If Wenger stays there is one thing he has to change

Nothing is nicer than seeing a youngster come through the ranks to make it big at Arsenal. It will be rarer and rarer to see an eight or ten year old make it through to the top at our club though. It really is far too hard to judge whether a young boy (and girl for the Arsenal Ladies) has all the qualities to make it to the top, and the vast majority do not get there, unfortunately.

Arsene actually tends to get youngster at the age of 15-19 from other clubs. It is far more easy to judge whether these ‘young adults’ have what it takes to become a regular first team player eventually. But it is still a gamble and it requires a lot of financial, emotional and management time investment to get them there.

During Wenger’s first ten years at Arsenal, he was very successful at buying these young(ish), unknown-to-many gems and shine them up for success. From Anelka to Henry, and from Vieira to Fabregas, to name but a few, he made us all purr with excitement from the sheer quality these players brought to our game eventually. He was more or less alone in this in the Premier League, and hence his incredible success rate during the first half of his tenure at Arsenal.

Ferguson, Wenger’s main competitor for most of the first ten years, had his own youngster who became the backbone of the majority of the successes he had with MU – the likes of the Neville brothers, Scoles, Giggs and Beckham – but he was never able to replicate that one group of talented youngsters that made it to the top gradually. And as soon as Mourinho arrived in the PL, the days of being able to afford to build a team bottom upwards were simply over. He was given unlimited money to buy 27-30 year old who were at the very top of their game and added value from the moment they arrived. Ferguson, the ultimate adapter, reacted quickly with buying ready to roll players himself – with the purchase of Rio Ferdinand at a then eye-watering £28m or so as perhaps the best example of buying for instant success. And what a difference he made!

Wenger could not respond to this new era due to the financial  restraints we all know too well. He had to keep buying and developing raw talents with the hope that Arsenal could continue to compete at the highest levels. He moved mountains with his bare hands, but it just was not enough to compete with the financial might of Chelsea and MU. And then came Man City on to the scene as the next billionaire’s toy. They actually targeted our players to strengthen their team instantly – and weaken us in the process. The BoD needed the cash to pay off big parts of the substantial bank loans, so were not overly reluctant to get rid of our established and/or promising players.

We just could not compete with these teams till a few years ago. They are still financially stronger than us but we can now also buy good and experienced players to strengthen our squad without having to make a return on them necessarily. It still looks like the BoD are not doing that (enough): Xhaka and Mustafi are very promising players but, for example, right now a class below the totally matured Kante and returning ex-Chav in defence. These two made a real difference at Chelsea this season, like they would have done at Arsenal if we had bought them last summer.

On top of this, Arsene is still pushing through youngsters who even after 100+ PL games have not claimed a first team spot. And for me, more than anything else, this is the real reason for Arsenal’s inability to push on to the very top, both in the PL and CL. Ox, Gibbs, Ramsey, Bellerin, Ramsey and even Wilshere and (the now at mature age) Walcott are talented but not back-bone material to overcome the highest hurdles and push us on to winning titles when the difference has to be made. A few will at some point become really useful or key pivotal players but for now they cost us dearly time and again at the pivotal moments.

IF Arsene wants to stay and take us to the next level, he really has to start buying 27-30 year old quality players, so we can properly compete again.

By TotalArsenal.


13 thoughts on “If Wenger stays there is one thing he has to change

  • Well written T A and agree with you. The team lacks experience and leadership. When Mad Jens Lehman was enrolled I don’t think he was the greatest goalkeeper in the world, although very good. But he did bring bundles of enthusiam and fight to the side. Had he been playing at WBA last week I wouldn’t have wanted to be one of our defenders with him around.

    You are correct there are a number of players who may or may not make it, some of them have been around for a long time and at times have hit rich veins of form. Theo and Rambo are prime examples. Very difficult when Rambo hits form would rate him as one of our best players. Unfortunately the one thing we have lacked every season is consistency and not many of our team to lay claim to that.

    Other than Iwobi it’s hard to remember a youngster making it. Although not home grown Holding looks impressive. A bit of a sweeping statement, but many of the youngsters that nearly make it, appear to be very skillfull but lacking in upper body strength.

  • Cheers Retsub, I think it is more than just upper-body strength, even though I would love us to be more physical at times, but in a clever way. One or two youngsters in the team is okay with me, but especially when we have a couple of injuries to key players, we end up with simply too many of them.

  • Nice write-up.

    Just… If Wenger had gone by this advice, 29-year-old Debuchy would have been ahead of 19-year-old Bellerin. 31-year-old Suker would have kept 22-year-old Thierry on the bench.

    It depends from the case.

  • What happened to the old maxim: if you are good enough, you are old enough? I feel the thing is where you have a young player being thrown in at the deep end, it gets harder to fulfil the potential seen by the manager because he is under pressure to defend well and not lose possession….in order to avoid dropping points. It is different if the young lad can be afforded some latitude to just play freely, make the errors without fans moaning loudly, instead playing “on eggshells”, because the older players even look up to him for the win. Henry had Kanu and Bergkamp to look up to; Vieira knew Palour, Keown and Adams had his back; Jack and Cesc were also well nurtured. That’s what the likes of Iwobi and even Xhaka needed to flourish.

    Having said all that, I get the point (and agree) that the quality and age (if both go together) of our purchases have to go up. Unfortunately, it looks likely we lose a couple of top quality players we have, in order to bring in new quality replacements, as against adding the new to what we already have. The ideal thing will be to get both Ozil and Sanchez to sign extensions, then go out to bring in added power/quality to complement them. If only….

  • Good piece TA, and mostly agreed,
    We have a few talented players in Nelson, and AMN, who, in playing with veteran players, will play better than what they are as of now.

    Our team is just lacking a midfield general, and Rambo, Ox and, the likes of the rest of the players, are just not good enough.

    In the team, we have the following veterans (Players with a tough, cool brain in his head on his shoulders, and brilliant positioning sense like Seamo, Sol Campbell and Vieira):

    Gibbs (Not far off, but should have learnt more from Cashley.)

    Look at the positions that they are deployed. When Santi is out, there is a massive hole between the defense and attack. Ozil likes to drop deep at times to help move the ball better, but there is no one to support him. Theo, Ox, Rambo are good on the ball, but bad off it. We need more players who are both good on and off the ball, like the list above.


  • Hey TA, Interesting Post… and I have to agree with the thesis…IF Wenger stays, he should buy players ready to contribute immediately. I guess I’m wrestling with the idea of his staying, which, perhaps, I’m starting to believe is not a very good idea. Coming from his biggest supporter, that’s probably fodder for another post entirely. Maybe I could aim to write something for the middle of the week unless you’ve got some other posts you were planning to write or publish. Lemme know…

    But back to this one… I most definitely agree that a lot of guys who came up through the academy (Wilshere, Gibbs) or who Wenger bought as teenagers (Ramsey, whom you list twice…inneresting…, the Ox, Theo…) have not developed into the world class players we hoped they might. You also include Bellerin. In an attacking team–Man City, Barca, (us, ideally…) he’s got to be one of the most promising (very) young full-backs in the world and one who will be seeking CL football next season. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him move in the 30-40 million pound/euro range to one of those two clubs…

    The other thing is that Wenger has bought older players, though usually with a value for money approach. As high priced as they were, Ozil and Alexis fit that description, as might Cazorla and Giroud the season that RvP (and Alex Song) fecked off. The best examples are probably the deadline day purchases of Mertesacker and Arteta back in 2011 when we’d lost Fabregas and Nasri just beforehand. (Both were OK players but their leadership abilities–both became team captains–was probably where their real value lay…) Nacho Monreal and Laurent Koscielny were both in their later 20s when purchased while Petr Cech was 32. The most recent example would be Lucas Perez who was almost 28 when he joined the club this past summer.

    You’re right, however, that players in their early 20s and bought for big money–especially if they come from other leagues–have trouble making an immediate impact. That might include guys like Xhaka and Mustafi (this summer) but also Elneny (the previous January) and even someone like Welbeck (3 summers ago), though it’s been injuries that have hampered him the most.

    Finally, we need to remember that management serves at the pleasure of ownership and that guy (Stan Kroenke) is clearly interested in growing his asset financially (over the very long term) without regard for success on the pitch (the very thing that would most help our “brand”). As such, buying younger (cheaper) players and then selling them on–or bumping up their wages w/o having to dole out a transfer fee, is the obvious strategy for making that part of the business into a money-maker.

    So, if Wenger stays and we don’t make the top 4 and we lose (cash-out…) the players who can move to a CL team, I think you’ll get your wish… (Others, like the Ox or Ramsey or Wilshere might also choose to move to other–lesser–clubs, where they will be more at the center of the action…) Is that an ideal scenario? Not by a long-shot, IMO…

  • TA,
    Great post. Am very much inclined in the direction you have pointed out principally because my faith in our scouting network has nose dived and I trust no longer their ability to unearth gems. There is now zero tolerance for gambling. We should invest on the finished article.

  • Good post Total even if I think it’s more nuanced with a change in youth culture, the internet, less kids playing in the parks, never mind the streets, you need to be hungry to succeed as as youth player, single minded, our young players, are they hungry? They get so much, financially, so soon.
    How much do they think about the game, discuss it with team mates, work on things among themselves at training, sort out problems as in in the famous situation when Adams got Petit and Vieira to protect the back-four. Adams was old school, could you imagine anyone at Arsenal having the strength of character to lead as he did?

  • I’m still amazed at our scouting network at youth level, is it really up to scratch, Tottenhams young players seem more rounded than our guys, is their youth coaching better?
    I’m just asking the question…

    How much thought is put into placing our young players when they go out on loan?
    I’m struggling to see what the benefit to our kids is of sitting on the subs bench in Division One?
    Maybe it’s character building, but if it is, then I haven’t yet seen the proof…

    The youngsters who come through our ranks are all technically up there in terms of quality, I’m just not sure if they’re up there mentally.

    Jack is tough, you have to be to keep coming back from all the injuries he’s had. I just hope we retain him for next season and see where we go, especially if Ozil leaves.
    Eddie Howe has managed Jack really well, kept him fit during a period when Bournemouth have been teetering on the edge of the relegation zone.
    Arsene, if he stays, should take note…

  • A well written piece TA.

    Whilst I whole heartedly agree that Arsenal could do with some more experienced quality players to replace certain players (e.g. sell Gabriel and Mertesaker, push Chambers and Holding into the Under 23 side and bring in Perrin from St Etienne), I think the root of Arsenal’s problems are:

    – a lack of a defined setup and system of play that is both defensively secure and enables the creation of clear goal scoring opportunities

    – a lack of role clarity for individual positions

    – a lack of players with the skills and physical attributes which compliment the individual requirements of particular positions within that defined setup.

    I doubt how much the addition of more experienced players would honestly improve the situation without those aforementioned structural and tactical issues being first addressed and being the basis of future recruitment decisions.

    As for the impact of the likes of Kante and Luiz for Chelsea, while there is no doubt about Kante’s value (which I equate to the value Patrick Vieira’s added to Arsenal), Luiz’s dominate performances this season can be attributed, in my opinion, to Conte adopting a 523 / 343 tactical system that accentuates the big Brazilian’s on the ball strengths and effectively covers his individual defensive shortcomings (thanks to the CDM duo of Kante and Matic and the deployment of the more defensively accomplished CBs, Azpilicueta and Cahill, either side of the Brazilian). Chelsea’s team is full of examples of individual players (Moses, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Alonso, Matic, Hazard, Pedro) whose skill set and physical attributes compliment the individual requirements of particular positions within the defined setup and system of play which Conte has decided to adopted.

    It’s not rocket science, it just adopting balanced tactics, ensuring role clarity for each individual position and complimenting it with targeted recruitment.

    I know there is the argument that Chelsea, Man City and Man Utd can acquire the best players and Arsenal can’t compete with the financial muscle of those clubs, and I accept that in most cases Arsenal will lose out to those sides should the Gunners attempt to engage in a transfer tussle with them. That said, spending big in the transfer market has never been Wenger’s modus operandi and certainly didn’t prevent him for experiencing significant success during his first decade with the club, when Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool regularly outspent Arsenal in the transfer market. Wenger’s and Arsenal’s success during that period was underpinned by Arsene’s ability to identify affordable players with the skill set and physical attributes which complimented the requirements of discrete and defined roles within his established 442 setup and system of play. Lauren, Toure, Ljungberg, Gilberto, Petit, Vieira, Edu, Henry Adebayor, van Pierse are all examples which fall into that category.

    Despite the success Wenger experienced with that winning formula, he decided around 2006 to entirely change Arsenal’s system of play from a counter attacking 442 setup to a patient passing 4231 system designed to accomodate the emergence of the technically gifted but defensively weak Fabregas.

    That change coincided with Edu’s, Vieira’s and Cole’s decision to leave the club and was shortly followed by the club’s decision to offload Campbell, Pires, Lauren, Ljungberg and Gilberto. While the move to the Emirates and the cost of maintaining those players’ wages may have been a key factor in the club’s decision to let those players go, Wenger’s decision to completely abandon his previously successful 442 setup and system of play and not back his ability to identify affordable new recruits with the skill set and physical attributes which complimented the requirements of the discrete and defined roles within that 442 setup is something that continues to baffle me.

    Since then Arsenal have been in the wilderness:

    – unable to identify a system of play for a 4231 setup that is both defensively secure and enables the creation of clear goal scoring opportunities

    – seemingly unable to establish the required role clarity for the individual positions within that setup

    – as a consequence of the lack of clarity regarding he aforementioned issues Arsenal have repeatedly failed to recruit players with the skills and physical attributes which compliment the individual requirements of particular positions within that defined setup.

    All of that said, with Arsenal’s financial resources and with a manager at the helm with a proven track record at recruiting affordable players who can be highly effective at performing discrete and defined roles, Arsenal could realistically overhaul a good portion of their first team squad before next season and equip themselves to usurp those wealthier teams on the field.

    To do so though they first need to identify a setup and system of play that is both defensively secure and enables the creation of clear goal scoring opportunities, provide role clarity for individual positions and then recruit and deploy players with the skills and physical attributes which compliment the individual requirements of particular positions within that defined setup.

    There is a clear formula to win the Premier League, which is based around those aforementioned factors. Wenger knows it having successful implemented it during his first 10 years with the club. For Arsenal to get back there again, it’s just a matter of Wenger accepting reality and changing in order to once again succeed.

  • superb comments by Seventeenho and Waldo and thank you to other commenters too.

    PE, I have forwarded your post to Seventeenho who hopefully will have some time to edit and issue it.

    Sorry too tired to hang around but please keep up the commenting (I do read all of them).

    Keep truckin’

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