Wenger a victim of his own image

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Arsene Wenger’s first match as manager of Arsenal Football Club was on October 12, 1996 at Ewood Park against Blackburn Rovers in a Premier League encounter.

In the year of Wenger’s arrival, Arsenal’s annual turnover was £21 million.

Fourteen years later it is well over £200 million.

In the pre-Wenger era, Arsenal were considered a defensive, combative side who battled their way to solitary goal triumphs.

Their success in the European Cup Winners Cup (1994) was due to their strong defence. Now Arsenal are ranked with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United as the great entertainers.

Since Wenger took over they have won the English Premier League thrice 1997-98, 2001-02 and 2003-04. In 2006 Arsenal reached the Uefa Champions League final but lost to Barcelona 1-2 in Paris. Overall with Wenger as manager Arsenal have won 11 titles, four FA Cups, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2005, three EPL crowns and four Community Shields 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2004.

Wenger’s successes are outstanding as he has achieved this with an average modest spending of £4 million a year in the transfer market.

The low-budget on transfers is because of Wenger’s rare ability to discover and develop young talent. The rise to fame of players like Thierry Henry, Nicholas Anelka, Ces Fabregas, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshire is a testimony to Wenger’s coaching skills.

Spending less on the transfer market has enabled Arsenal improve their training facilities and move to the new Emirates stadium in the 2006-07 season.

The crux of the problem is that all off Wenger’s successes have come between 1996 and 2005. After that the trophy cabinet is bare. Supporters are getting restless. Also with the sale of Fabregas to Barcelona earlier this week, Arsenal’s style of free flowing attacking football has declined.

A dangerous sign is that many of Arsenal’s supporters missed the match against Udinese at the Emirates Stadium, as Arsenal are neither effective nor attractive to watch.

This boycott by the Arsenal fans is an ominous sign for Wenger. He has to strengthen his defence. With just over ten days left for the transfer market to close, Arsenal must try and get defenders like Gary Cahill and Phil Jaglieka. He expressed willingness to spend between £30-40 million if he finds quality players but has not made serious attempts.

Wenger is a victim of his own image, a miracle worker who produces a stream of quality players, either from the youth system or by some shrewd purchases. Strikers Marouane Chamakh, Bendtner and defender Laurent Koscielny have faltered.

The exodus from Arsenal has started. Left back Gael Clichy has joined Man City and midfielder Samir Nasri is likely to also depart.

If Udinese overcome Arsenal in the second leg and enter the lucrative Champions league stage, the fans and club official’s honeymoon with Wenger is over.

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Mr. Novy Kapadia is an eminent Indian football expert. An Indian football enthusiast, he has done football commentary for Zee Sports. He is also the editor of Durand Annual Journal since 1983. His non-footballing career involves teaching in Delhi University where he is an Associate Professor.

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