Winning Wenger's Way: Despite Early Success, Arsenal's Best Is Yet to Come
These are heady days for Arsenal.
The Gunners survived a nightmarish week of scheduling, winning bookend Premiership matches against Blackburn and Bolton, with a Champions League draw against Dynamo Kiev in the middle.
Up front, Theo Walcott has emerged thanks in part to a spectacular performance in England’s recent World Cup qualifier, Nicklas Bendtner is starting to live up to his potential, and Emmanuel Adebayor has been as comfortable assisting on goals as scoring them.
Behind them, Cesc Fabregas continues to establish himself as a premier talent, and Alex Song has hit all the right notes in making the transition from defense to midfield.
Heady days indeed. It’s not just that Arsenal are atop the league table after five weeks.
It’s that they’re winning with a huge amount of talent unavailable due to injury.
Two of the summer’s top acquisitions, Samir Nasri and Mikael Silvestre, were quick to join talents like Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo in the trainer’s room. Such losses may well put strain on Arsenal over the next few months, but it isn’t showing yet.
After a tough loss to Fulham in August, there were calls for Arsene Wenger to pull out his wallet and restock the team’s midfield the expensive way. With Hleb, Flamini and Gilberto gone, there were plenty of rumors about players supposedly headed to Emirates.
Wenger stuck to his Gunners.
Rather than the blockbuster deals dreamed up by journalists and supporters alike, Wenger made conservative acquisitions, bringing in Nasri to shore up the midfield and Silvestre for defense, and retaining Adebayor in front.
Wenger certainly takes great pride and joy in Arsenal’s strong start. But he knows that his job is to assemble a team that will finish strong.
It’s a long season, and Arsenal is best served by using the first months as an opportunity for players to gain experience and develop while awaiting the return of veterans such as Rosicky. Further acquisitions can always be made come January, if they are necessary at all.
For now, the team is counting on young talent like Denilson and Eboue to step up and fill holes—quite literally in Song’s case.
But Wenger isn’t just confident in his players—he’s supremely confident in his own management.
Throughout his time at Arsenal, Wenger has preferred to work the transfer system in terms of both player value, and financial value. His recent criticism regarding Manchester City’s acquisition of Robinho reflects that this approach isn’t simply a strategy, but a philosophy.
Rather than paying top money for top mercenaries, Wenger chooses to develop talent in his own system. When that player reaches their potential, Wenger flips them on to clubs willing to shell out, invests the money back into the club, and starts the cycle again.
For those baseball fans out there, it’s practically Moneyball.
This summer, amidst the usual mix of journalistic muckraking, wishful thinking on behalf of supporters, or just plain pranks, one blockbuster rumor stood out—as much for how it started as how it could help the team.
Cesc Fabregas’s call to acquire Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso sparked rampant speculation, and may have even served to push the price on the midfielder too high.
It’s unclear whether Liverpool seriously considered parting with Alonso, or simply floated a huge number to see if Arsenal would bite. It’s one thing to allow a player the chance to play more, but there’s no reason that Liverpool should help a rival.
Acquiring Alonso would have had benefits for Arsenal that go beyond the pitch. While Fabregas has made his commitment to the club very clear, the comfort of playing with a friend like Alonso would help to ensure that the Spanish midfielder stays in the fold.
While there were questions about Alonso’s style of play, it’s quite possible that the club’s financial situation played a role in the decision. With a huge debt, and rumors of buyout bids flying, the team may not have been in a position to make a big splash.
Whether the decision to fore-go expensive transfers was a result of Wenger’s philosophy, the club’s financial problems, or both, it certainly doesn’t seem to be hurting. No doubt Wenger will reevaluate by January, and retool the team if necessary. By that point the club’s ownership situation should be clearer, which could loosen the purse-strings.
Depending on the return of Rosicky and Eduardo, acquiring further talent could be vital or unnecessary. Combine that with the potential development of young players, and while the possibility of adding a Veloso is enticing, it’s simply too early to speculate about Arsenal’s needs in the next transfer period.
What is certain is that a month into the season, the Gunners are tops—and they’re only going to get better.
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