Arsene Wenger: Is He Right for Arsenal's New Big-Spending Era?
Arsene Wenger is chiefly responsible for Arsenal being able to spend £42.4 million on a single player. But is the cautious Frenchman the right man to lead Arsenal into the new big-spending era his prudence has created?
Working without a sugar daddy owner and having to pay down stadium debt, Wenger rightly limited spending. Of course, it was not necessarily a policy suited to claiming the game's top prizes, evidenced by eight barren years.
After all, no matter how much shrewd scouting and careful player development Wenger performed, his rivals could eliminate his patient efforts with one big-money signing.
But Wenger's good house-keeping did allow Arsenal to build their own resources and operate within their own means. Now those means have been steadily grown to the point where Arsenal are the ones courting the box office signing.
This summer's window was the perfect example. North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur added seven new faces to their squad.
They opted for a more collective approach to replacing their one superstar, Gareth Bale.
Despite the recent derby defeat, Spurs would have still been fancied to finish above Arsenal, once their new acquisitions got up to speed.
But Arsenal eliminated all of Spurs' dealings with just one marquee addition, when they signed Mesut Ozil. With the mercurial German playmaker in the fold, Arsenal are a safe bet to again keep their local enemy out of those increasingly exclusive top-four places.
Make no mistake, the Ozil deal was a game-changer for Arsenal, but particularly for Wenger. It is apparently enough for the Frenchman to be offered a new £15 million deal, at least according to ESPN.co.uk, citing a report from Charlie Wyett of The Sun.
But right up until the second Ozil was officially confirmed, it was still hard to fathom Wenger spending so much on a single player.
It was easier to envisage him being physically restrained from calling Real Madrid and frantically pleading to halve the fee, such is his desire for maximum value.
But with Ozil signed, sealed and delivered, many are expecting more box office arrivals. John Cross of The Daily Mirror reports Wenger has been given approval to land another big-money star in January.
Is it really in the character of perhaps the most notoriously frugal manager of the modern game, to twice spend over £40 million to sign a player in the same season?
It is just as easy to imagine Wenger spending the next few months searching for ways to balance the books. With few prized assets left to sell to recoup anywhere near what he paid for Ozil, Wenger could wait until another top-four place is confirmed before spending big again.
That measured approach would surprise few, but Arsenal are unlikely to be paying Wenger £15 million just to balance the books. But can he successfully follow the same model as the likes of Bayern Munich?
The Bundesliga powerhouse develops its own talent, but supplements those fledglings with marquee signings. It is an apt comparison considering Bayern brought Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philip Lahm through the ranks.
They also signed Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller at young ages and integrated them in the Munich youth programs.
Wenger has strived for years to do the same.
His current squad boasts Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Wojciech Szczesny. All three are starters developed at Arsenal, after being spotted as precocious youngsters.
Adding Ozil to the mix has given Wenger's current crop the infusion of star power it needs. But the key is not to rest on those laurels.
Munich added Javi Martinez for €40 million in 2012. Yet even after winning the treble last season, they still spent big on Mario Gotze. In particular, supplementing a winning group with a new star, is something Wenger has historically been reticent to do.
He craves continuity and for good reason. It worked wonderfully in 2003. A spate of injuries and a slew of draws during the 2002/03 campaign forced Arsenal to surrender their league crown to Manchester United.
Rather than buying big during the summer, Wenger trusted his current squad to make up the difference next time. He added Jens Lehmann for a small fee and promoted reserve midfielder Kolo Toure to starting centre-back.
This became the "Invincibles" team. But after they romped to the title in 2003/04, Wenger still resisted further cementing his strong base.
He also opted against signing another combative midfielder to replace Ray Parlour. Or perhaps a creative ace who could have supported Robert Pires.
The team still finished second and claimed the FA Cup, but were ultimately overpowered by Jose Mourinho's Chelsea.
Contrast Wenger's approach with that of United last summer. Sir Alex Ferguson's team had just lost their title on goal difference to Manchester City.
The response from the Red Devils was to snare the mercenary van Persie from the Gunners. Had he been in that same position would Wenger really have spent £24 million on a 29-year-old with little or no resale value?
Or would he have instead trusted his existing squad, with one more year's experience, to make up that goal difference and take the title back?
This is a telling question today, considering many feel Wenger mistakenly left his current front line short of options, when he failed to sign a striker.
But come January, will he really, as Cross contends, go all in again for a player like Liverpool's Luis Suarez? Or will he rely on the potential of Yaya Sanogo, possible improvement from Nicklas Bendtner and the return from injury of Lukas Podolski as sufficient cover?
That would be the careful approach.
But a club that is willing to spend £42.4 million on one player is no longer making being careful its priority. And that is exactly the point.
Wenger can no longer conduct his approach based on prudence. There has to be an element of throwing caution to the wind and a reckless treatment of the club's resources.
Because if Arsenal are to reach the bracket of clubs who consistently win the major prizes, one player costing over £40 million won't be enough. They need more and that is a recruitment policy so at odds with the steady, safe way Wenger has run Arsenal throughout his era.
Remember, this is the manager who has sometimes resisted spending because it risked "killing" the development of youngsters. A Recent report from Sami Mokbel in The Daily Mail links Arsenal with lucrative moves for midfielders like Borussia Dortmund's Ilkay Gundogan and Bayer Leverkusen's Lars Bender.
But what would the arrival of either player do to the progress of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey? There is also the development of burgeoning youngsters Thomas Eisfeld and Gedion Zelalem to consider.
And it's easy to imagine Wenger strongly considering that first, at the expense of following up his stunning swoop for Ozil. But that does not fit with the new push to regularly flex the club's financial muscle.
Given his feeble record with big transfers, it might even not be wise for Wenger to make a habit of them.
The previous record signing, Andrei Arshavin, possessed as much in the way of talent as any top player, but lacked the attitude to go with it.
Before he was cynically kicked off the Old Trafford pitch by the Neville brothers in 2004, Jose Antonio Reyes appeared a superstar in the making. But Wenger and the club could not find a way to keep him happy.
Furthermore, as much as he became famous for some clutch goals, Sylvain Wiltord was never really the player Wenger paid around £13 million for in 2000.
It is simply a different game at the top end of the transfer market, and it is not one Wenger and Arsenal always play well. They discovered that the hard way this summer, after botched attempts to sign Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez.
Wenger's careful shepherding has heralded a new era, and modern football's most intransigent manager will have to reinvent himself to succeed in.
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