“Arsène is Arsenal, and Arsenal is Arsène”
Mockery of Arsène Wenger’s youth policy was in vogue the past several years in the British press and among opposing supporters. Arsenal’s seemingly limitless ability to lose big in the transfer market while counting on untested and unproven, largely British players, was mocked to no end. The successes that Wenger had brought to the North London club, including three Premier League titles, were being forgotten by many, and he was being derided in some circles as a football “cave man,” and in others as an inflexible ideologue.
The autumn of 2013 has represented Arsène Wenger’s revenge against the critics as the Gunners have played scintillating football without sacrificing results as had been alleged in the past. The core of the side that has done this job has been young and British, with the most critical supplementary parts coming from recent transfers of young players from continental football.
Wenger’s patience is a rarity in football and his willingness to adhere to strict principles regarding footballing style has paid dividends for the club. Arsenal cannot compete with the influx of foreign owners seeking to use football clubs as a marketing tool for a Gulf emirate or a toy for a filthy rich investor. This is, after all, a family club whose success has been shared by all of those associated with it through the years.
The footballing principles of Wenger mix with the ethos of Arsenal and the club itself has become an image of the man. Prior to Wenger’s appointment in 1996, Arsenal were a winning family club that had infamously badly behaved footballers and a win at all costs mentality. Wenger refined the mentality into something more beautiful but still based around on the pitch success, while cleaning up the club and introducing English football to proper nutrition and diet.
Brainier and more intellectually inclined than most men in football, Wenger’s willingness to assess the value of footballers on pure market principles rather than emotion was not understood by many of the more desperate supporters and, dare I say, many in the press.
Wenger built back Arsenal organically after the multi-million dollar petro-dollar induced takeovers of Manchester City and Chelsea weakened the Gunners standing in the Premier League. Competing with the debt-fueled Glazer era Manchester United also put Wenger at a disadvantage. His tireless devotion to bringing youth through the Arsenal system, many of whom were acquired from other clubs before their 18th birthday has developed a group of players who have grown up together and have played the same way for their vast majority of their professional football careers.
In Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and potentially Carl Jenkinson, Wenger has developed a British core to counter the binge continental buying of the opposition.
It took several years where aggravated Arsenal supporters expressed frustration with the manager publicly, coupled with the tabloid media’s obsession with tearing down the Gunners manager before Wenger became expressed their frustration with Wenger, but in time he is getting the last laugh on his critics.
As time wears on, the media induced stereotypes of Arsenal’s winter swoons and the types of players Wenger was signing/developing are quickly being debunked. The Gunners are growing stronger and stronger as other top Premier League sides grapple with the constant influx of players from different styled systems in different European leagues. The amount of turnover at the other highly competitive clubs has left Arsenal in the catbird seat to potentially be England’s most successful club over the next few seasons.
Consider the continuity and consistency of the Gunners squad and the familiarity each player has with the manager’s expectations. In this post Sir Alex Ferguson world of English football, no club or set of players has the type of built in advantage Arsenal enjoys under Arsène Wenger.
Were Arsenal run by the same sort of people who manage other large London clubs, they never would have gotten to this point. The club would have sacked Wenger two or three seasons ago and fluctuated between 4th and 7th in the table rather than enjoying Champions League football each and every season. As supporters of the beautiful game, most of us have supported clubs that either do not have the resources to compete or don’t have a clear footballing philosophy, so they sack managers and buy new players constantly. Supporters pour their hearts and souls into supporting clubs only to be let down by the suits at the most important moments.
While many Arsenal supporters showed a deluded selfish streak the past few seasons, most stuck with the man who had transformed the club and, on a larger level, English football. The manager himself has responded by showing more pragmatism in squad selection and tactics and a willingness to sacrifice style for results. The shift has shot Arsenal to heights the club hasn’t experienced in eight seasons.
For big spending Manchester City and Chelsea, this season might be all or nothing with high-wage earning continental and South American players. But for Arsenal, it is simply another climb back up the ladder that Wenger built to the top of English football, a place where the Gunners will reside at or near for the next several seasons.
Editor’s note: For the latest Gunners news, analysis and opinion, visit the Arsenal team page.