As the Gunners scrape toward another fourth place finish in the Premier League, both fans and the media are embroiled in the annual debates about the future of Arsenal. The failings of seasons past now have a familiar rhythm to them, though the scale and manner of multiple humbling defeats at the hands of title rivals has ratcheted tensions inside the Emirates to almost unbearable levels.
Against this backdrop, while fingers are pointed and scapegoats readied, the summer window is not coming soon enough for some fans. With it another opportunity to attempt to inject a reliable, competitive edge into the side. Though undoubtedly transfers in and out will and should be made, it could be helpful to take time to revisit and reflect on one of the key components of Arsene Wenger’s period of sustained success that is missing from this Arsenal.
That crucial element was in attendance at Goodison Park to see Everton play Arsenal off the pitch with a version of the style Wenger brought to the Premier League. The cameras cut to David Dein and one has to wonder what Dein thought of the situation his friend and former partner is in. He brought Wenger to England to be a football manager and in that capacity Wenger exceeded all expectations. However since 2007 Wenger has had to shoulder more responsibility than he likely ever expected or wanted.
Though some still regard Dein with dubious suspicion, it cannot be denied that in his time as vice-chairman at Arsenal he provided the perfect counterpart to Arsene Wenger. One of the few in the game whose knowledge of players and staff could go toe-to-toe with Wenger’s, Dein also possessed a business acumen both ruthless and visionary, a vital combination for the idiosyncratic and insular world of football boardrooms.
In the seasons since Dein’s departure and the club embarking on the construction of Emirates Stadium, it was easier to explain the way Arsenal and Arsene acted in the transfer market as mere shrewdness, a temporary tightening of the belt with promises of a grander future for all the faithful. We have arrived at the promised future but the previous summer’s business as well as the 13/14 January window were a ominous sign that the inertia of the spendthrift era could continue unjustified.
Prior to the purchase of Mesut Ozil’s services, the summer window saw an almost-complete deal for Gonzalo Higuain fall apart when news of potential release clauses in Luis Suarez’s contract resulted in the farcical offer of £40,000,001. That both deals could not be kept quiet and negotiated simultaneously is unfortunate but part of the summer circus. No one at Arsenal seemed to have the will to test Liverpool’s resolve to keep Suarez. There was no last ditch attempt to get Higuain to reconsider his options between Naples and North London. Though Ozil’s talent is undeniable it must be noted that Arsenal did not have to beat any competing offers from rivals to capture their record signing. Obviously this can’t all be laid at Wenger’s feet. The questionable qualities of Ivan Gazidis and Dick Law play their part, but neither strikes me as the type to challenge or offer an alternative to a course of action set by Wenger.
We can all rattle off the names of great managers but most thoughtful followers of soccer would admit that really almost all great managers were double acts. Clough and Taylor, Allison and Mercer, Shankly and Paisley. I believe that if Arsene Wenger remains in his post he needs to overcome his legendary stubbornness and bring in a director of football (Dein himself would be ideal) and elevate Steve Bould to more than just a sympathetic observer.
Arsene Wenger still has the traits and desire to be an elite manager but needs to be allowed (or forced) to refocus his efforts solely on the quality and training of the squad.