Is Arsene Wenger suffering from Chrometophobia?
Chrometophobia: An abnormal and persistent fear of money. Sufferers experience anxiety, despite the realization their fear is irrational, and worry they may mismanage money.
“In Arsene We Trust” the Arsenal fans have always sung. As the singing subsides to be replaced by jeers, fans of theNorth Londonteam are left in disgruntled resignation, hoping their manager, so successful in the past, manages to reinvent himself and his faltering young team. The travails of the team from the Emirates stadium have been widely reported and analyzed as key players have left, and squad players who the manager finally appears to have lost faith in, simply can’t be shifted. Whilst the loss of captain Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and Samir Nasri to Premier League rivals Manchester City are indeed body blows, more prevalent would seem the lack of willingness of the manager to engage in spending the money that, according to the board of directors, is available. Has Wenger lost confidence in his ability to sign a player who is ready for action now, rather than in five years time? Or is he simply too stubborn to pay over the odds, in an over-inflated market?
This pre-season, Wenger signed Ivorian winger Gervinho, Finnish uner-21 defender Carl Jenkinson, Costa Rican teenager, Joel Campbell and 18 year old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton. With the exception of Gervinho, Ligue 1 winner with Lillelast season, all Wenger’s signings have very much been of his preferred ilk: Ones for the future. Talks stalled with Everton over Phil Jagielka and most recently, with Valencia over Juan Mata. Wenger’s refusal to meet what he perceived to be the inflated prices for both players, has so far cost him vital additions to his paper thin squad. The story holds that Jagielka was valued at £18-20m by his current employer, but that Wenger felt him only worth £15m. Mata had a release clause of around £19m which Arsenal refused to meet. When this clause expired on 1st August of this year, Chelsea entered the fray and secured the signing of the Spanish midfielder, with a fee which will rise from £23.5m. Of course as we know Chelsea are not averse to paying over the odds (just look at the £50m they laid out for that statue when their neighbour Mohammed Al Fayed got one for merely a few thousand pounds), however in the light of Mata’s move to the Premier League, it now seems Wenger missed out on a somewhat of a bargain.
Another financial issue having an impact upon any possible acquisitions is the wage structure in place at the Emirates. Along with their new home came an era of financial prudence which has precluded the manager from being able to offer his own top players – let alone those from other clubs – the very top wages. Nasri was ‘only’ offered a £5k increase from his current £95k per week wage and, clearly with his head having been turned by a more than doubling of his wages with the offer from City, who, it is said, have offered £200k per week, plus a £5m signing on fee, it is no surprise the young French international has decided to depart. Whether the wages Wenger is allowed to offer have scuppered deals for Mata or Jagielka, we may never know. However if his hands are tied by such things, it may explain his assertions of loyalty and ‘things we may never know [sic]’, in recent weeks. Perhaps such circumstance has even dictated Wenger’s stated philosophy of signing young, as such signings would clearly fit within such a tight wage bracket?
Wenger’s situation has of course not been helped as Arsenal’s problems are highlighted all the more starkly because of the similarities to those handled so smoothly by long term foe Sir Alex Ferguson this pre-season. Ferguson lost three of his most experienced players following last season’s title triumph, yet early in the close season, he quietly went and paid significant fees for three young internationals in David De Gea (£18m), Phil Jones (rising from £17m) and Ashley Young (rising from £16m). “They’re not worth that” came the cry from the armchair football experts who balked at a combined £55m outlay on these three youngsters. With a full pre-season behind them however, and now fully integrated into the United squad, Monday night saw a victorious and rampaging United put three past a stuttering Spurs – playing some scintillating football in the process – with Young and Jones in particular instrumental, and with De Gea keeping a clean sheet to steadily start silencing his vociferous critics.
Fergusonhas also introduced two home-grown youngsters into his team this term, in Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck, who were last night’s stand-out performers. They come into a squad – fresh from Premier League loans last season to Wigan andSunderlandrespectively – looking up to players such as Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra. All proven international class players with experience of the most important aspect of the game: Lifting trophies. Fabregas bemoaned the situation at Arsenal last year when he commented that when he and Robin van Persie were breaking into the first team, they were doing so looking to the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva for guidance – champions and internationals all. Now as the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere cement their places in the team, who do they look towards? Indeed, with the likes of Emmanuel Frimpong and Ignacio Miquel breaking into the team – albeit more out of necessity than anything else – these two first teamers, aged 20 (Ramsey) and 19 (Wilshere) are now looked upon as senior players. With limited experience, how will these players know the time to put a leash on Frimpong and tell him to stop diving into tackles? How will they console Miquel for a botched clearance which led to a goal? Sure, Wenger has a couple of international class leaders to call on in Thomas Vermaelen and new captain Robin van Persie, but both players’ Arsenal careers have been blighted by injury and they simply can’t always be relied upon to be there when a steering hand is needed.
Ferguson has steadily, throughout his career, replaced departing experience with exuberant youth, whilst maintaining the battle-hardened campaigners such as Giggs, Edwin van der Saar, Eric Cantona, or Steve Bruce to ease the burden of expectation on his new young charges. Wenger has done this in the past when allowing players such as Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit to leave whilst heaping further responsibility on the shoulders of Gilberto, Vieira and Henry. Now however, with experience lacking in his squad, Wenger continues to overlook players who are available, who could possibly add this valuable dimension. Scott Parker who, at around £8m, is certainly not overpriced, would not only provide competition and versatility to the Arsenal midfield, but with first-hand experience of dragging struggling team-mates forward, could provide the galvanising and guiding force the squad seems to lack. Likewise Jagielka, a generally unassuming player who stated that he couldn’t believe his luck when called up to the England squad for the first time, he would be a strong, if unremarkable addition to the defence alongside either Vermaelen or Laurent Koscielny. As would the perhaps more available Scott Dann ofBirmingham. Less cultured than Jagielka perhaps, but as he is, like Parker, available for under £10m, his signing would not affect the bank balance of the club particularly adversely. Sure, none of these players would be likely to appear in every game, but, as at United, by having them in the squad first teamers are no longer guaranteed a starting berth, so exert themselves far more in the quest for one, or indeed in trying to consolidate their place in the starting eleven.
It seems polarised to Wenger’s over reported footballing principles however, to spend millions of pounds on players who would sit on the bench, when in the past he’s picked up players such as Nicolas Anelka or Fabregas for a pittance, who have then gone on to shine in his (and other) first teams. The market today however is a vastly different sphere, one where the mere hint of interest from a club like Arsenal drives the price of a player up by the few million quid Wenger seems loath to spend. When we also consider the quality of the players on the bench of his most immediate rivals at United,Chelsea,ManchesterCityandLiverpool, it is clear to see that the game has changed and that it is no longer just star players who cost a few bob. Of course there will be the players who appear in nearly every game in a club’s season, such as John Terry. However and increasingly, there are more and more players like Rio Ferdinand or Ledley King who, for reasons of fitness, will play the biggest of games each year, but can no longer expect to play more than once a week due to their physical limitations. In those instance, such players are covered perfectly well by their – perhaps less able, yet eminently effective – understudies.
Such squad players are key to the make up of a squad, for the practical purposes of filling in for key players, but also for the regeneration of a squad. Established and experienced squad players not only provide a bright guiding light to their younger colleagues, demonstrating the professionalism to bide their time and perform when called upon, but also provide a real and demonstrable competition to younger team-mates who are establishing a first team place of their own. Arsenal fans may point to the somewhat unlucky turn of events which has deprived them not only of the injured Jack Wilshere, Kieron Gibbs and Johan Djorou but also to the suspensions of Gervinho, Alex Song and Frimpong. This however only serves to exhibit all the more acutely the lack of depth in Wenger’s squad. As it did on Saturday afternoon and as it invariably will in football, it never rains but it pours. A strong manager should always have with him the umbrella of certainty that a full squad affords. Unfortunately some managers have taken this analogy somewhat too seriously.
Arsenal’s problems are, it should be qualified, being somewhat over-exaggerated given that they have not effectively challenged for the title in some years. Wenger, given the level of success he has brought to the club in the relatively recent past, should be given far more time by the fans as well as his board to overcome the difficulties he is experiencing and by allowing him to continue to fight for a place in the top four. He will, however, have made a noose, sized perfectly for his long neck, if he does not embrace the current state of the transfer market and accede to the cries from his fans to spend some money.
It has been said that Wenger has a make-or-break week ahead with ties against Udinese to qualify for the Champions League and against United in the Premier League. He doesn’t. Sadly for Gunners countrywide, Arsenal could defeat United next weekend and still stand no chance of securing the Premier League title at this stage in the cycle of their team. What Wenger does have is a monumental, make-or-break tie, tonight against Udinese. Win and secure Champions League football for another season, and his neck will be much further from the gallows. Lose, and the vultures will circle ever lower, waiting to swoop on the scraps left by the ravenous press pack.
Wenger will of course look to his returning general, van Persie, to spark his young team into life and buy him some more time to improve his squad for the season ahead. If his captain manages to secure this time however, the manager must look farther afield to extinguish the flames currently lapping at his ankles.
Posted on 24/08/2011, in 1. Latest and tagged arsenal, Arsene Wenger, Chelsea, Fabregas, Juan Mata, manchester city, Manchester United, nasri, phil jagielka, Scott Dann, Scott Parker. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.