Like many Arsenal fans I am still reeling after Sunday’s defeat in the Carling Cup final. The winning of finals and trophies is usually something that does not govern my motivations to watch football but even I was left depressed.
I am also one to have rarely doubted Wenger. His aesthetic brand of football has kept me entertained and enthused for years. However, seeing yet another big game lost to a nervy performance topped with a serious defensive error has left me wondering whether something more inherent to the set-up at Arsenal may have led to the latest example of what Wenger has called “a little misunderstanding.”
It is rare to find a manager whose tenure at a club has lasted as long as Wenger’s. Since joining the club in 1996 he has enjoyed huge success and contributed massively to Arsenal becoming financially stable and developing a progressive youth policy. In addition, he managed the mean feat of keeping the club at the top level for years while under severe financial restraints. There must be a worry, though, that at some point his powers will start to wane, due to either age or possibly a lack of ideas.
Other industries provide illustrations of this. One of the main arguments for term limits for Presidents or Prime Ministers (like in America) is to avoid having ageing, declining leaders who no longer have the energy or the will to work at a rate needed to run a country effectively. This was apparent with the old Soviet rulers and some say that the previous two governments in Britain have been guilty of this: in power with the same group of ministers for too long and by the end running out of ideas and struggling to produce a vision for the future.
The same detriment could be ascribed to pioneering industrialist Henry Ford. Ford founded the automobile company of the same name and developed the mass production assembly line that revolutionised the production of goods and allowed cars to be produced for the mainstream. Ford refused to relinquish control over the company as he got older and as a consequence it went into decline, losing more than $10 million a month by the time he died.
Now I am not suggesting that it has reached that stage for Wenger yet. His philosophies on football, acumen in the transfer market and ability to develop young players are first rate in my opinion but I think this concept of the need for fresh energy and ideas is quite interesting.
The other long-lived manager in the Premiership is Alex Ferguson of Manchester United who has been in position for 24 years. Ferguson has managed to reinvent his side on a number of occasions and has enjoyed success throughout. This would suggest that it is possible to maintain a level of management without suffering decline. What Ferguson has had around him, however, is a regularly changing coaching staff. None of the four members of Manchester United’s frontline first team coaching staff have been in position for more than 5 years.
Compare this with Arsenal’s coaching staff and you find that the newest member of the staff, the goalkeeping coach Gerry Peyton, joined 8 years ago in 2003.
The biggest example of the difference between the two clubs comes in the position of Assistant Manager. While Pat Rice has been in that role since Wenger started as manager, Alex Ferguson has had four different Assistant Managers. Pat Rice and the other coaches have been very faithful servants to Arsenal and this says something about the positive environment that has been created at the club. Loyalty is something that is to be applauded but is it possible that there might be a certain complacency among the staff and possibly an exhaustion of ideas?
Arsenal’s defensive problems just won’t go away. Suggestions have been made that it is due to the personnel involved or that it is possibly an issue with mentality. Whatever it is, it has not been dealt with properly by Wenger or the coaching staff. I believe it may be time to bring in a specialist defensive coach who may be able to help identify the problem and create a solution. This might have the bonus of adding some ‘new blood’ into the management team and prevent it from becoming stale.