The Premier League Owl debates whether the current perception of Arsene Wenger’s side is incorrect, and believes that they are in fact over-achieving.
Before anyone gets upset, let me contextualise that title; Arsenal have the resources to be better than they are, they have the fanbase to support their ambition, and they have a manager who knows his way to a Premier League title – but, with the players currently at the club, they are probably punching above their weight.
This is one of the principle frustrations which Arsene Wenger, and the principal ambiguity of his recent time in North London: if he can achieve what he is with an under-talented squad, think of what he could do if he opened the infamous ‘transfer warchest’ that supposedly sits gathering dust in his office.
Ok, so Arsenal aren’t actually under-talented, but compare their personnel with the teams around them. Net-spends and wage-bills don’t interest me, I’m more concerned with the actual talent available – and as such, both Manchester clubs, Chelsea and arguably Tottenham all have squads which are more densely populated with match-winners.
There are good players at Arsenal, but there are none who would comfortably make it into a theoretical Premier League dream-team – and that’s a key difference between Wenger’s side and the five other teams which sit around them. Jack Wilshere is a very good player who may develop into an outstanding one, Santi Cazorla is extremely talented, but beyond that there’s really just a mixture of players who either frustrate with sporadic good form (Walcott, Vermaelen, Podolski), are too injury-prone to be as influential as they should be (Rosicky, Gibbs), or who just aren’t that good.
Both sides of the ‘Wenger in/Wenger out’ debate have substantial backing, and neither camp is going to back down from their core convictions about the Frenchman’s failings or merits – obviously. What confuses the issue, though, is the manager’s ability to do more with less. The team, as it is, should not be qualifying for the Champions League next season – but, on the basis that Tottenham’s self-destructive tendencies will almost certainly continue, they will. Again.
Everyone’s aware of Wenger’s shortcomings in the transfer market, but even that issue is blurred. If there was a tangible product of that failure – Europa League football – then there would be far more basis for criticism. But that’s not the case, and Arsenal – despite not logically having the quality to do so – probably occupy the exact spot in the table which fits the size of their club.
What has, and continues to work against Wenger, are the ghosts of the past and the teams he created during a different era of the Premier League. Chelsea were not what they now are, and Manchester City were still a punchline around the concourses at Old Trafford; it was different. The league title was achievable, and not as fantastical as it now is.
Say, hypothetically, Wenger unleashed Arsenal’s full financial muscle this Summer, and spent the full £70m which is rumoured to be available to him – what would happen? In the bigger sense, probably nothing – maybe it would mean a more comfortable third-place finish instead of a three-way scramble for fourth, but in the grand scheme of things it would be fairly incidental.
This is now the reality of English football, and will continue to be so until Financial Fair Play bears its teeth – or if it does. There’s so much wealth, and the clubs above Arsenal have so much financial pull, that there is in effect a glass-ceiling between the very top of the Premier League and the rest of the division. No amount of spending, other than the absurdly reckless variety, would have allowed Arsenal access to that rarefied air at the summit.
…and that’s probably Wenger’s counter-argument to those who insist that he spends more liberally: why should he, when he’s already achieving his objectives without doing so? Frustrating as it undoubtedly is for the fans, he has a point. Would a heavier outlay see a better quality of player arrive at the club? Yes. Would it also bring more star power? Probably. But would the end justify the means? Almost certainly not.
Sport Is Everything. The Premier League Owl.