the left back spot on a lark. He was just about to be sold by Arsenal to Crystal Palace for £200,000 when it was discovered that Arsenal’s Brazilian LB, Sylvinho, had, erm, problems with his passport. Cole took Sylvinho’s spot and the rest is, as they say, one glorious hole.

Rectum? He nearly Killed em!

The remainder of the Invincibles starting XI was made up from nearly a decade of working the transfer market. Lehmann, Lauren, Kolo, Campbell, Cole, Pires, Vieira, Gilberto, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, and Henry were Arsenal’s starting XI that season and all but Cole had been acquired in the transfer market.

It may be overstating the case a bit, but I believe that in many ways Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles team proved to English football that the transfer market, and especially the foreign market, was a viable way to build a team. Chelsea were the first team to field an all foreign starting XI, back in 1999. But they weren’t a successful team so it was easy to dismiss them. When Arsenal did the same thing in 2005, there was a big stink because this was The Invincibles not some small club from Fulham. And by the time Man U repeated the feat in 2009, there was hardly a whimper from the press because it had become normalized that top teams buy talent, they don’t make it.

I have to wonder if it weren’t for that Invincibles side whether the Premier League wouldn’t have owners like Abramovich and Mansour. In many ways, Arsenal were proof of concept that Blackburn weren’t just a one off: transfers, it seems, and especially foreign transfers, mattered greatly. Transfers could win multiple trophies, but only if your pockets were deep enough.

Transfers have mattered at Arsenal because in the last 15 years Arsenal’s academy has only produced four first team starters: Cole (2000), Gibbs and Szczesny (2009), and Wilshere (2010). That’s using Wenger’s own definition of development in which players are developed before the age of 16 and can only receive polish and experience after.

The average person, however, expands that definition of development to include players like Theo Walcott who at age 23 is finally on the verge of realizing his potential. Under this looser definition of development, Arsenal produced players like Cesc, Song, and Clichy, none of which are still with the club. And two of which, have been replaced with ready-made transfers (Cesc/Cazorla, Song/Arteta) while the third is replaced by an academy player (Gibbs/Clichy).

Some folks expand the definition of development to include Arsene Wenger’s ability to uncover “hidden gems” like Henry, Vieira, and Anelka. But when you look at the contributions those players made in their very first season at the club it’s hard for me to agree that Arsenal “made” that player. Yes Thierry Henry only scored 3 goals for Juventus, but he then went on the next season to score 26 for Arsenal. Did Wenger “develop” this player over the summer of 1999? Did a simple change in position “develop” Henry? No. Those players from the Invincibles came to Arsenal fully made and only needing an opportunity to show what they were made of.

If you’re paying close attention, you might note that I am creating four categories of players: academy (Wilshere), youth transfers (Cesc), unknown ready-made players (Henry), and known ready-mades (Cazorla). These are the types of players that Arsenal recruit.

But, this idea that there is a production line from Arsenal’s academy to the Arsenal first team is patently false. Under Wenger’s own strictest of definitions, Arsenal have produced three players that could start a Premier League game. Under the less restrictive definitions Arsenal have produced a good number of players, but only Theo Walcott remains at the team. And last I checked, you can’t field a team with just four players.

Also, this idea that “Arsenal don’t buy great players, they make them” is nothing more than a marketing slogan — something to put on a tee shirt and sell to people who believe in the myth. The reality is that the vast majority of players that Arsenal have purchased under Arsene Wenger were players who were made somewhere else.

So, the question then, is why haven’t Arsenal uncovered the next Thierry Henry? Or have they uncovered him and he’s just not with us any more? And why does it seem like Arsenal have difficulty in the transfer market getting deals done?

We’ll cover that in part 3: scout me a skipper, I’ll be back for breakfast.


42 thoughts on “Transfer myths and targets pt.2: Arsenal don’t make players, they buy them

  1. +8 Vote -1 Vote +1vinno

    It’s interesting to note how average the majority of players who depart prematurely become. Which is surely a complement to Wenger and Arsenal. It also suggests that while he might not ‘develop’ them, he does have a talent for bringing the best out of ‘em.

    1. +9 Vote -1 Vote +1Todd

      correct. I coach for a living and can tell anyone that development is in fact about “bringing the best out of someone.” I understand the logic of the “timing” argument of when the player enters into the system (which is in it’s entirety the argument of this authors post), but that argument alone does not completely summarize the nuance of development. Bottom line, the players in the dressing room in front of you are who you develop as a manager, so it is irrespective of “when a player is made” since they are being made right now…always being made in the present…before your eyes, in the dressing room. What I mean is simple. Whether Frimpong or Cazorla–both are in front of you and both have a next level and it is your job as manager to get each of them to the next stage or ship them out if that is what is best for everyone involved. Is this not development too? I understand the article and agree in principle, but it is very one-note and does not paint a complete picture. When I am 90 (God willing), I am still developing, learning, growing…at something. That is life since as long as we live we are being nurtured. The “timing” arguement instead only serves to make a point that says “Arsene don’t develop” which is highly naive. Development happens throughout a lifetime and just because a player enters in at a later stage does not mean they are not developing. Like vinno says: Arsene perhaps “brings the best out of ‘em.”

      1. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1arsonwenger


        This whole argument that Wenger doesn’t develop the likes of Henry or Viera is blatant nonsense.

        To the extent that the raw talent is there, they were given polish at Arsenal largely through Wenger’s system of play and in turn developed their careers at Arsenal.

        Give credit where its due. as much as he is responsible for the mismanagement to some extent of say Arsharvin, he is also responsible to the same extent to the development of an Henry.

        The world is not painted in absolutes. To do so is blinkered and smells of a preconceived agenda.

      2. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1santori

        It is no surprise that we have players continuously linked to us.

        It represents an increase value for the agent and player to do so.

        Plus by and large, (Wenger) has a good record in increasing the value of players over their stay at Arsenal (Although less so in recent times)

        This speaks volumes about the development of players at AFC.

        It also affords us some insurance (Coupled with continued CL qualification) in attracting players to the club.

      3. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Redcore

        True. I agree with you too. I think the real Arsenal saying was “At Arsenal we dont buy SUPERSTARS (not players as quoted in this article) we make them.

        RVP/Song are the prime example of this. Even though the players were already ‘made’ by the time they arrived I doubt whether they would have developed into such quality players elsewhere.

        AW said something like ‘Ba is what Giroud can develop into’ when asked why he did not sign Ba. If he does help reach OG reach that level then he can perhaps rightly claim to have made another superstar (Although I still feel getting Ba would have improved us).

        For a club that is in CL year in year out we definitely do build a lot of superstars..

      4. -2 Vote -1 Vote +1Dhruv

        Wenger has lost the ability, or to put it bluntly, has run out of luck. Denilson, Chamakh, Gervinho, etc.. remained who they were and never transitioned to the so-called next level. So guys it is nice to remember good times but the last few years is what matters now, and Wenger has been in decline for most part.

  2. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    Probably not the intention of the piece (?), but this is rather good fodder for those who’d like Wenger out. For all my current misgivings about Wenger–and those misgivings will turn to anger if he is not prepared to improve the squad this January (a more and more likely scenario, it seems)–I do think he’s done a pretty good job at keeping Arsenal in the top four using what I think are pretty average players (Cesc and Van Persie excepted). After the Invincibles, there’s not been a lot to get excited about in terms of squad members. Sorry, that’s just me, maybe. I suppose I did look at the squad on paper before this season started and thought it was one of the better ones we’ve had in recent years…only to see that for some reason they such shit collectively when they actually go out onto the pitch, and few of us feel confident of Champions League football next season. I know I don’t.

    1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1santori

      The development of the team during the early Wenger years was largely fueled by the fact that the market for players in France was favourable and not fully exploited.

      France was going through a golden generation and Wenger was in a good position to combine the technical flair there with the combative spirit of England.

      Since then, the French market has been open to all comers (just look at Newcastle) and the PL has gone through a paradigm shift with even the lowest teams able to field large numbers of Johnnie Foreigners these days.

      Couple that with the emergence of foreign coaches, several clubs with unlimited resources, it is no surprise that the environment is much more difficult for Wenger to operate in and some of our advantages have eroded.

      Therefore the need to adopt a two track system with the academy ‘catching’ younger prospects early on when prices are still relatively cheap.

      This in itself has become difficult as that market place is also congested with teams trying to stay within homegrown policy.

      That we are pursuing an academy track does not negate our need to also add form market. They are not mutually exclusive.

      Rather Wenger had the foresight to develop the academy in advance because he knew the market place for talent will (as is now) become increasingly competitive due to the purchasing power of a number of clubs.

      Therefore the two track solution.

      I would say currently, Wenger sees value in two specific segments, namely :

      1) Potential young players who can come through the academy. There is no way to compete for every talent out there nor a way to predict which players will successfully develop.

      2) Older players who may have been given oversight by certain rich clubs because the heat were on other players. Therefore the likes of Podolski and Santi who were given the look over because the rich teams had other targets, not because they were reluctant to go into a bidding war with us. If you remember, Podolski was not exactly a fashionable choice and Santi came in late after the feeding frenzy was concluded.Timing.

      Your analysis IMO is deeply flawed if you paint the current situation in such absolutist terms without taking into context current market realities and the spending power of the rich clubs who are not only able to compete with us for price but also (MORE IMPORTANTLY) able to offer much more generous personal terms to both proven and potential young players.


      1. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

        I’m struggling to see how this is a reply to my comment, which offered none of the analysis you talk about…? I think it was pretty clear that I wasn’t offering any analysis. I was just sharing that when I think of poo these days, I sometimes think of how Arsenal play, which is a marked difference from other images (orchids, say, or sexy cars) I used to associate with our play.

        Anyway, it’s suntory time! Get busy, boy! Spread your love.

  3. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Limestonegunner

    Very interesting piece. I think AW’s reputation has been made in the “uncovering gems” category. Unfortunately, young talented transfers over the age of 16 have been a mixed bag–a lot of busts in there–but most sadly some great successes who decided to leave because of wages and the failure to create a winning side.

    So I am certainly looking forward to your thoughts on why category three seems to have dried up. Also, why have Vermaelen, Gervinho, Arshavin, Chamakh etc… gone backwards? (Separate but related question, perhaps).

    1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1santori

      It’s never easy developing young talent.

      perhaps the most successful club at present may be United and even their talent pool is largely hit and miss.

      Southampton, West Ham have also done a good job and also City (albeit their youth program is now somewhat second tier due to lack of opportunity to first team and they have been selling more than anything-else)

      That we are able to put through some of England’s better prospects (with more coming down the line) bespeaks of the good effort we have made in recent decade in developing the academy to modern standards.

      And lets not judge the success of the academy solely on how many graduate into first team football because there have been others who may not have made the cut to the first team that have very successfully developed a career in the PL. Kyle Bartley being a current example but also Sebastian Laarson, Paul Dickov, Armand Traore.

      The point being that we cannot afford NOT to have an academy.

      If we are to cull the market on both ends, then the academy is as much intrinsic with the way we operate currently as are ready made purchases in an increasingly tight market for top tier talent.

      Value in the market is not a fix thing and shifts dependent mainly on where the top spending clubs feel they want to put their money.

      Therefore where once Wenger concentrated on youth players because this end of the market was largely ingnored by clubs like Chelsea who were at that stage attracted to ready made marquee names, that change towards the end of the noughties when home grown started to factor. There was then a scramble for younger (British talent) creating in a squeeze in this segment pushing instead Wenger toward the higher age end (players in their prime) in particular with players whose quality may have been overlooked by the rich clubs now scouring for younger players. This is the segment where some value can be found at the moment.

      By coincidence, it also dove tails readily into our current need to add experience into the team because we had been to biased toward academy development/players in previous years.

      Nothing is ever at a stand still and to believe so is to be pedantic.

  4. Vote -1 Vote +11NilToTheArsenal

    The problem for me is that lately with the notable exception of Cazorla, we no longer buy great players. We can argue over the naming of names, but we buy mostly mediocre to very good players and increasingly and worryingly, just plain bad players.

    I hope this is building to the promised post about the state of our scouting, as I’d be very interested in Tim leading a discussion on this.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1santori

      We never bought ready made GREAT players.

      Aside from Bergkamp which was previous administration to wenger’s, most of the players brought in thereafter were not proven quantity when brought in.

      Henry was incredibly raw when he came into Arsenal and to suggest he was a great player just waiting to spring into action is incredibly shallow in discounting the amount of work that goes into horning such talent to meet their potential.

      You only have to again look to recent years with Walcott and Song. Both were incredibly frustrating to watch before they turned 23 and I would argue that many a fan would not have considered them world class, rather wanted them sold.

      Development takes a long course sometimes and is also tied in to an imperfect balance between giving adequete time for raw players to mature at the expense of possible dissapointment in first team deployment (Ramsey presently), and not.

      I would argue that Santi somewhat bucks the trend for us in that he is representative of current course whereby we have now begun to realise that is potential in ready made market because the rich clubs have turned their attention elsewhere.(After all, they cannot buy up all the talent pool out there, nor can we)

      Therefore the assessment put forth by Tim in not entirely current IMO as it does to large extent discount to readily the impact on the rich clubs on the current market.

      There is a squeeze on the market for top talent largely created not just by transfer power but also ability to pay exorbitant wages. It is a double whammy as the Americans would kindly put it.

      One only has to remember how Milan sold Zlatan off to PSG to understand the dynamics going on and the purchasing power of the new elite.

      when you consider our difficulty offloading because we have been forced to keep up with wages even for our under performers, you realise the chasm that is being created in the market in the wage segment which prohibits ‘second tier’ teams from otherwise snapping up our rejects.

      thereby bearing in mind our latent commitments to these leftover contracts, you can understand better why there is a reluctance to bring just anyone in at the expense of having a similar issue trying to off load down the line if the player does not prove ability.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1santori

      It’s too absolutist an argument which is the problem.

      The problems facing the club are more textural.

      Where we have gone wrong, we have also largely done right.

      The market is much more competitive (through no fault of Wenger) than when we were winning trophies.

      The impact of the rich clubs both on the market and on our own spending competitiveness cannot be swept aside so flagrantly. This smacks of preconceived agenda rather than a recognition of the reality that we currently live in. No offense intended to Tim.

      But I think we must accept it that the playing field is very different.

      Just look at the players that are in some of the lower teams in the PL and you come to realise that there is a lot more technical quality available where teams that once depended on largely lower quality British talent have upped their game. Swansea for starters.

      Then add the fact the rich clubs can largely offer salaries we cannot compete against and are buying up younger players putting a squeeze on that market and you realise that we have had to be more savvy discerning quality within the gaps.

      It is therefore not surprising that we have had a substantial amount of duds in recent years where Wenger was more spot on with talent earlier on. In essence, he has been forced to take a bit more risk in market because of what we can afford to what is available out there.

      This is not to argue against us not spending. By all means, I mentioned this summer that we should have had around 50-75M in the kitty for transfers and that because of sponsorship renegotiations , we could likely increase our maximum threshold in terms of purchase price for certain key players. But this has still to be balanced appropriately against salary increases (across the board) and the fact that 50m really doesn’t stretch too far.

      When you consider our deficiencies in a number of areas (and project to needs in the summer), we have spent 98m over the last two summers bringing in over a dozen players.

      Two summers ago we went for the makeover and quantity largely over quality with 9 players at 54m

      Last summer, we correctly went for a little better quality spending 39m over 3 players.

      So you can see even if we have 50m to spend (plus contract renegotiations down the line to factor into), the money won’t stretch too far if we are likely again to try and bring in another 3 players with quality as we did last summer, maybe adding a little more on the high end for one. Add Walcott’s likely lavish renewal and we are really close to the limit.

      It is a massive myth that we are not a spending club.

      We don’t have a problem with that. Where we have issue with is player retention, particularly with those who represent a transfer of experience because they have had the time spent operating within the Wenger structure (Nasri, RVP, Song recently). That we lose these players is the main issue because they mainly go when they come good and take a long with them vital institutional memory that affects our continuity within the squad.

      This is the main issue at the moment and a fundamental one.

  5. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist


    I’m leaving this comment so that you can reply to it. I was growing concerned that there weren’t enough comments here to release all your fantasies of typing today. Type type type! (Don’t tell me you write all this on your iPhone…that would make you REALLY crazy.) Anyway, may I provide an analogy? No? Too bad. You’re a bit like a boy whose awakened adolescence has him masturbating every half hour to just about anything. I could write, “I like Arsenal,” and there you’d be, jizzing all over it with hundreds and hundreds of words.

    This is making me feel weird.

    Anyway, rather than football, can you tell us a little about yourself?

  6. Vote -1 Vote +11steved1

    “Scout me a skipper, ill be back for breakfast” I love that title.

    Smoke me a kipper, ill be back for breakfast!

    Forgive me if I’m wrong bit isn’t that a line from Ace in Red Dwarf

  7. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1FCArsenal

    Lehmann, Lauren, Kolo, Campbell, Cole, Pires, Vieira, Gilberto, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, and Henry

    Only Lehman, Bergkmp and Gilberto were established in their roles prior to Arsenal.

  8. Vote -1 Vote +1Nick

    I really am getting sick of the argument that “we cannot compete with the funds available to …”. Most people are not realistically asking us to outbid City or Chelsea or Real Madrid on a big-name player like Falcao, but at the same time, we are being outplayed and more importantly out-coached by clubs such as Everton and Tottenham and even Swansea as of late. They have far less money to spend on salaries as us, and have much less cash in the “warchest” yet they are playing better football than us and this is showing in the table. This has to come down to the manager, his tactics, his scouting of who to buy, and his motivation of our players, as well as the players themselves and their quality.

  9. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

    First, I have no agenda against Arsene Wenger. I have written passionately in support of the manager. As I did here, when I said he was worth every penny he commands in salary:

    I believe that Arsene Wenger is nigh irreplaceable as manager and have never called for him to be fired, never will for footballing reasons, and openly scoff at people who say Arsene Wenger should be fired.

    I read Todd’s comment and I want to thank you for writing so clearly and making an important point. I understand that Wenger gets the most out of players, but that is not the same as developing a player is it? Not unless they add something to their toolbox.

    Clearly, Arsene gets the most out of players while at the team but look at how many players dropped in form after they left Arsenal, the number is quite staggering. If they were developed they would continue on at a very high level with new skills but almost none do. So, while I agree with Todd about the role of the coach, I disagree that Arsene is especially good at development.

    Where I think Arsene Wenger is especially astute is in extracting maximum value out of transfers both in and out. I think he did that with Henry, Vieira, and Campbell and he did so with Cazorla and Arteta most recently. He’s not perfect (no one is!) and to some extent his powers have waned but he is exceptionally good at knowing who and when to buy.

    The point of these articles is not to suggest that Arsene Wenger should be fired or that he’s incompetent, though clearly that is how some people are taking them. Rather, the point is to deflate some of the myths that people have built up around the club and the manager. Myths such as:
    1. That Arsenal never were a buying club
    2. That transfers don’t matter
    3. That Arsenal’s academy is the best in the world
    4. That there is no value left in the transfer market because Chelsea and Man City just buy all the best players
    5. That Arsenal “made” players instead of buying them

    The other point is that I need to, for my own sanity, make sense of what happened the last five years at Arsenal. I hate the facile argument that “it’s just Chelsea and City distorting the market”. They certainly have, but if we simply accept that as the answer then the only logical conclusion is that Arsenal will never compete for the title. I don’t accept that and maybe that’s unrealistic of me but what is sports if not fantasy?

    So, perhaps this is a futile exercise. I don’t know. I do know that I’m pissing a lot of people off. Not trying to, this is just where I am right now.


      1. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

        Speak for yourself. Tim pisses me off every day.

        Mostly by not returning my overtures of man-love, but still…

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

      I’m going to disagree with you that we don’t develop players. Players like Henry, Cesc and RVP didn’t stop developing after they came to Arsenal. I would say Song is a glaring example of how we are able to develop a player.

      I agree 1 through 4 are myths but I would say myth #5 is a grey area for me. Yeah we didn’t build them up from scratch but saying we didn’t make them great or develop them is a huge discredit to the club.

      1. Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

        Both Vieira and Freddie came when there were 21. Are you going to say they were fully developed players when they came to Arsenal and that we didn’t have any hand in making them the players they became? I would find that difficult to swallow. Developing players is actually one of Arsene’s biggest strengths. I mean he even made half a player out of Eboue! As a more recent example, Nasri was developing fine at Arsenal until his head got turned by City 09. Remember his goals against Fulham? He seemed to have gone backwards since moving to City 09.

      2. Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

        Yes. Patrick Vieira, Theirry Henry, Ljungberg, all walked out of one club and into Arsenal and were, within weeks, top quality players. Henry, cannot possibly have been “developed” from a player who scores three goals a season one week to a player who scores 30 a season in a matter of weeks. That’s not development.

      3. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Nikki

        Maybe you ought to define a clear definition on player developments Tim. On Henry, when Arsenal bought him, he wasn’t in the “basic” development stage anymore, but some things still need to be polished and that was what Arsene did. 30 goals that Henry scores wasn’t in a matter of weeks. It was an end product of a whole season. Yes, it was in Henry core ability that he could done that, but just like the work of DNA. If it wasn’t in the right environment, the gene won’t express the expression that it can give.

      4. Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

        It’s not development the way Wilshere was developed at the club but it’s development in the sense that the system/ managerial style allowed the players to flourish and mature – and subsequently made them great players. I think that part of your “development” is just as important as your formative years.

      5. Vote -1 Vote +1Nikki

        What about the ex academy players who play in the first team of mid table or below clubs? Like Larsson, Bartley (at a time in Rangers), Upson, Muamba, Vela, Barazite, Pennant, etc.

        But if what you’re talking about is exclusive to someone who play for Arsenal first team then there’s not a lot though. Maybe Adebayor, Clichy, Toure.

      6. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Ickenham Gooner

        I think you are exploring an interesting subject here.

        Two more potential entries, one I think more certain than the other:

        - firstly, Koscielny. Unknown who was certainly better in year 2 than year 1. However, I will accept some of this was adaptation to the premiership.

        - the other, Jenkinson. Very much an unknown who has improved markedly albeit far from the finished product.

  10. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1ignatzuk

    Have to agree with the first two comments here. I think this post is barking up the wrong tree.

    As far as most of the footballing universe is concerned, Wenger has made his name by taking existing players – yes, many of them young – and making them perform better then anyone (often including the player themselves) thought they had a right to. Whether or not they joined the academy before their first professional contract is irrelevant. Nobody thinks Cesc materialised out of thin air, everybody thinks that Wenger had a lot to do with his development. The measure of this is that Arsenal sells players for a premium, we generally make a profit on transfers, so the market thinks that a player who has been coached by Wenger is worth more than an equivalent player who hasn’t.

    I think you’re maybe also overstating it by saying Wenger’s own definition of development is that “players are developed before the age of 16 and can only receive polish and experience after.” Here’s Wenger quoted in the Guardian in 2008, being more nuanced:

    “‘What you always have to consider is how you produce a player,’ Wenger says. ‘If you want to completely develop a player, ideally you take him at the age of five and you bring him right through to the first team. But the reality is that he arrives at your club at 16 or 17.”

  11. Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

    I like the four categories of players you mentioned. Though I think this is true for most clubs to a varying degree. The more established clubs are looking towards their academy for future players whereas the new clubs like Chelsea (established 2004) and Man City (established 2009) have gone out and spent a fortune in the transfer market because they need to start creating a brand. Despite our trophy draught, we have managed to keep our brand relatively intact as shown by the recent commercial deals and that is a testament to the history of our club. Similarly, Liverpool’s brand is also very much alive despite them being poo and that is also due to their history. I guess my point, if you can call it that, is having these 4 categories of players doesn’t make us too different from other clubs. As we grow commercially we will spend more on the transfer market (I hope!) and as Chelsea 04 and City 09 grow as football clubs, they will start looking to develop their academy players more, which is ironically what they would try to do when they knew and accepted themselves as small clubs.

    However I don’t think you can completely write off the statement that we make great players. Yes we buy the talent, but talent alone doesn’t make one great does it? Henry wasn’t great for Juventus, though he had the talent. He became great after he came to Arsenal. Whatever it was – the manager, the system, the training – it allowed him to flourish and grow as a player. So I do think we made him a great player. Same way I think we made RVP a great player before that betraying scumbag joined Mordor’s army. I’m sure given the right talent we could still make great players but therein lies the rub. Why aren’t we buying talented players like we used to? Maybe because we just recently have the money and are being careful how we spend it given we wasted a lot of dough on some average players? Or maybe our scouting system needs an overhaul? Or could it be true that Wenger is saving all the cash for the next manager? (sounds bogus to be honest) For answers, I look forward to part 3 of your article.

  12. Vote -1 Vote +1caribkid

    What most of us fail to realize is that we have seen two totally different approaches by Arsene during his tenure at the club and whereas the 1st coming brought success, the 2nd has failed miserably.

    Version 1 was 1996-2006 which basically was highlighted by:
    - Better training and diet to extend the playing life of his existing British core.
    - Raiding the European leagues for hidden gems like Anelka, Henry, etc.
    - Utilization of twin DM/BTB mid fielders with size, which provided steel through the middle.
    - At least one speedy, explosive, marauding winger.
    - A wage structure based on reward.
    - Technical, intelligent and astute players.
    - Selling our players when their past sell date was exceeded.

    Version 2 is 2006-Present
    - Socialist wage structure
    - Small, technically astute, less pacey MF’s, Cesc, Denilson, Ramsey
    - Raiding the S A/C A leagues for the likes of Wellington, Campbell, Vela, Botellho, Galindo and Sticking them in Spanish leagues for years while subsidizing their wages, with little or no reward at the end.
    - Committing to a youth system which has produced limited results.
    - Selling our best players before their past sell date.
    - Replacing our best players with inferior models.

    The result is that we have been slipping in squad quality each year, our on the field performances have become drab and inconsistent and we now have a bunch of prima donnas who don’t know what it means to fight for the AFC.

    To judge Arsene today by what he has done in the past is somewhat narrow sighted. The Arsene of today is not the Arsene of yesteryear. Unfortunately, things always change, and sometimes, not for the better.

    1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1ignatzuk

      OK, but two points: first, you have to ask yourself why the change in approach… something to do with a club building a new stadium and being very cautious with money, rightly or wrongly. A response to challenges and constraints. That it didn’t deliver trophies is, in retrospect, not so surprising. In fact, at the time press and pundits were saying that if Wenger pulled it off it would have been one of football’s greatest achievements.

      Second, this is where I agree with Santori, and insist that the oligarchs have distorted the market, inflating wages to the point where retention of key players is our biggest problem. Everybody knows the list: Clichy, Nasri, Cesc, Hleb, RVP etc. All players that Wenger sold before their prime, all players that he did not want to sell. Imagine the difference if we’d had a stable squad over the last 5 years.

    2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Shard

      We haven’t gotten lower in quality every successive year. That just isn’t true. In my view the ends of the seasons 2005-06, 2007-08, and 2010-11 have led to varying degrees of mini transitions. Between that we had gradually improved our performances. Before having to sell our players earlier than their past sell date, and starting again.

      As for being a miserable failure. I disagree. Failure to win a trophy doesn’t equate to failure. Especially in the backdrop of what transition the club has gone through, let alone the whole of English football, and the crisis in refereeing which very few people are even willing to talk about.(They cost us the 2008 title.)

      The experiment with scouting young players from South America has so far been a failure though. However, all that expenditure, to perhaps one day get a Messi in. Would it be worth it? Or should we jettison the whole idea of going to South America? That’s a question that can only be even considered by someone in possession of all the known facts. The club as of now seem to feel it is worth scouting there. Maybe that’ll change, or we’ll get an Arsenal fan in the British Home Office to hand out special talent visas. In any case, I don’t think it forms a huge part of the club’s strategy. It was just a broadening of the scouting focus.

      All the tactical changes you mention, are also because the league has changed as well. What option was there apart from looking to the youth? And I’m not sure the wage structure has changed since the late 90s. Do we know what sort of a wage structure was there before? I don’t because it was never an issue. But I do know that when Wenger got to the club, he pushed the board to increase most of the players’ salaries. And also that Henry in 2006 signed a contract which broke our club ceiling because he was deemed worth it. What else was really different then?

      Everything changes. Not just Wenger. The PL of today is also not the same, nor is the Arsenal of today.

  13. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Dark Hei

    This is a whole load of BS. I remembered when Wenger signed on Henry. I was like “What!!!” We need a striker and he signs some Juventus winger reject? And they said back then at the World Cup that France had a great defense, midfield and no strikers so we go get ourselves a French forward?! How many points were we behind United, did you remember? Or could you remember Henry dribbling out on his debut looking all confused.
    I thought Wenger had lost it, but turned out I was wrong. Following season the press started calling him King Henry after that demolition job of Roma.
    Wmger coached Henry and turned him from Winger to Forward. Just like how he turned RVP from 2nd striker to main striker.
    Next you will be claiming that you knew that RVP had it all along. Bollocks, even RVP did not know he had it in him to be main striker.

  14. Vote -1 Vote +1Shard


    I think the idea that Arsenal have a productive academy, predates Wenger. The likes of Adams, and Parlour probably are still remembered as such, and since both played under Wenger, Arsene gets the credit (subconsciusly) for them too.. I do believe, as pointed out above, that the statement was we don’t buy superstars. And this is actually true. I don’t think we ever bought a superstar after Dennis Bergkamp (and even he was pre Wenger). I can’t think of any other superstars. Maybe Gilberto qualifies as one. Campbell? That’s stretching it a bit. He played for Tottenham after all :)

    But Anelka, Vieira, Henry, Cole, Cesc, RVP (who had no right foot for many years and developed it at Arsenal), and to a lesser extent Overmars, Kanu, Clichy, Song, Nasri, made their names at Arsenal. I don;t think you can call it a myth. Maybe an exaggeration.

    As for the academy not producing enough players for the first team, and Cole listed for transfer before, it is true, but only indicates that Wenger was reluctant to use young players earlier. Liam Brady was apparently quite frustrated by this at one time. He truly believed Stuart Taylor (ManCity’s current 3rd or 4th choice I think- they buy all our players) should be Seaman’s successor. But Wenger bought Lehmann. (no Almunia-esque treatment for Taylor)

    I think there are 2 factors behind this. 1) that recently we’ve had less options in the transfer market due to lack of funds in comparison to the competition. and 2) that the academy is gradually improving. Which is no surprise. Barcelona setup their current academy in 1989 under Cruyff, and the present generation are products of that. We didn’t even have a training ground of our own in 1999. (The sale of Anelka funded it) We just upgraded our medical facilities. We’re getting there. The likes of Wishere are actually really the first batch of the true academy prospects. We’ve also had a few players who were good enough for the PL, but not quite for Arsenal. Bentley, Upson, Jerome Thomas, Sidwell etc.

    Anyway, you are right that our academy doesn’t produce enough players for us, but I think the ‘myth’ also comes from people counting the likes of Cesc, Song, Djourou etc as academy graduates. Because they didn’t involve large transfer fees.

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