Following Arsenal’s 2-1 loss in the north London derby, questions have to be asked about Arsene Wenger’s grip on the club he has managed since 1996.
Wenger has been regarded as one of the greatest managers in Europe. His revolution of English football and transformation of Arsenal has been recognized throughout. He modernized the game in England with sports science, scouting and youth development. But something happened. Things changed and trophy droughts became a reality.
That being said, how great was Wenger’s scouting of “so called” unknowns? Philippe Auclair has played down his unravelling of French talent on countless occasions. He gives the examples of Patrick Vieira, who was at the time the captain of multiple French youth international teams and his local side Cannes. A move to Milan – one of the elite sides in European football at the time – didn’t work out. Meaning Wenger could swoop and get a good deal on a player that was bound for greatness.
Another star, Thierry Henry, who many believe Wenger transformed into a striker, are very much wrong. He was a striker throughout his youth levels and with Monaco, boasting impressive stats at both youth level and with Monaco. Only when he moved to Juventus was he moved to the left. Another disparaging remark is that Wenger nurtured Henry when he was at Monaco. Henry credits his youth development as a footballer to Jean Tigana, the manager of Monaco after Wenger left.
Robert Pires is another French star who wasn’t exactly an unknown. He was widely tipped in France and apparently had the choice between Real Madrid and Arsenal, but chose the latter.
In retrospect, Arsene Wenger’s French revolution in modern times can be likened to Newcastle United. It’s not down to great scouting, but great negotiating. Of course, the role as a negotiator is a tough task, but the talk of Wenger’s ability to pick up virtual unknowns has been a bit overstated.
On the other side of the spectrum, youth development schemes run by Wenger have been questioned. This is because down the years Arsenal have been the youth level equivalent of a Manchester City or Chelsea. Alex Flynn (author of Arsenal – the making of modern superclub) recently gave the example of Denilson, who Rafa Benitez apparently wanted at Liverpool but didn’t get because of the amount Arsenal had spent.
The money spent at Arsenal has been a huge topic. Does Arsenal have money or not? The stadium issue has hamstrung Arsenal’s spending, and Alex Flynn said on the most recent LeGrove podcast that Wenger had assured the board at the time that he had a batch of youngsters coming and not to worry about the team. Wenger, even admitted this in a recent interview with John Cross of the Daily Mirror.