The Arsenal Column

Arsenal Analysis and Tactics. All views expressed are those of Pat Rice. (Disclaimer: they are actually not his words).

Arsène Wenger planning to keep it in the family

Arsène Wenger feels keeping his talented groups of players will allow much future success as inspired by Ajax’s “Total Football” sides.

Arsène Wenger was keen to avoid any comparative superlatives with the late 60s and early 70s Ajax sides in 2004 but if his current side realise their fledgling potential, they should comfortably sit alongside the legendary Dutch team.

Emblazoned on the walls of Ajax’s academy are photographs of players who have painted a rich of history of the club; Johan Cruyff, Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert and Edwin van der Sar to name a few. The icing on the cake? All came through club’s fabled youth system and it is that which had kept them consistently challenging in Europe until the late 90′s. “If you have a good youth development system,” says Cruyff, now part-time Catalunya coach. “Then it is obvious first team will one day be good too. It’s not hard to get things right; all that is required is a lot of hard work.”

But as the game became increasingly globalised and money took over (the Bosman rule has also had a particularly adverse effect), they find themselves in a precarious position. Nevertheless it’s the culture, the shared heritage and philosophy that Ajax created which has been highly sought-after.

Growing up, Ajax were the pin-up side for Wenger and have certainly played a part in shaping the manager’s thinking. “Ajax were certainly the first team in relation to my generation because they had the perfect players everywhere,” he said. Rinus Michels, the then coach watched his side grow up almost organically during the ‘Gloria Ajax’ era; a group of supremely talented players from the academy led by Johan Cruyff would garner an almost telepathic understanding and on the pitch that would be allowed to be expressed through rapid passing, pressuring together and the interchangeing of positions. And it’s this philosophy that’s not far removed from the one at the Emirates.

“I want to have success by building a team with a style, a know-how, with a culture of play specific to the club and it’s fans and with young people,” said Arsène Wenger. “Our purpose is not to say are we a great team or not but to try to improve, try to get better. You don’t try to copy. I try every time to add good players to the team based on movement and technique. We know we are mobile, we know we are technically good.”

Wenger has given Arsenal a style to rival that Ajax side, an illustrious history (although with a lack of consistency) and a youth system renowned worldwide for educating the best. “We are able to attract the most promising prospects because we have a calling card stamped Arsène Wenger,” says Gilles Grimandi. (Incidentally, Arsenal are set to profit not only from the more densely populated London area but like the Dutch did from Suriname immigrants, the Gunners from African with promising youngsters such as Benik Afobe, Chuks Aneke, Zak Ansah and Emmanuel Frimpong coming through the ranks).

The recent contract signings, 15 in total since May 2009 and with the talisman of the side, Cesc Fabregas already tied down at Arsenal for four more years, this will allow the captain to carry the current nucleus of talent forward in the next few years. Much like the Ajax team, it is thought bringing a gifted group of players forward together with a shared sense of belonging and loyalty will allow success to be sustained and create a footballing culture which evokes the same sense of collective improvisation as the “Total Football” sides.

Research by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski in Why England Lose – And Other Curious Football Phenomena, show why there such an importance in keeping your best players because wages dictate 92% of success. Indeed, one of the reasons former chairman David Dein is so keen to bring in an outside investor into the club is because wage bills are rising however with the strategy in place now, total wages only account to around 50-60% of total revenue, compared to around 80% for both Chelsea and Manchester United. The Gunners were able to create a team ethos and mentality in achieving their unbeaten run in 2004 and the same has applied to the recent successful Premiership sides.

Indeed in Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal board have struck more than an just oil. In the Frenchman they have an economist, a forecaster which is every bit as important because of the financial stringent placed on the club since the move to the Emirates and with Ajax’s current plight serving as a caveat. Speaking in September 2009′s International Football Arena in Zurich, the Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis said of Arsenal’s objective of keeping their best players: “We believe transfer spending is the last resort. That’s a sensible view to have. Re-signing existing players is a far more efficient system.”

Wenger expands on the importance of contract renewals, citing new player contract rules which FIFA have recently introduced but could follow the same route as the Jean-Marc Bosman case. “At the moment, after 28 you need only two years. I see the next thing coming is people saying, ‘Why is it 28 and not 27? That’s age discrimination. Why do we have to wait two years after 28 and three years before? If it goes down to two as well, you go from one extreme to the other. It could mean the disappearance of transfer fees.”

Football is very much a psychological game and Arsenal’s recent good form has owed much to keeping the group’s spirits high in the fight for the title and hopefully new era domination. “I know is that within our team we have a great hunger for success,” said Wenger. “We have great solidarity and team spirit. We are a team who has grown up together and wants to achieve things. We have not won anything yet together and that makes us hungry for success.”

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7 Responses to “Arsène Wenger planning to keep it in the family”

  1. francis says:

    Indeed its true 4 young players who are very skilled. But remember da width of da squard matters and taking trophies than going 2 book a place in champions league.

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  2. Roberticus says:

    Hi Brain,

    just wanted to provide you with a link to a video interview with Manuel Pellegrini in which he outlines his philosophy and base formation. Watching it reminded me of one of your previous articles (Arsenal’s unique 4-4-2). I find this interview interesting because it pretty much confirms something I’ve always suspected about Pellegrini’s sides: that they play in a very similar way to a classical Wenger set-up (before this season and last season’s changes).

    http://www.uefa.com/trainingground/index.html#34002/512/940136

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    The Brain Reply:

    Thanks. Yes last year’s Champions League tie against Villarreal just displayed how Arsenal-like they were as at their home, they outplayed us with a type of football not too dissimilar to what we were seeing a few years ago.

    Wenger still likes the 4-4-2 but it just goes to show his tactical nous with the change to 4-3-3 which has been questioned because what people perceive as inaction during games. (Most subs are fitness based but he hadn’t had to make much radical changes after witnessing his Invincibles side).

    It’s interesting how Pellegrini pushed two attacking midfielders behind the forwards rather than leaving them out wide and then having them come in like Wenger likes. It just goes to show the “magic square” you once talked about. Maybe it would have been more effective if those attacking midfielders had been required to use a bit more width.

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    Roberticus Reply:

    That’s true about last season’s Champion’s League match; I remember thinking “This is like Arsenal A vs. Arsenal Reserves”. Structurally, Pellegrini had set them up in a very Wenger-esque way, stylistically they were similar too- but they just lacked the aggression and pace of the Arsenal players and Bobby Pires conceded that after the game. So in that sense they were like a not-yet-fully developed Arsenal side.

    Also, I think it’s great that Wenger can switch between his two systems now. That wide-playmaking role in the 4-2-2-2 seems to better suit certain players like Wilshere, who I’m not sure is best utilised as an outside-forward in the 4-3-3. On the other hand, Ramsey seems to be a straight swap for Cesc or Denilson in the central 3 of the latter formation.

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  3. The Brain says:

    Recent comments of Wenger about keeping it in the family: “We have a long-term plan to be a winning team – and Cesc Fabregas is part of that.

    “We have worked very hard with all of our players, and they all have a very long contract commitment.”

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  4. Nhan Le says:

    Just one comment on the economic side.

    I think Arsene’s economics (Arsenomics?) is very rudimentary and very conservative – he succeeds by keeping himself within the football side of things and letting people do the calculus. That we’re so successful on the financial side has much more to do with people on the background than with him. This argument is not going well with some of you, but please give me a chance to explain myself.

    Arsene’s economic moto is “balance yer budget.” Arsenal don’t balance our budget. We take on ENORMOUS debts. And looking from the outside, the way we invest that money is nothing unconventional – to build a new stadium. Just think of the number of clubs who struggle after moving in their new homes.

    I must also say that there’s nothing wrong with taking out debts if one finance them and invest wisely (what’s wise and what’s not?). In fact, nothing great in the free world has ever been achieved without forward-looking financial prowess. Without having a specific insights to the financial know-how of the club, it’s impossible to explain why Arsenal do so well.

    Arsene gives us a free-lunch on the transfer market for world class performances. How does he manage it?

    Arsene says “why do I pay 10 grand for a player worth 5?” Of course, this credo has served him and us well more often than not. What he does not admit to and never shares with us is that, in most successful transfers, he knows with high certainty both the value of the player to his team AND how much the market would pay for the player. Arsene buys when the latter is less than the former – he’s more informed than the market on football expertise. He makes his decision not because he’s got a master in Econ but because his scouts have given him every detail from toe to head about the specific player. When the scouts aren’t sure, well, for every Fabregas that we get, we miss out on a Ronaldo. We benefit because Arsene has an extensive scouting network (and probably thanks to his risk aversion as well). I doubt if the economics here is rocket science.

    What is rocket science what what would be interesting economics is, what Arsene does to ride the waves of the unregulated, shadowy and probably very anti-competition scouting network, a network of insiders’ information. Why do his scouts not snitch their great finds to potentially more much lucrative buyers than a club that refuse to overpay? Again, until we have insights on how this sort of market work we won’t understand how Arsene is so successful.

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    The Brain Reply:

    Good comment. The board hit a gold mine in Wenger which means they have someone that could give them stability, continuity on the pitch to implement their objectives. Without Wenger’s vision, the stadium wouldn’t be as profitable or the club for that matter, in success as well.

    Other members of the club such as the scouts deserve credit, Hill-Wood and Spencer who done everything to get the move to Ashburton.

    I guess the scouts work on a basis of trust, respect and fulfillment. Wenger says he must see every player before making a decision and why he pays so well for a player must be on some level down to unsettling the player from the club (i.e. promising games so his head is turned), acting quickly with the information he has and identifying quickly. Vela would have been worth millions more had we not agreed a fee with his representatives before the u17 championships.

    The debt issue is a contentious one – I agree if they use that wisely it’s okay but more often than not it seems not. I am on Platini’s side when he wants to change things but whether good intentions are realistic I’m not so sure.

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