Is Arsene “The Emperor” Wenger wearing new clothes?

Four years without a trophy

Four years without a trophy

So that was a lot easier than I thought it would be. The tie was over after 11 minutes when Manuel Almunia decided to dive under Ronaldo’s free-kick rather than reaching higher and punching it away. To see his former rival for the Arsenal goalkeeping spot, Jens Lehmann, sitting in the ITV studios casting judgement is an irony that I hope is not lost on most football fans.

Anyway that was only one of a number of subplots played out on the night with tactical battles, red cards and magnificent goals all demanding attention. These will be covered in the papers tomorrow but I wonder if my main issue with tonight will garner much attention in the myopic British media? What is it you wonder? Quite simply I believe that Arsene Wenger is the luckiest man in football. He is the Emperor in his new clothes, telling the world what a great young team he has, what a “magnificent” performance his side has in store. He is like an actor who has the crowd playing along until the final act but then forgets the telling line of the play.

He is trading upon past glories and yet somehow his position is never questioned. Those who do pop up from time to time to wonder what effect he is having are ridiculed. If he is not a lucky guy, a man who is clearly not delivering in his job but who has it for as long as he wants then what is he? How else could you explain it to somebody new to the game, someone who stumbled upon tonights match and saw the Gunners outplayed from start to finish?

You’d have to tell him or her that Monsieur Wenger is regarded as one of the greatest coaches in the world, an astute tactician and creator of the “finest footballing side in European football.”  Being fair to the Frenchman you mention how he nurtured great players like Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires and oversaw a side that went an entire league campaign unbeaten.  No fan could deny that at times, 1998 and 2002 in particular, Arsenal were the best side in English football by some margin. The Double’s they won in both those years were fitting rewards for their efforts.

Yet the fact remains that Arsenal are facing their fourth consecutive season without a trophy. They have been a “team in transition” for so long now that the term has lost all meaning. They looked like they were well on their way in the 2007-08 season while leading the league for long stretches but they have undoubtedly regressed this season. No cup success and 4th place in the table is surely not enough to keep the fans happy.

One image tonight made me think more than most. Of course we got the obligatory views of David Beckham in the stands but it was the guy beside him, Mathieu Flamini, that alerted my attention. After having a wonderful season at the heart of the Arsenal midfield last season the Frenchman left on a free transfer to AC Milan in the summer. A dispute over wages we were told, no need to worry as Dibay, Song and Denilson were all waiting to take his place. Tonight Abou Diaby was an unused sub alongside Denilson. Alex Song watched the game pass him by as Anderson, Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick controlled matters in the centre of the park. With the Arsenal captain, Cesc Fabregas having a wretched evening it was all too much for the young man from Cameroon.

Now youth is not necessarily a bad thing in a side, United are hardly full of golden oldies, though Ryan Giggs is doing his best to hog the limelight. Its a balance between youth and experience that seems vital to me however and Arsenal have gotten this mix all wrong under Arsene Wenger. Kieran Gibbs would ordinarily not have played had Gael Clichy been fit but he wasn’t and after being responsible for the opening goal Gibbs was hauled off at half-time. Some way to breed confidence in a 19 year old.

Samir Nasri barely contributed at all, he rarely does so. And before I get all this “oh Arsenal have no money, its all tied up in the stadium” excuse let me just point out that Nasri cost 16 million euro last summer. More recently Andrei Arshavin cost the same amount in the January transfer window. Despite being a massive success to date Wenger knew he was ineligible for the knockout stages of the Champions League even though  Europe was one of his realistic chances of a trophy this season. The FA Cup was one also and Arshavin was free to play. I don’t think many of us need reminding that in the semi final against Chelsea Abou Diaby started while the magical Russian stayed on the bench.

It boils down to a simple choice. One is that Arsene Wenger is a great manager who has taken Arsenal as far as he can on the resources he’s allowed and he should seek a new challenge in order  not to tarnish his Arsenal legacy. I hear that crazy man Florentino Perez would happily give him 40 million euro to take charge of Real Madrid in the summer.  The other is that Wenger swallows his pride, asks Stan Kroenke and the Arsenal board for 70 million and buys players who are the finished article. Not young guys bought in for peanuts, top stars who will instantly improve the team and not just aid the “transition.”

It’s up to you now Arsene, four years without a trophy is simply too long for a club as big as Arsenal. Your next move will more than likely come to define you in the years to come.

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15 Responses to “Is Arsene “The Emperor” Wenger wearing new clothes?”

  1. Andy Bourke Says:

    Ronan, Samir Nasri was our best player tonight – unfortunately you are right in that Cesc and many of the others simply didn’t turn up. Samir cost 16 million euro as you pointed out – at the time that was only worth a little over 12 million pounds – a bit of a difference to the 15 million pounds that Arshavin cost. And maybe you forget that Nasri is still only 21 versus the 27 years that Arshavin has – the comparison is a little unfair!

    It’s funny how a team in ‘transition’ reaches the semi finals of both the F.A. Cup and the Champions League and goes 21 games unbeaten in the league. Sure our title challenge was long over before it ever began but you can’t say that this is not a team that is going places. The form in the league can be owed in part to Arshavin’s arrival – he has been immense but another astute purchase or two for our defence first and foremost would have us challenge on all fronts and finally win a trophy.

    70 million? It’s not needed – whether it’s available or not. Sure you can pick up a Torres or two…but you could also pick up a Berbatov or two – luckily United are clearly good enough without him. It was never Wenger’s way to spend big and I don’t think that’s going to change. I agree that options are limited – get rid of Wenger and there’s no doubt that Fabregas and co will be packing their bags also. However lets look with a little optimism for a second (I have to – I’m an Arsenal fan after all) – Would Liverpool be considered a team in transition – no. Yet they seemed to have the league in their grasp this season just as Arsenal did last season. Should Liverpool get to the semi-finals of the Champions League and F.A. cup next year it will be seen as a very promising season. At the end of the day this Arsenal team is no longer a team in transition – it’s a team that’s a player or two away from a very successful season.

    That player or two may or may not be Andrei Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky. Wenger’s biggest task this summer won’t be spending 70 million. It will be keeping the players together and adding to the squad subtly, hopefully with quality. This season has in no way been worse than last season. It hasn’t been a whole lot better either but that was mainly down to our form at the beginning of the season – form produced due to the adjustments made to the team from the loss of Flamini and Hleb – adjustments that took time to get right. If we have to make the same adjustments next season after more stars leave in the summer then I fear we could see the same all over again!

  2. ronanok Says:

    Hey Andy, appreciate your measured and well thought out response. The Nasri bashing may be a little unfair but I felt he was poor. Age is on his side though. You speak of Wenger bringing in two quality defenders, I hope you’re right. Last summer he brought in Michael Silvestre from United which is surely a sign in itself. And as for Rosicky well if he makes it back then fair play, I hope he’ll have been worth the wait. Its good to have Arsenal as a serious rival, those Keane-Vieria tussles back in the day were memorable. So lets both hope Wenger gets his act together.

  3. Amazing that people continue to talk about Arsenal being a team that play attacking football of the highest level.

    I didn’t see it in any of the Champions League semi final games. Playing a stricker on his own up front with no support is not attractive attacking football. That is more of a Bolton job. Am I right?

    Utd in fact play the most attacking and attractive football in England and indeed are on par with Barca in terms of style. But Utd are way ahead in terms of defence.

    Also regarding Fabregas. He has shown yet again he cant control a game if he cant get the ball. Arsenal need a mulicar in midfield to win the ball and get their over-rated Spanish playmaker on the ball to a least get the ball to their lonely striker.

    • ronanok Says:

      A lone striker can be an effective tactic at times, usually away from home, but when that player is Adebayor then you’re doomed to failure. Over both games he was close to anonymous, hindsight is a great thing but Arsenal should have cashed in last summer when Milan came calling with 30 million.

      Fabregas is at his most effective when someone like Flamini plays alongside him. Its the same in the Spanish side when Marcos Senna is there to do the dirty work. He is a glorious talent but Alex Song is no Senna or Flamini. Roll on Rome!!

  4. Alexandre Says:

    Wenger will certainly need to spend and bring in established players if they’re to have a good chance of winning something in the near future – that’s the way it is now more than ever before. He did spend 15 or so million on 2 or 3 players over the last couple of years alright from what I remember, but you see the Utds and Chelseas spending a good deal more. I do think his current side can mature into a winning team eventually however, though they obviously need to sort out defence and their ability to take control in midfield. That’s assuming their current players will remain as well. And I don’t think anyone can accuse Wenger of not being a good manager (not that anyone here is necessarily doing that), but he will have to adapt to changing circumstances if Arsenal are to step up and challenge the ‘big 3′ once more (assuming he’ll have access to significant funds). Also, I’m sure many Arsenal fans are indeed questioning whether or not his presence as Arsenal manager is still justified.

    To the match, ‘boys vs. men’ pretty much summed it up. I didn’t see 2-0 Utd. within the first 10 or so mins but I would certainly have been able to visualise such a commanding and comfortable Utd. performance. Cesc had no joy whatsoever and Walcott was basically absent as a threat for most of the match. The extent to which Adebayor was getting drawn out of the box in the first half only compounded Arsenal’s seeming inability to pose a danger to Utd., who bossed the midfield with a tremendous energy throughout, with Arsenal looking physically intimidated as much as anyhting a lot of the time. I’m not sure if I can put it up there with the best performances I’ve ever seen in football due to the fact that Arsenal seemed to lack so much character, but it was pretty damn good!

    As for Fletcher, I’m not sure where the ref was exactly but it was a very understandable decision to make. And of course, in this situation, if it’s a foul it’s unfortunately a sending-off. For me, with the benefits of countless replays, it was a fair challenge.

    Ronaldo was also more consistently clever on the ball than he generally has been this season, looking to get a pass away more than usual.

    The likes of Park and Fletcher are underrated in terms of technical ability I think, and you really have to feel for the latter.

    I do think Arsenal can improve over the next couple of seasons though, especially with Arshavin playing in the CL.

  5. adrian honan Says:

    Although i am not an arsenal fan who thinks Wenger is infallible i think your article is a very unfair. The bottom line here is that arsenal do not have any money. Wenger made a statement last summer along the lines,” it is the policy of this club to make a player profit of 17m every year to sercice our annual loan repayments to the same value”. Amy Lawerence, the Observer football writer and arsenal correspondant has said on numerous occasions that when wenger is questioned on the issue of finance, he always answers simply that there is no money at the club.

    I subscribe to a different view, the view that wenger is keeping a team fighting on all fronts that has no right to do so. Every year we show a profit on transfers because we have to. Wenger is not a stubborn idiot, blindly refusing to strengthen in areas where it’s plain to see we need it. We just dont have the money. Despite this, we have challenged for honours but come up short. There is not much that needs to be done with the goons to make them a competitive, trophy winning team and us fans are being led to believe that stan will indeed stump up some cash this summer after his recent alliance with Danny Fiszman. Kronke has a great record when it comes to his sporting business interests, (just ask the people of Colarado), and was the instrumental figure in the appointment of Ivan Gazidis, our first cheif executive for nearly three years. This was a major development at the club as the in-fighting of the board had damaged the club for too long without any one person solely looking out for the interests of AFC.

    Wenger is not above criticism but i think we all need to remember that this is not a level playing field, far from it. We have simply been unable to accumulate a squad with the strength in depth of our title rivals. Alas the time may have come where all of that changes, as a true gooner I hope that this is the case. As regards Wenger, I think he should be celebrated for what he is, the man who single-handedly reveloutionised English football on so many levels and is now swimming against the tide but doing a good job of it. If Flamini wants another 2m a season to play in the reserve team of a uefa cup team let him go. Ditto alex hleb, albeit for a slightly more currently sucessful side!!! I see a bright future for our football club because of the route we took and the tough times we survived. IN ARSENE WE TRUST.

    PS- have alot to say regarding Alex Song, Anderson, Fletcher and Carrick but must get back to the study. I’ll be back

  6. adrian honan Says:

    Just another quick note, how long did it take fletcher to step up to being a decent, champions league level midfield player?. I for one, have only seen him doing the business this year. Carrick is another example of a player who took an awful lot of time to settle in and this was at a cost of 18m pounds. Finally we have Anderson, who i must admit i’d love to have at arsenal, who also took time to cope with the demands of the premiership and also cost 18m pounds. Alex Song has been arsenal’s best player for the last four months and in that time we have gone to two cup semi finals and an unbeaten 22 games in the league. This patch of form coincides with his only ever consistent run in the arsenal team. Mark my words, the boy is going to be class!

    In reply to ROB, do you watch much football mate?, not trying to wind you up but in my opinion you seem a bit clueless. Utd are a great attacking side but barca are the current undisputed masters. I consider Dani Alves one of the best attacking players in the world and he’s the bloody fullback. Where utd do have the edge is in defence, Pique, Marquezz, Puyol and his walking stick and the uruguaian Senderos are no match for the reds defence but still think history will have the last say and milan will remain the last team to regain the crown.

    • ronanok Says:

      I agree with you on Fletcher, it is only this season that he has merited a place in the team and even then only at times. He certainly would not make my starting XI but does deserve a level of sympathy for the fact that he will miss the final. A yellow card would surely have sufficed.

      Carrick on the other hand is on the verge of winning a third league title after just three seasons at the club. A second consecutive European Cup medal could also be his in three weeks time. Before he was recruited, in the interim period after Keane left, United lacked a midfielder of genuine class to partner Scholes. Remember the half-season when Giggs and O’Shea played in the middle? Carrick is a wonderful passer of the ball, strong in the tackle and chips in with the odd goal. 18 million is a small amount when you consider the amount of success he has helped bring to the club in his time at Old Trafford.

      Anderson, well we’re agreed on him. Once he can add goals to his game he’ll be a monster.

      Song has potential no doubt and will develop into a fine player. My point is that Flamini should still be there and the money should have been found to keep him. Wenger is at pains to point out that there is none, yet couldn’t Arron Ramsey’s transfer fee (Why yet another midfielder to accompany Denilson, Nasri, Diaby, Fabregas and Song?) plus the money for Silvestre have been spent on a keeping Flamini and buying a Brede Hangeland type defender? A man famous for setting up a global scouting network must surely have other options.

      I look forward to seeing how Arsenal shape up next season, Arshavin will be fully settled and Fabregas hopefully still in place. Van Persie needs to keep fit on a regular basis and Adeb might be worth sticking with. He can be world class on his day. Two or three serious additions could make all the difference. As far as I’m concerned the more rivals for United the better.

      • Rich Hammond Says:

        While Wenger’s position is by no means as strong as it was to call him the ‘luckiest man in football’ is showing a little disrespect to the man.

        Wenger is still at Arsenal on merit, as you mentioned he has done great things at the club, taking them from UEFA cup challengers to double winners and European finalists. The current team is young and maturing, you have to remember majority of that great team double winning team have moved on. Wenger managed to create teams with players at the peak of their careers, once their powers started to wane he opened the door often recouping top dollar – Petit, Overmars, Viera, Pires, Ljunberg, Gilberto, Campbell with Bergkamp also retiring.

        My point is that it is not easy to replace great players, especially great players at the top of their game. Shrewdly Wenger has identified when his players are on the slide and re-couped substantial amounts which have helped balance the books in North London. He does not have an open cheque book like Ferguson or those across London, instead he relies on a fantastic eye for talent and a quite brilliant scouting network. Future prospects are plentiful at the Emirates, players such as Walcott, Song, Wilshire and the excellent Vela will excite for years to come and provide reason for optimism and hope. Wenger has the tools for another great Arsenal team, but as you have identified there is work to be done. Top of his summer shopping list should be a solid CM and CB, with these two players I can see Arsenal and Wenger going places once again.

        In regard to Flamini we will never know if there was a dispute over wages but once boyhood club Milan came in for him he was only ever going to the San Siro. Plus would you have kept Gibbs on…..? His confidence was shot from the second minute and as a result his nerves were getting the better of him, it was only a matter of time before another error would be punished. Taking him off was sensible management and the right move for the team. Tuesday was a blip for Gibbs, I have no doubt he will play a part in Arsenal’s future.

        Great site Ronan, keep up the good work!

  7. Adrian?? clueless? Bit personal there man. One is entitled to their opinion. Utd are a class above Barca and in my opionion play the better attacking football as they are prepared to get stuck in as well. I like to see players getting stuck in coupled with attacking ability. Thats my idea of good attacking football.

    This may not be yours but I respect your views. However I wont be calling you clueless.

    • Rob,

      This comment might be a bit late. Unfortunately I only got to read this blog today. I just find it ridiculous how you English fans, especially Man United fans, always think you’re a “class above” other teams. I think Barca proved very well that they are in fact the team that is a class above everyone else in European and English football at the moment.

      Players like Xavi, Iniesta, and Yaya Toure have no problem getting stuck in. The difference is that they can add to that a touch of finesse. They end up looking softer than midfielders such as Scholes and co., yet there is no doubt that they can pull their punches against such players, as the final in Rome proved. Barca also proved that their defence is nowhere near as weak as many English fans would like to believe. Barca proved that offense is the best form of defense by having their strikers pressure Man U at the very top of the field for the full 90 minutes. Ultimately, Vidic and Ferdinand (a defender so often touted as the best in Europe), could not cope with the pace and skills of Barcelona’s forwards: something they don’t often face in the EPL. Torres’ previous destruction of Vidic is further proof.

      The whole world witnessed and attested to Xavi and Iniesta’s unmatched brilliance at last year’s European Championship. Barca is a team that adds to these two midfield maestros the grit of Yaya Toure, the explosive attacking impact of Dani Alves, the world class goal scoring record of Samuel Eto’o, and the unrivalled class of Lionel Messi, currently the world’s greatest player. For you to deem such a team a class below Man United can only be described as sheer arrogance and lack of insight. If all I said hasn’t convinced you, then surely watching a replay of the CL final will.

      P.S. I’m a hardcore Real Madrid fan and I’m thrilled at the signing of CR9. I have the common sense and rationality, however, to admit that Barca are still the better team and Messi the better player. Hopefully, with a few years of hard work and well thought out reinforcements, we’ll be able to take their place atop European football.

  8. adrian honan Says:

    you’re obviously a United fan?. What strikes me about alot of United fans is that they seem to watch very little football. Arsenal played 4-4-2 on tues night. If you were watching you would have seen that. Barcelona always play with one lone striker and even you admit they might just be able to keep up with united in an attacking sense!!!!. Of course Arsenal set out to defend well at old trafford and catch them on the counter, just as united did at the camp nou in last years semi final, delivering an extremly negative and defensive performence but ultimatly gaining progress and eventual victory in Moscow. Barcelona have scored over 100 league goals this season set against united’s 63. Liverpool have scored far more premiership goals and arsenal have exactly the same number. Barcelona have also out scored every other team in the champions league by some distance. Regarding Fabregas, of course he can’t influence the game if he doesn’t have the ball,not many playmakers can. Attacking football has zero to do with getting stuck in, you may admire your team for their attitude but im afraid the stats don’t lie.

    • You are a stats man? Fair enough!

      I watch a lot of football. You seem to think your view is always the right one? You seem to think you watch a load of football and therefore know everything about the game? Bit silly really. But I respect your opinions as you back them up well.

      But less of the jibes man!

      I was talking about Arsenals one up front in the first leg if you look at the date of my post. I know Arsenal played a 442 on Tuesday. Quite obvious!

      Barca are in the Spanish league as we know so therefore they will score loads more goals. Utd would score as much if they were in that league. Its a great league for attacking football but not defending.

      • adrian honan Says:

        Your post is dated the 6th, which was the day after the second leg and you also talked about games in the plural sense. I accept you may have only been talking of the first leg but it was hard for me to come to that conclusion with the information at hand.

  9. Barcafan Says:

    What Barca did to the English Champions was incredible…no one believed that it was going to be a one sided game!

    Now everyone wants to come to Spain, after all the best footballers are here.

    Our stadiums are bigger, our history is better and after the last Champions League final no one is going to question that!

    Thank you

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