He won seven major trophies in his first nine years at Arsenal. Since then, in the last eight years, he has won nothing. We will soon reach the point where the length of his drought equals that of his deluge and the question to ask is where did it all go wrong?
The way to answer this question would be to look at the reasons behind his initial success and why those methods are not working anymore. Most of Wenger’s early changes at Arsenal were off the field, he introduced new levels of professionalism to his team and the league, from revolution in his player’s diet and new more scientific training methods down to minute details such as the temperature of the team bus. The result of this was that his team were far better prepared than those of his rivals and the results were immediate, he won the league and cup double in his first full season in charge. In football though, there is no patent system and once his methods and ideas proved successful they were soon copied by other English clubs and now no top team is complete without a host of physiotherapists, masseurs, and dieticians within their staff, and so the edge he had over the competition has been well and truly blunted.
The second pillar of Wenger’s success was his midas touch in the transfer market. When he first came to the premier league there were far fewer foreign players and more importantly managers in the league. Wenger hailing from France then had a huge advantage in terms of knowledge of Gallic players, in particular a generation who were about to defeat all comers on the international stage. Players such as Vieira, Henry, Anelka, and Petit have all been hugely important for Arsenal but would have been little known to other premier league managers before Wenger bought them to the country. A recent example would be Michael Laudrup tapping into his knowledge of Spanish football to bring Michu to the premier league only for the great Sir Alex Ferguson to declare that he had never even heard of him. This really underlines the advantage Wenger had over the rest of the premier league, if Manchester United’s modern day scouting team can be so ignorant as to not know of a player who scored 15 goals in La Liga last season then you can only imagine how lacking their knowledge was 15 years ago. Of course, Michu, aside it is now much harder to bring in an unknown of premier league quality into the league without competition. All top flight teams now possess large scouting teams searching the world for the next big talent and so another of Wenger’s advantages has gone. Even that wee club from the north east are outperforming Arsenal in the French market, bringing in the likes of Cabaye and Sissoko from ligue 1 whereas Arsène’s most recent forays there have been resulted in the likes of Park Chu-Young and Gervinho.
Another much publicised fact is Wenger’s failure to sign proven top class players, but in fairness he never really has, but his transfer policy has changed since he first arrived. Arguably Arsenal’s 3 greatest players during Wenger’s reign are Vieira, Henry, and Bergkamp (although not a Wenger signing), and this trio’s route to Arsenal all followed a similar path. They all started out in their domestic league (at Cannes, Monaco and Ajax respectively) before securing a move to a top club (Milan, Inter, Juve). They then failed to fulfil their early promise before being signed by Arsenal on the cheap. Arsenal rarely make this type of signing anymore, but there have been plenty of players who have followed a similar career path who could have kept Arsenal in trophies. Using just one club and one nationality, Real Madrid have signed then sold Sneijder, Robben, Van der Vaart and Huntelaar in recent years and all of those players have went on to be success at their later clubs, and all would have been affordable . Wenger has also started to take players to the premier league much earlier in their careers. Gilberto Silva had played 82 senior club games and won a world cup before moving to Arsenal, his attempted replacement Denílson only 13. The likes of Song, Diaby, Vela, Flamini all signed for Arsenal after only a handful appearances for their former clubs, and whereas earlier signings such as Pires, Wiltord, Petit, Overmars had all played at least about 200 times at other clubs so whilst still unproven at the highest level they had a lot of experience. Wenger has lost some of the advantages he had which made him so successful and changed his ways not necessarily for the better since joining Arsenal. Perhaps it’s time to move him on in the summer before he tarnishes the memories of his successful early years further .
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