Arsene Wenger has already gone down in Premier League history as one of the most influential coaches ever to grace the English game. In the past 19 years he has transformed Arsenal into one of the world’s most valuable clubs, selling out a 60,000 capacity seater stadium week in and week out.
However, over the past five years in particular, there have been some murmurs amongst a small section of fans that think Arsenal should be doing better and should be competing more in the transfer market. That small section of murmurs has grown louder in the past two seasons, the tide now seemingly turning into disgruntlement with pre-arranged stadium walk outs adhered to by a section of the fan base last season.
The question is, should there be such widespread restlessness given what Arsene has done for the club, or is it truly time for change in the red part of North London?
Arsene Wenger was appointed Arsenal manager officially back in October 1996 following Bruce Rioch’s distasteful falling out with the Arsenal hierarchy. It was a move that was met with a fair few raised eyebrows as a widely unknown Frenchman was given one of English football’s top jobs. There was even a famous Independent newspaper headline in September ‘96 “Arsene Who?”
It didn’t take long for the British public to find out who Arsene ‘le professeur’ Wenger was and what he is all about, completing the League and FA Cup double within two years, ending a six year spell without a league title.
Arsene Wenger is credited by many as a true innovator, and someone who changed the English game more than any other previous manager. He brought to England a brand new way of working, a new way of looking at football with much more focus on science.
He used sports nutritionists to work on each player’s diet with the aim of making his team fitter and more efficient. In the early days this was often to the dismay of some of the more traditional senior players such as Tony Adams and Ray Parlour, where the football culture often involved booze, partying and other vices.
However, Arsene’s techniques soon caught on and the use of sports scientists, sports statisticians along with new training techniques turned Arsenal into a huge force in English football, going head to head with Manchester United for many years to come.
In his tenure at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger has won three Premier League titles, six FA Community Shields and six FA Cups putting him alongside George Ramsay as the most successful manager in the competition’s history.
More impressively however was the season of 2004 where Arsene oversaw ‘The Invincibles’. A team that stayed undefeated for the entire season; a feat only seen 114 years earlier by Preston North End. This great Arsenal team also beat Nottingham Forest’s record of 42 games undefeated, taking the record to 49 only to be sunk by Wayne Rooney and Manchester United before they could reach the golden 50. These two achievements alone put him in the legendary status, a triumph that may never be seen again.
Aside from the sports science Arsene brought to the game, he also brought an extensive scouting network and managed to consistently find world class players for very little money.
In 1996, Arsenal signed Patrick Vieira for £3.5m from AC Milan. This was a key sign that Arsene was going to join the club, with Viera going on to become club captain and a true Premier League great.
In 1997 Nicolas Anelka was signed from PSG for just £500,000 and sold to Real Madrid for £22.5 million just two years later. In the same year Arsene signed Marc Overmars from Ajax for £5.5 million who was sold to Barcelona in 2000 for £25 million.
The great Thierry Henry was signed from Juventus in 1999 for £11 million, a fee which now looks an absolute bargain with Henry going on to become one of the best players in the world.
In 2000 Arsenal signed Robert Pires from Marseille for only £6m, and a year later managed to prise Sol Campbell away from North London rivals Tottenham on a free transfer. All these players became fan favourites at the club helping the team to domestic success. We’ve still not mentioned Fabregas signing for £500,000, Kolo Toure for £150,000 and the prolific Robin Van Persie signing for £2.5m in 2004.
This really was the Arsene Wenger heyday; a time where he could do no wrong, winning six trophies in his first five years.
In the summer of 2006, Wenger oversaw Arsenal’s relocation from the famous Highbury stadium to a new and exciting 60,000 seater stadium, the Emirates. Whilst the stadium was in construction, Wenger pronounced the move as “vital” to the club’s financial future, believing Arsenal would be better equipped to attract the best players from around the world. However, the move had presented several problems, as the club prioritised financing the new stadium over the team. It has been used as a reason or excuse, whichever way you read it, as to why the club hasn’t been able to compete with Europe’s elite in the transfer market. Yet, ten years later, we find ourselves hearing the same regurgitated excuse for lack of transfer parity in relation to the club’s size. It’s at this point where the Wenger story takes a dark decline.
We have just approached the 13th season since Arsenal last won the league, a statistic that seemed an impossibility when Arsenal went the whole season undefeated.
It seems, since the move to the Emirates, the club has plateaued. It is merely making up the numbers in the Premier League and has fallen short in the Champions League, a trophy that still eludes the club. Since Arsenal last won the Premier league in 2004, they have finished 4th six times, 3rd four times and 2nd only twice.
This is not the Arsenal the fans had gotten used to in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, especially considering the high turnover the new stadium has brought to them.
Arsenal’s ownership is considerably different from that of other football clubs. Arsenal Holdings plc operates as a non-quoted public limited company. Only around 62,000 shares in Arsenal have been issued and they are not traded on a public exchange. Instead, they are traded relatively infrequently on a specialist market (ICAP Securities and Derivatives Exchange). Earlier this year, a single share in Arsenal had a mid-price of over £15,000, which sets the club’s market capitalisation value just shy of £1 billion.
Brand Finance, a specialist brand consultancy, valued the club’s brand and intangible assets at $703m in 2015, and consider Arsenal a global brand.
Forbes magazine valued Arsenal as a whole at £1.4 billion this year, ranked second in English football below Manchester United.
The Deloitte Football Money League put Arsenal’s footballing revenue at £331m, ranking Arsenal seventh among world football clubs. Match day revenue generated by the Emirates Stadium is recorded at £100.4m per season, more than any other football stadium in the world. Considering the Emirates holds over 15,000 fewer seats than Old Trafford and nearly 40,000 fewer than Camp Nou, it goes to show the high prices the Arsenal faithful have to pay to see their team play. This is another factor that seems to irk fans.
Courtesy of Deloitte Football Money League 2016.
What this shows is something we already know: Arsenal are a huge club and should sit at the table with the other European elite’s with regards to trophies and transfer activity.
This, however, just hasn’t happened, and seems that it’s not the clubs inability to compete financially that is holding the club back, but Arsene’s old school thinking of getting ‘value’ in the transfer market, expecting to find jewels like Anelka and Fabregas of years past.
In a recent interview, Arsene said “Last season shows it’s not necessarily the club who invests the most that does the best. Football is not a financial Competition. Finances don’t always reflect. Leicester have shown that.”
Arsene seems to be using the Leicester story as proof that his transfer methods and beliefs all these years are justified. To an extent he would be right in his comment however, let’s not forget that last season was a complete freak, a one off which may not happen again for many years to come.
When you compare Arsenal’s spending over the past six seasons you see a stark contrast when compared to the traditional top four teams.
In the past six years Arsenal have spent just under £300m on transfers, averaging £50m per year. When you compare that to Chelsea who spend on average £90m per year, United who average £97m per year and Man City who average £104m per year, it’s no wonder Arsenal fans feel they are lagging behind. In actual fact, over the past six seasons, Arsenal have spent less than 50% of the money on transfers as Man City. With Man City only one place ahead of them in the Deloitte Football Money League, the numbers just don’t seem to stack up.
Whilst it should be noted that Arsenal have remained consistent if not spectacular over that time period, spending just over half as much on transfers as Man United, some could say they are actually seeing a decent return for the money that is being spent.
Therein is the major problem Arsenal have, a lack of ruthless competitiveness to be the best club in the country and Europe.
Arsenal have had a major advantage over the other traditional top four clubs in recent years which is continuity. Whilst others have seen managers come and go, along with back room staff and new squads of players, Arsenal should have seen this as an opportunity to stake some dominance in the league. Arsene should use competitor’s transitions as an opportunity to build depth in an already settled environment, but Arsene hasn’t done that. Last season saw Chelsea capitulate, United way off the pace, Liverpool not competing and Man City out of ideas. It was the perfect season for Arsene to end the 12 year Premier League drought. Instead he only spent £15m last season, £10m of that on a goalkeeper and the rest on a mediocre midfielder who will not contribute towards a Premier League title. Arsene should have seen the weakness in other clubs and pounced, like Sir Alex would have done, and like Jose Mourinho would do now.
Arsene has been a great servant to the club especially the legacy he will leave when he finally hangs up his puffer coat, but three Premier League titles in 19 years just isn’t good enough. His early success has now been blighted by years of indecision, failed transfers -Riyad Mahrez being the most recent, and slow reaction to the squad’s needs. This now sees him walking a very fine line with even the most loyal of fans. There should be no excuses with regards to financial incompetence in the transfer market for the 7th wealthiest club in football. Arsene should be instilling a swag like confidence in his players and fans given the financial muscle they do have. Instead, he seems to be happy with the long odds, happy to try to find that rough diamond once again and happy to be merely in the mix.
Whilst I feel like I’m writing a footballing obituary, come the end of the season it very well may be the case.