Compelled into the sort of action a defeat of such magnitude inspires, the Arsenal manager blew nearly £30 million in a matter of hours, signing Mikel Arteta from Everton, Per Mertesacker from Werder Bremen, Andre Santos from Fenerbahce and Park Chu-Young from Monaco.
So much for the Frenchman’s reputation as a spendthrift.
The only thing was, not one of his acquisitions proved to be the sort of player capable of turning the Gunners into a Premier League contender by the time the transfer window slammed shut the following day.
Granted, Arteta—at 29 years of age upon signing—delivered a pair of useful seasons before suffering a hip injury ahead of Saturday’s match against Aston Villa that will keep him on the sidelines until the end of September.
And Mertesacker—despite being hilariously gaffe-prone—managed to play in 34 Premier League matches last season, even though Werder Bremen went laughing all the way to the bank with their £8 million at the time.
But Andre Santos was nothing short of a bust, and Arsenal ended up losing him on a free transfer to Flamengo this summer—a piece of business that cost them more than £6 million. And Park spent all of last season on loan at Celta Vigo, having made only six appearances in all competitions for Arsenal following his arrival.
Arsene Wenger ahead of the game with Fenerbache on the defensive over his transfer policy at the pre-match presser pic.twitter.com/koTdiGFUBr— Ian Abrahams (@BroadcastMoose) August 20, 2013
Eight months later, the club finished its seventh successive season without a trophy and top scorer Robin van Persie bolted for Manchester United. Three days after his exit, midfielder Alex Song joined Barcelona, linking up with former teammate Cesc Fabregas, who had escaped Emirates Stadium the summer before.
It took until the final day of the 2012-13 schedule for Arsenal to secure Champions League football for the current campaign, and their players celebrated the accomplishment like they had won the World Cup—something club legend Tony Adams addressed in an interview with Zapsportz on Tuesday.
“To keep hitting the top four and qualifying for the Champions League is great, but there is going to be a day—and a that day won’t be far away—when Arsene leaves,” he said. (via ESPNFC)
That day could well arrive in May, when Wenger’s current contract expires. And while club chairman Ivan Gazidis has suggested the 63-year-old could be handed an extension, on Sunday, the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust called such an idea “inappropriate,” saying in a statement that “the club’s entire focus must be on using the remaining days of the transfer window to strengthen the team significantly.”
The statement continued: “A decision on whether to offer an extension to the manager’s contract, which ends in May 2014, should only be taken following the closing of the transfer window and assessment of the team’s performance in the weeks ahead.”
No doubt, many of the people who crafted the AST statement can clearly recollect the happier days of Wenger’s regime—days in the late 1990s when the club was winning league and cup doubles—days in the early part of the last decade when the team completed an entire Premier League season without a single defeat.
In that light, their statement has an assumed, unspoken respect for Wenger, but it is also pragmatic in that it doesn’t blindly put its faith in a manager whose more recent record of success is hardly encouraging.
And many of those same people are likely well aware that players such as Adams, Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon and Ray Parlour—fierce competitors who were integral to the club’s most recent titles—were not actually acquired by Wenger, but by George Graham.
“There remain important questions about the way player identification, recruitment and remuneration processes are managed at Arsenal,” their statement read. “The failings we highlighted in Arsene Wenger holding far too much power have only been amplified in recent weeks.”
Wenger, not surprisingly, went on the offensive when asked about his transfer record during a Tuesday press conference in Istanbul, where Arsenal are preparing for Wednesday’s Champions League playoff encounter against Fenerbahce.
Wenger on transfers: "It is quite amazing that all of the people don't know & yet they always have opinions about things they don't know"— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) August 20, 2013
“I would just like to reiterate to you that in the last 16 years we have been very successful with transfers,” he said, adding, “And if you look at the players who will play here, they are top quality players. And you should never forget that,” per the Mirror.
They were words that revealed an embattled manager increasingly out of touch with both the rigours of the modern transfer market and his own record of success.
Wenger may have taken the pieces Graham left him, added to them, and, at the time, turned Arsenal into a Premier League force and Champions League contender, but those times have long since passed. Even if he is renewed as manager, it’s likely he will have to work under a director of football charged with the club’s manoeuvring in the transfer market—terms he may not accept.
And that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
Wenger, despite the recent failures, is an Arsenal icon, and rightfully so. He deserves anything but a bitter separation from the club he made proud for so long. That said, groups such as the AST have come to the realization that his presence is not, in and of itself, a guarantor of success any longer.
Arsenal will not be able to sufficiently strengthen themselves to be able to compete for major prizes in the short-term. Wenger should be allowed to see out his contract with the team he assembled and then leave in the summer—pride intact—and the club anticipating a bright future with fond memories of a man who brought them so much happiness.