Wenger Knows Best: No One Else Could've Done Better At Arsenal Than Him
Friday 24th January 2014, Arsenal are 2-0 up versus Coventry in the FA Cup fourth round and 71 minutes have been played, cue Gedion Zelalem. The Ethiopian-German 16 year old comes on to make his first team debut, 2 days before his 17th birthday. The significance? He became the first player to play under Arsène Wenger, who was born after the Frenchman took charge of the club in 1996.
And now approaching 18 years in charge of the club, it was on Monday 27th January 2014 that Arsenal announced the biggest ever kit sponsorship deal in British history. A deal with German sportswear company Puma was agreed, and the famed kit supplier will pay the North London outfit, no pun intended, £150 million over the next five years, equating to £30 million pounds a year, an enormous jump from their previous deal with Nike.
Again though, what is the significance behind this and Arsène Wenger’s new contract?
Well, apart from Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis announcing Wenger’s imminent renewal at the launch of their new partnership with Puma, this new deal is more than extra transfer money each season.
It is the result of 10 years planning to put Arsenal back at the top of English football after being set back by the repayments of loans that helped fund their move to the Emirates stadium in 2006.
Back in 2004 when Arsenal announced they would move to the Ashburton Grove site, Wenger proclaimed at the press event,
“The project meant taking on a risk and gamble but it shows that we move on, get better and compete with the best. We never give up and we never accept defeat and fight to compete with the best.”
A vale to cover Arsenal fans eyes maybe, that the next decade would be a struggle, and the stadium would set the club back on the pitch. Probably. Don’t kid yourselves, Arsène Wenger knew what the move would do to the club in the short term, but more significantly he knew how beneficial it would be 10 years down the line.
Admitting last January when speaking about the move to the Emirates, “You look at any club who has done that, and they have gone down (in performance). We stayed at the top level, yes without winning the Premier League, but we were always at the top level. Now we have come out in a much stronger position financially again, so we can spend.”
And spend they did, £42 million on Mesut Özil. It was a coup, an expensive one, but fans and more importantly, the players were finally starting to really believe again. It was the lift the club needed.
Özil admitted Wenger’s influence and personal phone calls, spoken in fluent German, prior to the deal, where the Frenchman placed trust in the German’s abilities and made him feel wanted at the club, ultimately swung the deal.
And it's all these things above that make Arsène Wenger so deserved of his new contract.
The news of his renewal has admittedly been met with criticism and negativity from some fans, who this time last season were begging for the fourth highest paid manager in the world to be sacked.
After eight years of dust settling on the trophy cabinet, despite the best efforts of the Arsenal cleaners, they just didn’t see Wenger being deserved of it any more.
But the bottom line is, despite this barren patch, no other manager in world football would have been able to keep a club in the top four of the most competitive league in the world on such limited funds. And more so, plan the future for a club of Arsenal’s stature for such a period of time, knowing the rewards that would eventually come from it.
Gary Neville summed it up perfectly following the final day of the 2012/13 campaign when Arsenal secured fourth spot for the 15 consecutive season:
“They've spent £9million net in 10 years and maintained the level of consistency of getting in the Champions League.
“They've built a football stadium, they're paying off their debt and they're nearly there. If they move up now it will look like one of the most magnificent managerial performances when you look back in history.
“Half the Arsenal fans are annoyed because they think they should be doing more and should be doing better, but of all the madness and debt that surrounds football, what they have done is absolutely the right thing.
"What they now need to do, having nearly paid off their debt, is they need to go now. I think he knows, Arsène Wenger, that moment is now."
Arsenal have gone. They’ve bolted. Arsène Wenger spent big, he’s guided them to the top of the Premier League, and with just 14 games to play, after a season of doubt, people are finally seeing them as title contenders.
Whilst tough periods await them during the run it, including games at all conquering Bayern Munich and unbeaten at home Chelsea, Wenger has instilled such a strong spirit and work ethic into his players, he himself admits it’s one the best, if not the best group he has ever had at the club.
But nothing has changed with Wenger, there’s been no light bulb moments, he’s still the same man and coach that took over 17 years ago, he’s just kept doing what he did best and brushed off all criticism that fans and press threw his way over the last 8 years.
His stats at Arsenal speak for themselves.
His win percentage is 56.9% in the Premier League, with his sides scoring over 1,800 goals in all competitions, along with a goal difference of almost +900.
Astonishingly, he’s the only post-war Arsenal manager to win more than half of his games and even if he lost every single one of his next 130 games as manager, he would still have the highest win ratio of any Arsenal manager in their history.
He also became the first oversees manager to win the double, when he lead his 97/98 side to the Premier League and FA Cup titles.
He also oversaw the famed 2003/04 Invincible’s unbeaten season, where the style of play that he has instilled at the club was at its very peak, leading many to label it as the best ever Premier League team. This free-flowing, passing game has seen Wenger’s sides amass 1,319 points in the Premier League since he took over and score 1,253 goals in the same period of time.
Unsurprisingly, these stats are also one of the many reasons as to why Wenger is also the longest serving manager in the Premier League and all other 91 football league clubs, having held his position more than twice as long as the next manager on the list, Exeter City's Paul Tisdale (approaching 8 years).
And that, that is why Arsene Wenger is deserved of his new contract. The Frenchman’s reign is growing to become stronger than ever.