Can Arsene Wenger Win Another English Premier League Title at Arsenal?
It may seem like a ridiculous time to be asking if Arsene Wenger can win another English Premier League title. Yet the sad reality is that question has never been more relevant.
Because if Wenger can't capture another EPL crown, what is the point of prolonging his tenure at Arsenal? The even sadder answer, particularly for an ardent supporter of Wenger, is that the EPL title is as far away from the French boss as it has ever been.
However, simply beginning and ending this article with the word "no" would do a disservice to the growing complexities surrounding Wenger and Arsenal. Because no matter how much his critics like to blame everything on the man whose picture no doubt adorns their dart boards, Arsenal's problems are far from simple.
Let's begin first with a cursory look at the context of Wenger's competition. It's quickly easy to see why it is so hard for Arsenal to reach the summit of England's top flight again any time soon.
Consider the reported £70 million spending spree supposedly set to take place this summer. Depending on where Arsenal finish, they are still going to have to engage in careful spending.
Shrewd recruitment will continue to be a necessity for Wenger, no matter how big the transfer war chest gets. That's because he is competing with three teams who can simply overwhelm his most meticulous efforts with one marquee signing.
Imagine Wenger spending around £40 million to secure the composed finisher, intelligent centre-back and decisive goalkeeper this author believes they need. Excellent business, at least on the face of it.
However, before Arsenal fans get too excited about possibly redressing the balance of power, they wait nervously in case Chelsea sign Radamel Falcao. Or perhaps Manchester City will sign Edinson Cavani?
Let's not forget Manchester United warming to the idea of again unleashing Cristiano Ronaldo on the EPL.. The point is the three premier clubs in England's top league work within a reality Wenger can't match and probably can't even comprehend.
It's the reality that says Chelsea can continue to splash the cash even after wasting £50 million on Fernando Torres. Even after spending in excess of £30 million on Eden Hazard and close to that on Oscar just one summer ago.
It's a reality that doesn't say to United how dare you shell out £24 million on a 29-year-old in the final year of his contract. Does several hundred million worth of debt mean nothing? Apparently not.
That's not forgetting the truly frightening wage barriers United's neighbours are prepared to smash in the pursuit of silverware. Okay it's not fair, but that's the way it is, so why complain?
Maybe then adjusting their own wage policy would return Arsenal and Wenger back to the glory days? So now Wenger can offer as much lucre as Chelsea, City and United. Problem solved you suppose.
Well perhaps not. Now Arsenal are competing directly with clubs who are currently far more successful, for the same players. If Arsenal pay close to or the same as Real Madrid, which club is a top player still more likely to choose?
There's also a perhaps more pressing question. Even with a substantial transfer kitty, can Wenger still be trusted to spend wisely? This is becoming a greater concern each season.
It certainly is after watching Olivier Giroud lurch around White Hart Lane, terrified by even the idea of controlling a pass. Then there is that familiar Achilles heel of recent seasons, the defence.
It doesn't say anything good when Wenger is scrambling to replace a centre-backs he only recently bought. A succession of poor purchases makes even one of Wenger's biggest supporters wonder if he deserves another opportunity to open the purse strings.
Yet after the initial over-emotive anger that another reckless display from Thomas Vermaelen is sure to illicit, reality sets in. It is the temperance that says that buying the right players and risking signing a few duds, is a concern for any manger.
However, even if Wenger sticks to a measured financial approach in his attempts to rebuild Arsenal, will his prospects be any better? It's hard to conclude they will since the alternative to a major spree would be another youth-based development.
The harsh reality is that title-winning teams built on a young foundation are rare, particularly in the modern era. Certainly teams can produce a few select stars from their own ranks or unearthed from relatively untapped corners of the transfer market.
However, these are sparse offerings. Finding the basis of an entire team founded on precocious youth is no easy thing. Ajax are the prime example.
Yes they have yielded the likes of Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart in recent years. Yet they still haven't matched the glorious European Cup winning squad of 1995.
Small wonder that they haven't. Imagine developing a core including Marc Overmars, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Frank De Boer and Patrick Kluivert.
Barcelona's current, but potentially fast-fading dominance may seem to contradict this view. Yet the trio of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi were supplemented by big money acquisitions.
The likes of Dani Alves and David Villa were not unknowns Barca's management decided to take calculated risks on. And for all his successes and longevity, Sir Alex Ferguson has never unearthed another crop comparable to his mid-nineties contingent.
Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverly are solid citizens. Yet neither compare to the likes of David Beckham, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes.
Certainly Wenger has to his credit, remained a keen advocate of developing through youth. However, if he was charged with building another title winner via this route now, what basis would he have?
His latest attempt involves six British youngsters. Commendable on the surface, but which of the group could actually key a return to silverware?
Jack Wilshere perhaps. Well, the jury has to still be out. Particularly after watching his lame attempts to act as an advanced creator in the North London derby.
Maybe this author's original view, formed two years ago, that Wilshere is a tidy, halfway line water carrier is correct. Okay then what about Theo Walcott?
Well after watching Aaron Lennon score the one goal Walcott should always score but rarely does, it's easy to be sceptical. The bigger implication of Arsenal taking the youth option would be the increased burden it would place on the already too battle-scarred Wenger.
He would be right back to a situation where he faces an annual scramble to keep any emerging star out of the clutches of the uber-rich. He needs only look at Borussia Dortmund for a reminder of that challenge.
This smartly and cheaply assembled team is gradually being plundered. Shinji Kagawa regrettably joined United and Robert Lewandowski is touted for a move to Bayern Munich of all clubs.
This is the star striker for a team that claimed consecutive Bundesliga titles and a German cup. They are competitive in this season's Champions League and well-placed to be in next year's tournament.
Yet Lewandowski seems set to leave and leave for a club in the same division. If you listen very carefully, you can hear Jurgen Klopp banging his head against his desk.
With only one year remaining on his contract, Wenger may feel he's too old for that sort of depressing chore again. Which brings things to the state of Wenger's future at Arsenal.
That's an issue easily as contentious as the many arguments over the root cause of Arsenal's current malaise. In terms of the question in the title, Wenger's future intentions raise another key question in response.
Has the increasingly downtrodden veteran coach even got one more rebuild left in him? After all this is a true innovator who bears the brunt of increasingly savage criticism and ridicule about his credentials.
That a lot of that abuse comes from his own fans is particularly sad. Yet the criticism from within is somewhat borne from the way Wenger has boxed himself in during recent years.
It wasn't an intentional step. Rather, it was the outcome of one man trying to wrap his arms around every aspect of a club in turmoil in the boardroom and on the move off the pitch.
For the record, nobody is going to convince this author that Wenger is tactically inept. He is still as sharp and thoughtful as any manager in the game. Sadly it may take him leaving and succeeding at another club to prove that point.
His major failing has been to recruit players with the wrong attitude and place too much faith in those players. A look at Abou Diaby this season perfectly illustrates the point.
Then there was Argentine bruiser Claudio Yacob. Arsenal were said to be running the rule over the intelligent and gritty midfield enforcer last year.
Yet Wenger never made his move and Yacob went to West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer. The disturbing aspect is that it's so easy to imagine Wenger thinking, "why do I sign these players, I have Abou Diaby."
Talent-wise there is no question Diaby can match almost any midfielder in the game. Yet his physical fragility and mental sluggishness were always going to cost Arsenal big.
Wenger's faith has again gone unrewarded. The man famously so reticent to "kill" the development of his young fledglings may yet pay the ultimate price for keeping that faith.
That may be an inevitable truth Arsenal will face this summer. Especially since this master team builder won't recapture the glory years of 2001-05, while he continues to struggle just to stay relevant.
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