Arsenal is THE English club in the spot light at the moment, they were once the dominating force in Britain but now are struggling for a top four finish.
George Graham, a former manager at the club, lays their decline down to three points – players sold have not been properly replaced, a lack of ambition among the Club hierarchy and their wage structure is too balanced. All three elements effects one key thing- the ability to acquire top class players.
Wenger has received plenty of criticism over the course of the past two seasons and throughout last summer that once again saw two of Arsenal’s best performers depart the Emirates. This leads to Graham’s first and most important point:
1. The players sold have not been properly replaced.
Wenger had big plans to build a world conquering squad through the development of young, talented stars bought for a fraction of the price they will be worth in the future or through their academy.
The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Alex Song, Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri, Mathieu Flamini (and almost Theo Walcott) have left for ‘silver’ pastures over the years despite Wenger’s original intentions during the Emirates build.
Since many of these players departed, plus Adebayor and Toure, there have been less than adequate replacements brought in. Basically ‘poor man’ versions than what was available on the market. Eg: Gervinho instead of Hazard, no-one instead of Mata. There are some exceptions, Vermaelen and Arteta have been successful buys plus some new youngsters, but the rest have either been a waste of time or failed to live up to expectation.
“It’s down to one, basic thing,” Graham explained to Sport magazine. “The players over the past few seasons coming into the club are not of the same quality as the players that have left.
“Look at the famous team of a few years ago, Arsène’s team that won three league championships, four FA Cups and played the kind of phenomenal attacking football the likes of which we’d never seen in Britain before. You had Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit in midfield, an outstanding defence, plus wonderful forwards in Bergkamp, Henry, [Marc] Overmars and [Robert] Pires. Many of those bought at bargain prices, by the way, and Arsène developed them into world-class players. That’s not happening now.”
Arsenal’s midfield is now finally potent and creative, however it still lacks a Vieira-esk beast behind the dangerous, attacking minded midfielders of Cazorla and Wilshere. Don’t even get me started on the strikers, the backline also needs some serious reconsideration.
Last summer marked a slightly different approach for once with some high calibre, established internationals coming in the form of Cazorla and Podolski but they were long awaited replacements for Nasri and Fabregas. Giroud was never going to fill the boots of Van Persie and Arteta should never have been Song’s cover.
2. The Club’s balanced wage bill
It does not sound like it should be an issue, Arsenal’s young, up and coming starlets are paid handsomely for showing potential, but Arsenal’s top earners are barely breaking £80-90k a week compared to double that at Manchester City.
It gets freaky when Arsenal’s wage bill of £143m is reported as the fourth highest in the Premier League. At just £17m less than Manchester United, it speaks volumes of the amount they pay players such as Squillaci, Djourou, Chamakh and Arshavin large amounts, while United can afford to shell out £200k a week for Van Persie and Rooney.
According to George Graham: “There’s people at Arsenal who’ve got to look at themselves and ask if the wage structure is right. They don’t seem to be getting rid of what I call squad players, because they’re on fantastic salaries.”
Arsenal seem to pay handsome wages to all rather than fork out large sums for certain individuals to create a more equal dressing room.
It is to this detriment that the Gunners struggle to match other club’s wages and find it hard to acquire the best players available, and get rid of others that just ride their lucrative deals along to their expiry.
3. Lack of ambition
Something that has been troubling many Gooners over the past few years is the inability to fight with the Premier League heavy weights for the title. Sure they’re still up there, but it has been some years since they have actually looked like winning anything, not to mention the calamity that was the 2011 Carling Cup final.
Wenger’s statement that coming fourth in England is ‘like a trophy’ did little to inspire fans that this club has ambition, and consequently Van Persie left, the rest is history.
While George Graham is an admirer of the current Arsenal boss he still feels the manager has a part to play in it, and questions must be asked of the entire Arsenal hierarchy.
“If they don’t finish in the top four this season, which I think they still could well do – actually, that wouldn’t surprise me… but if they don’t, they have big decisions to make.” Graham said.
“Sometimes, when you’re trying to get to a target and you fall short of that, it’s not too bad. If you’re trying to win the Premier League and you finish second or third, you’ll still qualify for Europe. But if your aim is just to get into the top four, and you don’t do that, you’re going to be fifth or sixth. That’s not good enough for a club like Arsenal. There’s a lot of people who’ve got to take a look at themselves this summer.”
Have to admit Graham’s got it pretty much bang on. This summer is perhaps their most important. No invaluable players will be leaving, only coming in (touchwood). Both Arshavin and Squillaci will free up substantial wage funds with their contracts expiring, and with a decent transfer kitty it can only be positive.
Wenger’s contract expires in 2014, so next season is make or break for him also. Do you agree with Graham’s thoughts? Feel free to comment below..