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The Song Remains the Same


The scene after the match at Old Trafford looked quite familiar for Arsenal.  Their legs spent.  Their effort admirable.  The run of play theirs’.  The scoreline favoring the opposition.

The Gunners have won just two of their last thirteen matches in all competitions.  The only wins coming from a late brace against a gassed AC Milan and an improbable comeback from two-nil down against Bolton.  It’s been a two-month run that saw them eliminated from contention in the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup.

Perhaps, we were wrong to expect so much from the squad.  They are young and inexperienced.  The already thin squad faced soul-sapping injuries.  With some better luck, they may still have been alive.  With the squad as constituted, they gave it a good effort.  We should be happy with their over-achievement.

The problem is that there is no compelling reason for the squad to have been so thin and so inexperienced.  Arsenal are one of the top five wealthiest clubs in Europe.  Even with the expenses from the new stadium, the club is raking in the profits.  The board have repeatedly stressed that whatever resources Arsene wants will be made available.

There is no justification for not having enough defenders, for having no natural wide players and for not having enough cover at striker.

Arsenal’s healthy first eleven can play with anyone in Europe, but they needed that first eleven on the field to win.  If you take Fabregas, Hleb, Flamini, Adebayor, Toure, Gallas, Rosicky or Clichy out of the eleven, Arsenal struggle and collapse.

Forcing your key players to play every match takes its toll.  The difference against United today was not in quality, but in fitness and depth.  Arsenal held the advantage in the first half, but faltered when their legs were shot midway through the second half.  The fresher Man U squad reloaded, bringing in Tevez, Anderson and Giggs.  Arsenal subbed two teenagers and a reserve squad defender.

No one is suggesting Arsene spend 60mGBP, but a few more players of decent quality would allow them to rest regulars without taking a titannic dip in ability.  If the money is available, there is no reason not to do so.

The only rational justification has been to feed Arsene Wenger’s ego by accomplishing more with less, but, as I said before, the league is won by points, not points per pound spent.  I spent more money on Arsenal merchandise this season than they spent in the transfer window.  There is something wrong with that.

Why pass on outbidding an extra few million pounds for players on principle, when winning the title or the Champions League would more than account for it monetarily?  Was principle worth having Eboue on the right wing instead of say, Ribery or Cristiano Ronaldo?

Arsenal’s youngsters may well lead the club to trophies down the road, but they will still need to compete with Manchester United’s who are of similar age and winning right now.

How many years does Wenger withstand on ego and propriety alone?  And is it worth it?

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  2. jm

    April 14, 2008 at 7:28 am

    I think your contention that Arsene’s transfer policy is to “feed his ego” to be rather dubious. Not only does it violate any reasonable standard of evidence, but also any standard of charity. You offer a fine and reasonable argument for why he should bring in more quality in order to bolster squad depth, why sully it with baseless accusations?

    In fact, there is a quite reasonable reason why Arsene might not have bought more players. It may not be compelling, but it certainly is more reasonable (and more charitable to attribute to Arsene) and more in line with the evidence than your accusation.

    A youth movement requires the opportunity to play, and to get as many minutes as possible. More depth would have pushed everyone back, and if the top choice players were fit, the younger players would only get sporadic and uneven runs in the team. Arsene’s goal was likely not this season, but the next five. To build for that, you need to give young players time to play in the first team.

    The difficult choice Arsene had to make was whether or not any given player X would improve the squad enough in the short term over a younger replacement and whether or not signing X would stunt the development of the younger replacement (who may have more potential, etc.). That’s a complicated question, it is not as simple as Arsene feeding his ego.

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