Time Wenger takes a gamble


Then there are the others, the pessimists. They take the same tablets but without the confidence. They fish the pamphlet out of the packet, read about the side-effects.

They consider not just the cure, but its downside. Suppose the pill does something worse. May cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, skin irritation. Sounds serious. Sounds worse than what I’ve got. What if this cure makes me ill?

One imagines Arsene Wenger may be a little like that. Asked about next season and the prospect of recruitment, he talked most animatedly about cohesion. He thinks it is the most underrated quality of a successful team.

And what would impact on Arsenal’s cohesion? Buying. Not all buying, clearly. Hurried buying, thoughtless buying, expensive buying, buying without due care and attention. Wenger’s supporters think it is this attitude that sets him apart, the detail, his resistance to just taking Stan Kroenke’s chequebook and wafting it beneath the nose of the latest fashionable name from La Liga.

His critics feel this is the caution that holds Arsenal back. Wenger’s belief he has the prettiest wife at home, that only the most beautiful can replace the batch of Arsenal players who on Saturday retained the FA Cup at Wembley. Except Arsenal do not compete for the most beautiful. Wenger says Gareth Bale is beyond him, Paul Pogba, too.

‘I’m not against spending money,’ he said, ‘but I want a good rapport between price and quality.’

And cohesion, obviously. It is as if he wants a guarantee that any new signing will not disrupt what already exists. And no guarantee can be given.

Yet, to see Arsenal in full flow against Aston Villa at Wembley was to ponder the words of Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. ‘Arsenal may have a better team than Chelsea,’ Van Gaal said, while Mourinho claimed Arsenal were four players short of producing a team to match the Invincibles.

They are wind-up merchants, the rival managers, obviously. Any praise directed at Wenger is invariably a back-handed compliment. Arsenal are so good, runs the logic, why haven’t they won more?

Yet Wenger must occasionally ask the same question — certainly on Saturday when Arsenal reduced Aston Villa to the most abject FA Cup final appearance since Millwall against Manchester United in 2004.

Arsenal finished third in the League but did not look it at Wembley. They looked like a team that should be contending for the title — and will next season, if Wenger is prepared to risk a little of his precious cohesion.

He did it with Mesut Ozil, one of the outstanding players of this match and getting better with each season in the English game, and with Alexis Sanchez, arguably the buy of the season and now scorer of one of the truly great Wembley goals. Maybe he should back his judgment more often.

Arsenal might not be willing to pay £80million for Bale, but they are comfortable working with the band below. Might Karim Benzema, Sami Khedira or Arturo Vidal of Juventus hold the key to the next stage of their development?

‘We are third in the league but I feel we have moved forward,’ said Wenger. ‘People think it is always about buying but, as well, it’s about cohesion. That’s a very important factor, usually underrated by people. We have to keep our cohesion, but also add quality, and the quality we need is in short numbers, that is for sure.

‘Paul Pogba, Gareth Bale, we have not spent that kind of money. People forget that for years we had to sell our best players. That was a very difficult period. I know people don’t want to know about it, but that was the reality. Since we buy again we slowly come back to a more competitive level.

‘But those players cost you stratospheric numbers and we wouldn’t be involved in that, for financial reasons. I have not made a clear decision on what we will do but, anyway, I am more focused on quality. Today, Santi Cazorla has been voted man of the match, but he did not cost £150m. Francis Coquelin has been one of the best players on the pitch, and what did he cost? You have to look at the real quality of people and players.’

True. Yet Sanchez and Ozil were magnificent, too — and they were the players who broke the mould of Wenger’s spending. Nobody is arguing that he should go wild this summer, but Saturday was as frustrating as it was exciting for Arsenal because it showed what the club could be. When Per Mertesacker scored the third after 62 minutes, Villa manager Tim Sherwood must have feared his team could have gone for six, as happened at Southampton. Arsenal’s last two goals were scored against a defence who had close to given up.

Were it not for Shay Given in goal, and a quite wonderful block by Kieran Richardson, this could have been the biggest winning margin in an FA Cup final in more than a century.

Wenger says he will have a better idea of where Arsenal stand when they face Chelsea in the Community Shield on August 2. He expects every big club around them to buy.

Yet that, alone, cannot be an excuse for stagnation or, worse, a retreat. Arsenal have a 60,000-capacity stadium charging the highest prices in the history of football.

And a better team than Chelsea? Not right now, but it could be. Arsenal have to remember that, on occasions, the drugs do work. – Daily Mail

Original source: Time Wenger takes a gamble