‘I am not expecting any marquee signings at Arsenal. There is a lot of talk about it, but I don’t know if I would trust Arsene Wenger with that money.
‘Over the last few years some of the players that he has said were going to be world class haven’t ended up like that – people like Philippe Senderos, Denilson, Marouane Chamakh, Armand Traore, Sebastien Squillaci, Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela, Emmanuel Eboue, Park Chu-young, Lukasz Fabianski, Gervinho and Andre Santos.
‘Over the last two seasons they have spent some money on Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Nacho Monreal, Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos. They haven’t been top-class players.
Arsene Wenger doesn’t appear to want to sign the top-class players, or what other people would describe as top-class players.
‘He goes out and says: ‘I can buy you cheaper players for a better price who are going to be world-class players in the future’, but that hasn’t been the case in the last few years.
_Stewart Robson on TalkSport, 7 June 2013
If you’ve been following Arsenal for any length of time then Stewart Robson’s rant to TalkSport, reprinted in the Daily Mail linked above, covers a lot of familiar ground. Fans and critics (one and the same sometimes) alike would often say things like “Arsene Wenger is afraid to spend money”, ”Arsene Wenger is afraid to buy top talent because he can’t control them”, and ”Arsene Wenger won’t sign marquee players”. It was always an uneasy critique for me, I have shown time and again that Wenger, historically, spent big so I knew that he could but there was always a ring of truth to the criticisms because we all knew that Arsenal had the cash in the bank to spend however they wanted and they weren’t spending the money.
Arsene’s parsimonious reputation used to be something that Arsenal fans and the fleet street lickspittles cheered. We were the club who took Anelka for cheap and sold him on to Real Madrid for a huge profit. We got Sol Campbell on a free (though we shattered the wage record in the process). Vieira, Overmars, Petit, on and on, Arsene was hailed as a genius with an eye for finding world class talent on the cheap.
And Wenger didn’t “make” this talent, he bought ready-made talent. Almost all of the players you think of from the Invincibles era, except Ashley Cole, were well established world class international talent. Even Henry, who many point to as the huge diamond in the rough polished by Arsene, was a well known player outside of England before he signed for Arsenal. Two years prior to joining Arsenal, he was offered a deal to go to Real Madrid worth £150k/wk. That would be an astonishing contract to offer a 20 year old player even now, much less in 1997¹ and further proof to me that Henry was a well known talent before he came to Arsenal.
After the breakup of the Invincibles, Wenger knew that he would have to go through a period of penury as the club struggled to sell off the Highbury condos and other real estate holdings around the old stadium and new. He also knew that the club had structured certain deals, such as the shirt sponsors and naming rights to the stadium to expire around now, meaning that he knew he had a finite time to manage the team on a strict budget.
So, he hatched a plan to buy young, actually untested and actually unknown, players and build them into a team that would at least keep Arsenal in the lucrative Champions League places, if not challenge for League titles. It nearly worked. In 2007/08 Arsenal challenged for the title up to the day that Martin Taylor broke Eduardo’s leg. After William Gallas’ spat and Clichy’s error, the team quickly fell apart. Arsenal still managed to finish just 4 points off the winners in third place.
I will always be convinced that had van Persie stayed healthy, Arsenal would have won at least a trophy in those barren years. As it stood, he would end up playing more for Holland² than he would for Arsenal for much of that time. And Arsenal didn’t win anything and the young bucks grew restless.
Then Cesc went on strike, forcing a trade for far less than he was actually worth. And suddenly, the heart of Arsene’s plan was ripped out and sent packing to Barcelona.³ It was exactly the wrong time for Cesc to leave. Robin van Persie was finally ready to play a full season, he would and he would score 30 goals. Imagine what that team could have done if Cesc had stayed. Imagine where we would be right now with Cesc and Ramsey in midfield, van Persie up front, and with the financial firepower to land players of the caliber of Özil. That was Wenger’s vision.
Arsenal still had two years to go before we could buy players like Özil and in the interim what we got were people saying things like “Arsene can’t spend money, he’s allergic” and other such gems culminating in Stewart Robson’s pre-Özil screed above.
But Arsenal and Arsene are in a post-Özil reality. We have spent £42.5m on Mesut Özil, we have won the FA Cup, we have Ramsey coming on as a superstar and Arsenal are now being seriously linked to players like Bender, Sanchez, and Debuchy. With the latter two almost certain signings.
We are no longer scraping the bottom of the transfer barrel. Arsenal are no longer the team that is being “snubbed” and instead are the team that Sanchez is snubbing Liverpool to come to. (Times, fee required.) Arsenal are no longer being swooped, we are “in a £60m swoop for Bender, Sanchez, and Debuchy“.
Arsenal are the swoopers not the swooped. Arsenal are the snubbers, not the snubbed. And Arsene Wenger has shuffled off the shackles of his critics that he is afraid to spend some money.
We may not sign any of those players but the fact that we are being linked to them and being linked seriously, with what looks like an excellent chance of landing all three is a massive change from the time of the infamous post-Cesc trolley dash to now. And I have to say that I much prefer the now. It’s a great time to be an Arsenal fan.
¹The whole saga is recounted in Philippe Auclair’s extraordinary book Thierry Henry: Lonely at the Top (Available for just $4 for Kindle, $9 in paperback, and $18 in hardcover).
²I’m aware that there is no such country as “Holland”. I find it funny, however, that both the Guardian and the Times podcast journalists almost always call the Netherlands “Holland” so, I’m making fun of them here.
³Cesc going on strike to force a move to Barcelona must have been like a death to Arsene Wenger. He had spent all this time and energy trying to build a team around this young man, his entire plan was built around Cesc. I find it extraordinary that Wenger persisted after that and not only persisted but rebuilt the core of the team on the fly and kept the club in the top 4. Name me another manager in the world who could have done that on a shoestring budget.