Arsenal: Only Arsene Wenger can get Arsenal back to the top
It has been a tough time for Arsenal fans over recent years, hopeful periods slowly being outnumbered by disaster periods. As a Manchester United reporter and fan, I'd like to give my opinion on all the hate pointed towards Arsene Wenger.
First of all, rival fans around the world would celebrate the departure of Wenger. No, it's not because we dislike the man, but because he has an irresistible football philosophy and the ability to bring the best out of emerging players. If anyone believes Arsenal will suddenly get better without Le Professeur, they are thinking with their heart and not with their head.
But let's first look at some reasons to doubt the Frenchman. Though he had amazing results at the beginning of his reign, he did inherit the spine of a fantastic side. That beautiful balance of strength, desire and skill. People will say he has yet to replace Patrick Vieira but I believe he hasn't replaced the likes of Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Lee Dixon. Perhaps with skill and maybe defensive ability, but they haven't replaced the leadership and heart.
Building on that, I believe Wenger hasn't replaced the leadership that Adams brought to the squad. A real warrior who led the team with the strength of his heart and desire. A man that other players could get behind and a man that teammates would look to emulate in terms of his desire to win. Though they have shown good leadership, players like Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas did their talking with ball at feet and did not prove to be the voice among the players that Wenger has needed at certain times since he last won a trophy.
Whether it was in cup finals or late in the season, Arsenal have either lacked the winning mentality or have faded away.
Of course, this can be put down to the average age of each Gunners side since 2005. I remember in 2006 and 2007 everyone telling me to beware of Arsenal. A collection of talented youngsters who will be capable of dominating world football for generations. I laughed then and I laugh now. I'm not an Arsenal fan so excuse me, but the way Wenger and Ferguson integrate young talent into a side has one key difference. Manchester United have always had old heads around the dressing room. A real blend. A group of players in their early twenties, late twenties and mid thirties.
Young players coming in have to earn their way into the first team, with guidance from the senior players. Even the "kids" of 95/96 had the likes of Steve Bruce and Eric Cantona. There's also been the signings older players like Teddy Sheringham and Laurent Blanc; something that seems forbidden in Wenger's mind. Sir Alex has always aimed at having a good balance within the United squad. I can't say the same for this current Arsenal side.
But the biggest topic I see surrounding Arsenal is the way they spend their money. Arsenal have recently moved to a new stadium and continue to spend wisely, if at all, in the transfer market. I wouldn't encourage a Manchester City-like spending spree. In fact, I admire the way Wenger has kept Arsenal in good financial shape and hope other clubs can follow without sacrificing competitiveness.
I believe, the biggest problem comes from the youth policy. Where the young players within the squad and academy are given a higher priority than they would elsewhere. This would impact the way Wenger targets players during transfer windows. He can't bring in anyone who could hamper the development of one his star youth players. But he can't spend a massive fee, plus the astronomical wages, to bring in an absolute superstar. So, all he can do his play his younger players, wait for them to develop and hope they can replace the likes of Tony Adams or Dennis Bergkamp.
Despite the lack of spending, Arsene Wenger has been able to get the best out of his squad each season. He has been unlucky in having injuries to certain players on a consistent basis. With the likes of Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky out for very long periods. Had they, and many others, been fit more often than not, Arsenal would be a completely different side. Nevertheless, Wenger and his brilliant coaching style has been able to get the results required to keep Arsenal financially competitive via the income from the Champions League.
Without Arsene Wenger, I can only see Arsenal getting worse. Firstly, there are many current Arsenal players who signed for the team purely because of the way Wenger sets up his team and the way he gives opportunities to young players. There's a good chance that players could follow him out the club in search of more silverware, or purely to continue playing under him with another club. Following that, the lure of Arsenal weakens and signing new players, both young and experienced, will be much more difficult.
Let's face it, there's not that much lure to Arsenal nowadays anyway. Top players demand high salaries, Arsenal can't offer that. You want to sign players with a winning mentality, but players with such ambitions would rather play elsewhere - Robin Van Persie for example. So what's the upside of playing for Arsenal?
Trophies? Well on recent evidence, a star player would have many other options if they were that ambitious. Champions league football? WIth so many teams in the elite club competition, it's not difficult to find a club that plays against Europe's best on a yearly basis and it's not impossible for Arsenal to fail in qualifying for next year's competition. History? Well, we just need to look at Liverpool.
Therefore, the one thing that Arsenal can offer right now, is a world class manager with a world class football philosophy.
In the end, take away Arsene and Arsenal can only go down. A new manager could spend more, but at the moment, there are so many better options for the star players of world football to choose from. It may be a case of following the Liverpool route down the table to become stronger in the future. But I believe the one man to rescue Arsenal from their current slumber is Arsene Wenger.
As a United fan, I'd much rather see him retire back to France. But for the good of football, it would be better for him to stay and get Arsenal back up to where they belong and for Wenger to leave the game on a high, much like the way he entered the English game.
Calling all Arsenal fans: Do you agree with Soohwan's views? Is Wenger the only reason players would consider joining Arsenal? Is Wenger the only man who can get Arsenal back to challenging for honours or he is the reason the Gunners haven't won a trophy in recent seasons? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.