Back in the glory days of the Invincibles, Wenger was in charge of a team boasting world class quality in nearly every department, with all playing well and more importantly, playing well together. It was a team Wenger had built with smart acquisitions, with technically gifted players and a team of experienced players, the majority of whom were on the older side of the 25-30 age bracket.
Pires, Bergkamp, Parlour, Wiltord, Lehmann and Keown were all in the 30+ age bracket and would need replacing. Even so, there were plenty of players that would need replacing soon. But with fans looking at a squad consisting of a young Fabregas, Clichy, Senderos, Bentley, Reyes and Aliadiere, among others, the future looked bright.
Wenger had already started a youth project that began some time ago, but had plans on doing it on a much larger scale. He had hit gold with Toure, Ljungberg, Pires, Henry and Vieira and his talent spotting abilities would forever haunt him. Always a manager with his eye on the books, he had several youngsters ready to become the next Invicibles, while helping him to avoid a massive spending spree to bring in talent.
The difference between then and now was that the team he had then was strong enough to allow young players get some experience while learning from Arsenal legends. However, fast forward three years to the Summer of 2007 and suddenly only Gilberto, Toure and Lehmann managed to survive the clearout. There were a lot more young players in squad, the majority of which were acquired cheaply, but still lacking to challenge for silverware.
Forward to the present day and a good chunk of the 2007-2008 squad have moved on, with silverware still eluding us to this day. Though the team are much stronger than they have been in recent seasons and the influx of young talent has continued, the experience had almost stopped.
There had been a few older players come into the squad but only Gallas, Campbell and Silvestre had Premier League experience and all three hardly had a beneficial effect on the squad. In an attempt to bring in some quality and experience, we've seen Rosicky, Eduardo, Arshavin and Chamakh. They are good players, but not the players Arsenal needed at that time.
Fans are still calling for a centre back, defensive midfielder and striker, but aren't world class ones, with the transfers hardly breaking the bank. Then again, Wenger would be eternally thanked for bringing players like Sagna, Vermaelen and Nasri, while avoiding the more prolific flops, some of whom are still at the club.
So what happened in between? Two very important changes at the club that would change Arsenal's movements in the transfer window.
First, the Emirates stadium, though it's already reaped financial rewards, is seemingly cursed to never house silverware. Spiraling costs pushed the overall cost up to £400 million, leaving the club in massive debt. With much of the debt now wiped out and Arsenal in financial heaven, there is no better time to buy.
However, in those dark years while the stadium was still being built, Wenger was quick to remind critics his restricted budget and financial freedom, thus, favorably for him, allowed him leeway with the board and the chance to develop all those youngsters he'd been collecting.
The second factor was the loss of a certain David Dein, former vice chairman of the club and best friend to Wenger. He supported Wenger throughtout his best years and has since not been replaced. At first, I didn't see how much this would effect the club, but his backroom dealings led Arsenal to Wenger in the first place. More importantly, he's supposedly had a major influence on the transfers of Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Sol Campbell, Gilberto, Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure, Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie.
That's a lot of very influential players and five captains.
Were Wenger's masterstrokes in the transfer market all his doing? I suspect a joint effort, but you should also consider the players he brought in since Dein's departure: Fabianski, Sagna, Diarra, Vela, Ramsey, Nasri, Bischoff, Silvestre, Arshavin, Vermaelen, Campbell, Squillaci, Koscienly, Lehmann and Chamakh. Quite a pattern forming between young superstars, obscurely talented Europeans and old stop gaps.
It's easy to spot how Wenger went power mad and suddenly began to bring in more of the best talent around while not really paying attention to Arsenal's real weaknesses. Notice his only keeper signings were Fabianski and Lehmann, the second time. So while a lot of good and bad players have come into the squad, Dein departed in April 2007.
So who has left since? In the preceding summer, the only players lost were the ageing Bergkamp, Pires, Campbell and Ashley Cole, but with the not as great Gallas going the other way.
Not bad, as only three of the invincibles were leaving because of their age and one because he was greedy. In the next summer, Henry, Ljungberg and Reyes departed among a few squad players, notably Muamba and Aliadiere. And the summer after that, Lehmann, Flamini, Hleb and Gilberto. And then Adebayor and Toure eventually left for big money moves and a quest for silverware.
We've witnessed two cycles, if you will, of the youth project with Wenger deciding quite a few of them weren't good enough or they deciding Arsenal weren't good enough (around 2008) and the current crop which is working out quite nicely. Wenger has decided not to reinforce or replace over the years with experience and quality and look towards future investments that have come to fruition in recent years.
Now, we do have a strong squad, an excellent basis for those two or three big money signings. Sure there's plenty of talent in the youth and on loan, but there are still gaps in the defence and lack of a consistent threat on the wings. Wenger must look upon players like Denilson and Diaby and decide whether to give them another season at the cost of a season's worth of experience for a up-and-coming player or decide to cash in while there's interest and a legally binding contract that guarantees a nice profit.
I'm also concerned about reports on our current wages of £111million, which I'm not sure if they include all the contract extensions and new players. Chamakh had come in on a free transfer and would be earning quite a salary since Arsenal didn't have to pay a transfer fee, though nothing quite on the £100,000 a week area. It's also quite concerning that we have a lot of players on around £50,000 a week and not playing well enough and often enough to justify this.
Considering Manchester City are hovering around £130 million range not including their current signings, something must be very wrong on the books at Arsenal. Our squad isn't significantly bigger than any others, especially with the rather useless 25 man rule. So if the wage bill isn't coming from high earning individuals, surely it must mean that as a team, everyone must be on a high wage.
Looking at our squad, it's feasible that almost all of them are on at least £40,000 a week maybe even even £50,000, with only the youngsters as exceptions, though Arsenal would be quick to tie Wilshire on a long term deal. The youngsters as well are looking to benefit, with recent wonderkid Toral being offered a significant pay rise compared to what he would've been offered at Barca, i'm also unable to find the article had had the details, so thanks to anyone that can help.
Arsenal have a massive amount of young players at the squad and on loan. The young players may not make a significant amount more, but there are a few players on the fringes of the first team currently out on loan who must also be on decent salaries, with it likely that Arsenal are continuing to foot the majority of the wage bill for these players.
It has taken six seasons to breed a strong squad capable of challenging and while a few key players leaving the club has hindered that somewhat–Adebayor, Toure, Hleb and Flamini during the youth revolution–the squad look a few signings away. We cannot wait for another wonderkid to appear and we have been saved by the imperious form of Szczesny and Wilshire, but Wenger has also gambled on his unknowns and dead weight.
In a season where just about every title contender has been hit by a poor drop in form or a horrible away record, Arsenal find themselves consistent, but only hanging on. In one of Chelsea or United's good seasons, our title race would've been over.
What we now need are ready-made, world-class signings to keep the momentum going and really should've come at the start of this season or during the winter break. Unfortunately, Wenger is ever so loyal and ever so frugal when it comes to his team and the transfer market. We cannot simply sacrifice all of that for silverware anymore, because as close as we've gone this season, we still weren't well equipped enough to go the distance. Though the league is in our hands and winning every game left would seal us the title, it doesn't look likely.