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Monday, 19 August 2013

Arsenal fans should look at the bigger picture

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is again public enemy No 1 after his side’s 3-1 opening day loss to Aston Villa on Saturday. Forget the fact that in 18 seasons under his leadership the club has never finished below fifth in the league. And ignore the fact that they have failed to qualify for the Uefa Champions League only once since he joined in 1996. Before his arrival, the club were yo-yoing an average of five positions every season since 1947, finishing below fifth 27 times in the previous 49 campaigns and never going beyond a four-year stretch in the top five. Wenger’s consistency steadied that positional shift to an average of one place per season, winning three league titles and four FA Cups, making him the club’s most successful manager of all-time. Arsenal are now one of very few clubs that operate at a profit and many envy the Gunners’ stability, especially in an era where we have seen the likes of Leeds United in freefall as a result of their financial recklessness. That Arsenal fans are now calling for Wenger’s contract not to be renewed past May 2014 is perhaps ignorant of the bigger picture. They are right to be angry that the club sold 17 players this summer and brought in just one, and started their season at home to Aston Villa with just 11 fit players. They are also right to be frustrated that the club appears to be sitting idle on a reported cash balance of £154 million (Dh886 million), which is almost as much as all the English Premier League’s 19 club’s budgets combined — especially as they have now failed to win any silverware in eight years. They have a right to complain because the tickets they buy are among the most expensive in the world to watch a club side. But to be fair, none of the top clubs, with the exception of Manchester City, have got transfer their business done early this summer. And one look at Chelsea’s £50 million flop Fernando Torres still flailing against Hull on Sunday or Liverpool’s loss of £14 million on Stewart Downing’s sale to West Ham shows you that spending big isn’t always the answer. Wenger’s policies are sustainable and he isn’t bowing to the pressure of the crazy spenders around him. Ultimately Arsenal will be better off in the long term and fans should appease themselves with the knowledge that class is permanent and form is temporary. Aston Villa was just one match but it will hopefully be the catalyst for more balance at the club in terms of economic shrewdness and competitive investment. There are also two weeks left in the transfer window for this phase not to be considered a crisis just yet.
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