There is a tale told in The Blizzard of Wenger’s obsession with football. Speaking with author Nick Hornby, of Fever Pitch fame, Wenger asked why he had not written anything further after the aforementioned book. Hornby was obviously confused, having gone on to write after Fever Pitch’s publication. The breakdown in Wenger’s knowledge of Hornby’s output had in fact come from Wenger not understanding the breadth of Hornby’s work. For him it was odd for an author on football to write of anything else.
Wenger is an author on football, and it is his belief that his pen must write poetry. The problem, however, is that Wenger’s poems have become overwrought, ununderstandable and his metaphors don’t work, much like this one. Wenger’s original Arsenal was a symbiosis of the old and new, with the success of the new coming from scouting systems and looking where others didn’t, and the success of the old coming from the implementation of his own ideas on football. Gone were the habits of old, and in their place came scientific advancements that brought the best out of old legs.
Sadly for Wenger, every football club worth their salt has a sports science department these days. Diets are constructed down to the most minute of details everywhere. Every top-level football club, at least those competing with Arsenal for honours, if not further down the league as well, have scouting outposts throughout the world. There are no longer many obvious bargains to be found in other countries that can be easily pilfered – this is why the signing of Michu gained such plaudits. It is rare these days that an unknown can actually be poached on the cheap, because it is rare these days that there are unknowns. Anyone worth knowing about is known about.
The reality is that Wenger has become both manager and Director of Football, and has complete control over the philosophy of Arsenal football club. The problem is that the style he seeks to implement is an emulation of certain other clubs, and not really one that is suited for the grind of the Premier League. Obviously the current Barcelona side would win the Premier League with ease most years, but witness the collapse of Arsenal in the face of any pressure. It only takes one mistake for them to fall apart. It is no coincidence that their best performances this season have come when a game is already almost out of hand.
Tactically Arsenal tend to be all over the place, therefore, with very little forward thrust and a defence that is often as strong as a piece of felt. They can retain the ball forever, but often fail to penetrate and can be destroyed at the whims of certain opposition. Wenger’s two prodigious talents, his eye for a footballer worth signing, and a modern outlook on training, have been implemented everywhere else. His lack of willingness to spend means those he has spotted (and have no doubt he has spotted them, given the reported rate with which he consumes football matches) end up elsewhere, even when they are exactly what Arsenal need.
Wenger needs to evolve his own thoughts and understand that he needs to spend to succeed, capturing the players he requires before other clubs do. He also needs to understand that the tried and tested is no longer enough – there are now others out there who do what he does and did better than him. If he does not, it is probably time for Arsenal to seek a new manager, because even though he is an icon of the club and has done enough to go down in history there, times have moved on and he hasn’t.
Follow Amitai Winehouse on Twitter (@awinehouse1).