By Tony Attwood
Now that it has been confirmed in such an overt manner that the owner of Arsenal is not putting any more money into the club and is merely interested in taking money out, the blogs have finally got the message. Publishing ever more expansive lists of players Arsenal are going to buy isn’t convincing the punters that the purchases will happen. Loans and sales are the order of the day.
And so we have the latest story in the media: Ozil is up for sale either simply to raise money or because the manager doesn’t like his style of play, or both.
But that is perhaps not the most frightening aspect of the current situation, for the implication is that this is not just a temporary issue, but is a reflection of how it is going to be from now on. Arsenal is primarily to be a source of income for the owner. And if the club’s profit is to be achieved through cost cutting, so be it.
In one very real sense this is not so different from the situation that Mr Wenger had to deal with during the period of paying for the building of Arsenal stadium: the club clearly at that stage had to live within its means. But it is a problem for those fans who took at face value the comments that were made by the hierarchy that with the stadium paid for, Arsenal were now in the big money league when it came to transfers and could compete with the big boys.
Which is not to say that people like Mr Gazidis deliberately lied; quite possibly they were initially saying what the previous board was saying, and then not being given a different message by the new owner. It is only now that we are seeing the reality of what a Kroenke led club looks like. Profit for the owner first, success for the club second.
And all this at a time when there seems to be no stopping the spending power of Manchester City, no matter what stories circulate about their activities off the pitch.
But Mr Wenger dealt with this sort of privation, and famously kept Arsenal in the Champions League for 19 consecutive seasons, which was a major source of the income needed. And so it looks like we might need this again.
So how can it be done?
Certainly finding bargain players was one of Mr Wenger’s trademarks. Players picked out of obscurity who were given enough games to become great players who either then repeatedly delivered for Arsenal on the pitch, or who eventually were sold on at a significant profit. Or indeed in some cases, both.
Partly also there was also the ability Mr Wenger had of being able to build a team step by step with the purchase (for example) not just of Henry but also Pires. Each not just individually great players but also players who could work together in ways that we had rarely seen before at Arsenal. Players who wanted to adapt their game for each other rather than feeling that they were being forced into new tactics which were not natural to them.
Mr Emery clearly seems to have some of this ability too: Torreira at £26m looks to have been a fantastic buy, and Guendouzi appears to have been an utter steal – an unknown plucked from a minor club for next to nothing – a transfer that has Wenger written all over it, and yet was arranged by the new manager. So on those grounds we can certainly have hope for the future. I’d also give a very positive rating to Sokratis and Leno, so it seems that when the money is there Mr Emery knows where the deals are.
For Mr Wenger there was also the approach of insisting that a new Academy centre was built so that youngsters would be attracted to Arsenal. This vision still stands, and indeed has been enhanced by the fact that Arsenal have never been implicated in the sort of dealings with youngsters that have marred the reputation of Liverpool and Manchester City of late, and resulted in them being banned from transfers involving young players.
But the biggest difference, it seems to me, is that when Mr Wenger came to Arsenal, expectations were very modest. In the five seasons leading up to his appointment at Arsenal, the club had come 4th, 10th, 4th, 12th, 5th in the League.
True, in the second and third of those years we had won the League Cup and FA Cup double, and then the Cup Winners Cup, and this had very much kept the positive feeling alive, especially since the feeling that the FA Cup was not really a trophy to be cherished, had not yet come about.
But that descent to 12th (which was not just the position at the end of the season but also the position that the club were in at the time the George Graham scandal broke and he was dismissed) suggested that major changes were needed. As did the fact that in the entire season Arsenal only won six home games. (Can you imagine that today: six home wins all season!!!)
And there was also the fact (oft forgotten by those who did not sit through the whole season watching it) that in 1992/3 Arsenal played 42 league games and scored just 40 goals, their lowest total since 1923/4 when the club was managed by the notoriously awful Leslie Knighton, and just missed relegation. Indeed these two seasons (1924 and 1993) were the worst in goal scoring Arsenal ever had in playing 42 league games. (Maybe the memory is still with me, for then as now I had a season ticket and sat through the lot. No wonder we always went to the pub before each game.)
So Mr Wenger coped through the years of no money and used his tactical ability, his ability to spot players who were under-performing elsewhere, his visions of how players could play in combination, and his insight into which youngsters could turn into star performers, to give us a club that had success, without using vast amounts of money.
Now Mr Emery needs all these same skills – and that is one hell of an ask. But that is not all, because besides needing all the skills that Mr Wenger famously brought to Arsenal, he has to do it against a background of the spending power of Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool: spending power which is way ahead of Arsenal’s under the approach of the new owner.
To achieve this, while the owner takes his dividends, is going to be incredibly difficult, and if Mr Emery manages it, he is certainly going to be worthy of the title of being one of Arsenal’s greatest managers. If not, it is going to tough for all of us, I fear.
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