Today a guest post from Muppet. written on New Years day
We are top and I must admit I didn’t expect to be top. Whenever I consider Arsenal and Wenger, it’s difficult to do so whilst being as objective and impartial as possible. The fear is that one will upset people who feel they have been badly let down in the past. If the manager is over praised, a reminder of previous failures will come your way. The failure to win the title in 2013-2014 after being top at Xmas. The brilliant team of 2007-2008, ultimately falling short for the title. The present incumbents, labelled “bottlers” after a 4-0 hammering at Southampton.
But we are top, and top despite some clubs spending obscene money. Ok, so Leceister are with us too, but our points tally of 81 points in the calendar year shows consistency over a longer period. The test is to sustain that consistency now through to May. The media have predictably shifted the narrative for this. If we do not finish top, then it will be labelled as a Wenger failure. Never mind that some teams will have woefully underperformed by then, spending hundreds of millions on players who may ultimately prove to be a case of diminishing returns. The media spin is now of a title arriving in 2016 being our only chance because another chance won’t arrive for 10 years (Carragher).
For those who have accepted the progress in the last few years, this year is confirmation that solid foundations and the policies of Wenger and the club are the way forward. Yes, there is a massive correlation between spending and trophies in recent years, but there is an argument that the spending now is not focussed in the hands of 3 of 4 clubs, but is spread in a league where the middle of the row club is able to bring in quality (Stoke, Shaqiri) for a price, or even to unearth quality on a shoestring (,Mahrez Leciester). If this is the case, then the league is now even more about maximising the resources at ones disposal, providing added value. If you agree with that, then who better than Wenger at the helm ?
I have always argued that Wenger with money would be a frightening prospect for all the other teams to content with. This is despite some setbacks in some of the earlier acquisitions from 2011/2012, when we started to bring in more commercial revenue, and started spending comparatively more on transfers than in recent years. Here the transfers of Santos, Eisfeld, Park Chu-Young and Gervinho attracted a lot of criticism. During that season though we did bring in Ox, Per, Joel Campbell and Arteta. The following season saw Monreal, Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski arrive. Podolski of course, a fine finisher, was eventually pushed out of the club because he didn’t do enough for the team. 2013/14 saw Ozil come in, and the following year Sanchez, Gabriel, Chambers, Debuchy and Welbeck. Regarding the earlier acquisitions, although Wenger has bought in some players that did not work out, he still has a massive success rate and does so at a price that is sustainable. My argument has always been – watch what he does with even more money at his disposal. He can spot a player, and knows quality when he sees it. He also knows how a player should fit into the squad. Carragher’s comment that other clubs will catch up is something that is understandable, given their resources, but unless they have a manager like Wenger, they will have to spend huge sums of money, as City have been doing in recent years, to secure the title.
The anti-Wenger narrative (yes still with us, having heard in a podcast 2 weeks ago) is that the recent success of the 2 FA Cups and wins against the big clubs is down to Wenger “Change”. My riposte to this is to point out the demise of Manchester United and Chelsea in the league this year and last 2 (in the case of Man U), and even the failure of City to go beyond the quarter finals of the Champions League year on year, despite having a squad worth 500 million euros. During the period of 2005 to 2014 – the so called failure, we finished 3rd 4 times and 4th 6 times. But in the champions league, reached the final once, semi final once, quarter finals twice, and R16 6 times. When we reached the last 16, on four occassions we have faced Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Of course, we also have won back to back FA Cups, but I can’t help think that it isn’t a massive coincidence that this success correlates very highly with our transfer spend (not net) in recent years (£53m 2011/2012, £52m 2012/2013, £42m 2013/2014, £95m 2014/2015). The depicition of this period, 2005-2014, as a failure, and the labelling of Wenger as the stubborn one who is now embracing change, brings me to a fury. To me, the results over this period, demonstrate some of the finest management ever seen in english football. Why ? Because we never finished below a team who had lesser resources than us, finished every year above our north london rivals and mainly above Liverpool, qualified for the champions league, and reached the last 16 (and beyond) in every season. We had diabolical, perpetual and consistent injuries (Rosicky, Diaby, Van Persie), refused to play dirty and at times still played scintillating football on a net transfer spend budget.
But now we look forward to the current title run in. If we get injured players back, it will surely strengthen us. The impending arrival of El-Nenny is good news. Word is that we are after at least one other. Hopefully Coquelin, Welbeck and Wilshere will come back in February, and Cazorla in late February.. Can we win the league ? There are tough fixtures to come, Liverpool, Man U, Man City and Stoke away. Wenger has said that we are in need of players, and will be “busy”, which is unprecedented I think, in January. What is he up to ? Is it an acknowledgement that the physical demands of the run-in in turn demands reinforcements because of injuries, or is he shopping early because Flamini and Rosicky won’t be extended, and possibly Arteta ? It is intriguing and calls for speculation as, unfortunately, we are not in possession of the facts.
Still, exciting times. Happy new year to all.