In 1843 Charles Dickens presented ‘A Christmas Carol,’ to the world, where three ghosts show Ebenezer Scrooge his past, present and future in order to highlight the error of his miserly ways. One hundred and seventy years later the story remains as relevant as ever, especially when it is applied to the context of a certain premier league manager; Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal manager has had to shoulder a fair amount of criticism over the years; penny pinching in the transfer market, sticking to a flawed system on the pitch and to not being ambitious enough when it comes to winning silverware. So with the Christmas Premier League fixtures fast approaching let’s consider if Arsene Wenger were visited by three ghosts who hold a mirror up to his past, present and future would he learn anything or would it indeed teach us anything about the great man?
The Ghost of Christmas Past
Arsene Wenger built his reputation in the Premier League on the early success of cup and league doubles and the ‘Invincibles,’ season. Central to this success was Wenger’s skill in finding raw talent, purchasing them for a relatively small fee and transforming them into marquee players. Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry being examples. Over the last decade this prowess hasn’t been as evident, as Wenger has had to re-build his side on numerous occasions as these players departed for the promise of lucrative contracts and silverware elsewhere. The notion that Wenger has footballs next superstar waiting in the wings appears to be a myth. In the last two seasons Arsenal have released a total of twenty-five players. Many of these players were simply not up to the standard of the premier league. During the same period league rivals Newcastle F.C. signed no less than five French players including future Gunner; Mathieu Debuchy for a combined fee of just under eighteen million. Those signings heralded a resurgence in Newcastle fortunes that season. It appeared Wenger was being outperformed in the transfer market. If the Ghost of Christmas Past can teach us anything it’ that history has a habit of repeating itself. Another barren season may result in the break- up of the current team. In any such case Wenger needs to rediscover his know how in the transfer market in order to challenge for the title again.
The Ghost of Christmas Present
A common complaint amongst Arsenal fans is that their team lack the steel to win league titles. Wenger has built recent teams around technically gifted players, but many fans point out that Mikel Arteta although a competent footballer is not the natural successor to the likes of Patrick Vieira. Arsenal fans have been calling for years for a defensive midfielder to be purchased as the clubs quest for silverware continues largely unfulfilled. The problem may not be a physical issue but rather a question of mental strength.
Wenger could do well in enlisting the help of a good sports psychologist to assist with building the mental resolve in his players for facing the big teams in the premier league. In Wenger’s one thousandth match as Arsenal manager his team capitulated in a 6-0 thumping from Chelsea. They also came out losers against Manchester United at home this season in a match they should have won and who can forget the 5-1 hammering Arsenal received at Anfield in February 2014. There is no doubt that Arsenal are one of the most attractive footballing sides to watch but they really struggle when big teams prevent them from playing in their normal style. It’s also evident when the team play sides like Stoke that the Arsenal players do not have the resolve to find a way to win. Perhaps the most influential signing Wenger could make this January would be a sports psychologist.
The Ghost of Christmas Future
Wenger has, for many years enjoyed, almost unquestionable loyalty from Arsenal fans, but a recent 3-2 loss to Stoke has demonstrated that the relationship with some of the fans has soured, with a certain fraction of Arsenal fans wanting Wenger ousted. Speculation has been rife as to who would be Wenger’s replacement. Some point to Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp who employed Wenger style methods to guide his youthful team to successive Bundesliga titles. However Klopp – like Wenger – has had to deal with his marquee players leaving the club and is currently battling relegation in the Bundesliga. Some suggest that the current German National manager Joachim Low is a manager in a similar mould to Wenger; he certainly enhanced his CV this year when Germany won the world cup. However a serious question mark hangs over his limited club management credentials. The question about Low remains; is he a successful manager or a cog in a very successful system? This option doesn’t seem to be all that great, perhaps Arsenal already have the best manager for the club. I don’t think anyone can ever fully quantify what Arsene Wenger has done for Arsenal or football in England, as a whole. Sometimes when you really appreciate something or someone you have to accept them with their flaws. Perhaps the message for Arsenal fans this Christmas is as stark as ever; be thankful for what you have and trust in Wenger.