Would Arsene Wenger have been better suited to a smaller club?

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 04 May 2018, 12:40

IT’S hard to even think it but maybe Arsene Wenger wasn’t the right man for Arsenal all along.

He certainly doesn’t look it now as preparations get underway for his final home game on Sunday after 22 years leading the club through thick, thin and ultimately thinner.

Wenger deserves to be carried off the pitch shoulder high when the final whistle blows at the Emirates Stadium. For all the downs and ups he has punched well above his weight in terms of spending compared to Arsenal’s great rivals.

While the Frenchman appears the embodiment of Arsenal’s lofty and artistic view of themselves, it is that which is precisely the gnawing issue at the heart of their problems.

And the sad fact about it all is that there is no place up in the stratosphere of modern football for someone who equates entertainment with winning without the finances to go with it.

Manchester City have raced away with this year’s Premier League title and at times have played spectacular stuff. Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling the epitome of a brand of football known as ‘FIFA’ for its outrageous skill and dexterity.

But it’s come at a huge price in the transfer market. A price that really rubs everybody else up the wrong way.

Wenger was allowed to break Arsenal’s spending record this season with a £56 million deal for the wayward striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Before that the biggest was £46m for Alexandre Lacazette and £42m for Mezut Ozil in 2013. That’s small change compared to City who have spent bigger and will continue doing so.

Wenger has produced teams which have won trophies from time to time and at occasionally had audiences on their feet. But he hasn’t been able to do both consistently.

The demands of fans at the most expensively-priced club in the land, coupled with Arsenal’s own historical status as a major player meant Wenger has always been pulled in opposite directions – and he is caught in the middle between pragmatism and his principles.

Wenger’s one-time arch enemy Jose Mourinho has no qualms about grinding out results, neither does Antonio Conte and both are serial winners.

All of which makes you think perhaps Wenger would have been better suited all along at a smaller club where putting trophies in cabinets isn’t so much of a job requirement.

Imagine what he could have done at West Ham, Leicester, Newcastle?

Those teams would be packing ‘em in every home game if the team was allowed to go out and play with freedom, exempt from the relentless scrutiny that championship winners have to put up with.

When Wenger took over Arsenal in October 1996, the previous season they had finished 12th amid in-fighting between the players and his predecessor Bruce Rioch, a widespread drinking culture and indifferent results.

The gangly, bespectacled French professor sobered Arsenal up and for a time the team did well with clear heads.

But as the gradual but steadily mushrooming influence of money took hold, Arsenal fell away while Wenger’s early successes ended up becoming a rod for his own back because he wasn’t able to fight on two fronts anymore.

Less than 24 hours after Arsenal’s final European exit under Wenger, the story is emerging that the club is on the brink of signing young, Turkish defender Caglar Soyuncu from German side Freiburg.

Sounds like another cut-price prospect, another gamble. Same old Arsenal.

Manchester City are able to produce gee-whizz football and win stuff but nobody can really work out how they can spend so much when clubs like Chelsea are terrified of financial fair play rules.

But they do and the rest have to get on with it and try to catch up. Arsenal are heading for a seismic shift in culture when the next manager walks through the door.

Thrill-a-minute or a dogmatic pursuit of trophies and with it all that extra money? No prizes for guessing.

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Michael Jolley
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15th November
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