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Arsenal Should Take A Leaf From Fergie’s Book

Wenger FergusonFollowing Arsenal’s fourth successive draw in a row, which meant United claimed top spot in the league after falling five points behind just a few weeks previously, there was some talk questioning Arsene Wenger’s job security.

Former Chelsea boss, Jose Mourinho, has questioned Wenger’s position on a couple of occasions, most recently taunting, “Arsenal are a unique team. Their coach hasn’t won anything for years, but he’s an idol.” Whilst I don’t make a habit of agreeing with the not so special one, there is a lot of weight to what he is saying here. Mourinho understands the plight of Sir Alex Ferguson, under constant pressure to deliver results, which seemingly is not something Arsene Wenger has to deal with.

In 2005, the MEN Chief sports writer said, “if Fergie can arrest this shocking and alarming slump it will rank with anything he’s achieved in all his years at the club.” United had won nothing the season preceding this comment, the FA Cup the year before that, and the title the year before that. So essentially, after just one season with no trophy, the press were hot on the talk of Manchester United in freefall, of Ferguson losing the plot, with The Guardian writing a piece titled “Who is to blame for United’s decline?”

I have been very vocal in the past is championing Fergie following the dreadful press he got during those years between us winning the titles, despite picking up the FA and League Cups in this time period. However, it is undeniable that the wealth of Chelsea combined with our transition period knocked United off their perch, all be it temporarily, and the vultures circled excitedly.

After winning the league in 2003, United had to wait four seasons before getting their hands on the title again. After Arsenal put up a brave fight to reclaim the league for the majority of this season, it seems they don’t have the mental strength and experience to reclaim to do what United did, by claiming the title within the fourth season since their last win.

Following the late penalty at Birmingham, denying Arsenal a win, Wenger’s men have picked up just four points from a possible twelve. Wenger’s pick, William Gallas, showing himself up as unworthy of the captaincy at the club of our foes, has done little to change things around following his temper tantrum, other than publicly criticise his team mates. I can’t think of a title winning club that was lead to victory by a captain who left his team mates to deal with the last minute penalty (only had the penalty been saved and the man Gallas was supposed to be marking put away the rebound would the majority of Arsenal fans join everyone else in recognising what poor judgement and character that showed) or who cried in the centre circle whilst his team mates ran off the pitch to find out the latest news on their injured colleague. When you compare this captaincy with that of Roy Keane, which was epitomised by his heroic display in Turin back in 1999, when sacrificing himself, playing like a man possessed to get us to the European Cup final, knowing that he would play no part in that historic match, that it really is no wonder Arsenal are falling by the wayside, now looking more concerned with fighting off Chelsea for second place than winning the league.

If Arsenal are to go more than four seasons without not only a league title, but any trophy at all, then what does this say about Wenger, and the unpressurised environment at the club?

It is without doubt that even Sir Alex Ferguson, the most successful manager ever in English football, would be given his marching orders long before he was given the opportunity to go four years with an empty trophy cabinet. It is interesting to look at Fergie’s track record at United when comparing the two managers. We all know the great man has won a sackful of trophies, but it is his consistency with winning as much as the number of times he’s won that should be noted.

Since Fergie’s first trophy in 1990, when he won the FA Cup ‘to save his job’, he hasn’t gone longer than one season without winning something with United. In the 17 years since that FA Cup success, United have seen just four years without a trophy.

1995 (won the double the season before, the double the season after), 1998 (won the league the season before, the Treble the season after), 2002 (won the league the year before, the league the year after), then the worst period, 2005 (won the FA Cup the year before, the League Cup the year after).

Now, before the ABUs start, Ferguson has of course spent more money than Wenger has done. Ferguson’s teams have always cost more than Wenger’s has. But how far can we take that argument? Chelsea’s team cost far more than United’s did last season, but that didn’t stop Fergie cruising to the title (and lest you forget both Nemanja Vidic and Gary Neville played in less league games than John Terry did last season, before the injury card gets pulled).

Whilst United have made available more funds for transfers, it cannot be ignored that the lack of spending at Arsenal is Wenger’s choice. He’s had the money but for whatever reason, has decided against expensive dips in to the transfer market, rather investing his time and effort in youth. This is a United tradition, dating back to Sir Matt Busby, which was again realised with our Double winning side in 1996. However, Ferguson has the nowse to combine the players from our youth system with big money signings.

This season, 25 players have represented United (not including the League Cup match where several of our youngsters got a run out), nine of them have come from our youth team, seven of them cost £7 million or less, and nine of them were big-money players. Fergie has the perfect balance of youth products, bargains and expensive signings.

Wenger would not pay over the odds for a player, it seemingly goes against his principles. When United were searching for a Roy Keane replacement, they had no choice but to pay the overinflated £18.6 million price tag for Michael Carrick. Whenever United are interested in a player, the transfer fee rises, and when you buy English players, you can always expect another few million quid slapped on to the transfer fee. However, I honestly believe that without Carrick last season, we would have not won the league. He gave us that little bit extra we would have been lacking in John O’Shea or Darren Fletcher, playing an important part in our well moulded team.

That said, this pairing from our youth team had a part to play in our title winning season, with O’Shea playing in 33 of the 38 league games last season, and Fletcher 24 games. They are important squad members, despite the criticism they sometimes endure, and players of their ability, featuring in as many games as they do (49 in total for JoS last season, 40 for Fletcher) would cost us a pretty penny. Their inclusion in our team is of course a credit to Ferguson.

Arsenal fans will not want to see the back of Arsene Wenger, even if he fails to win anything for a fourth year, and I am not being overly critical of this. However, Wenger’s reassurance over his future at Arsenal, being offered a “job for life” at the club not so long ago, could be having a costly effect on our title rivals. Whilst all managers strive for success, it is the pressures of the job that urge managers beyond imaginable realms to go out and achieve it. There is no doubt Fergie felt the pressure before that FA Cup win in 1990, and has likely felt it every year since. Wenger is given all the time in the World to develop his young players in to title contenders, with their mentality echoing something of the “next season” talk we hear from the dippers in Merseyside.

It is important to remember though that whilst Wenger is crafting a young side by choosing not to spend the wealth his club makes available to him, Sir Alex Ferguson is doing exactly the same. Close to half of the 25 players representing United this season are 24-years-old and younger, with equally bright, if not brighter, futures. Not including the keepers, who are both 30+ (with United having Ben Foster for the future regardless), there is less than a year in the average ages of the players who drew 2-2 at the Emirates earlier this season.

I can’t complain though. As for Wenger’s refusal to spend big, long may it continue. There is no trophy dished out in May for competing for the title with the cheapest squad, rather, the trophy awarded to the team who proves they’re the best over 38 games. With 29 games played, United are placed first in the league, and it would take a brave man to bet against that being the case come the end of the season.

About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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  1. jsos says:

    “As for Wenger’s refusal to spend big, long may it continue. There is no trophy dished out in May for competing for the title with the cheapest squad, rather, the trophy awarded to the team who proves they’re the best over 38 games.”

    Says it all

  2. Tom F says:

    Please note:

    A barrage of comments by disgruntled Arsenal fans will follow. These will be the same 5 Arsenal fans that always spend more time on here than on Arsenal forums.

    Agree with the quote jsos pointed out!

    Follow, Follow, Follow >>>

  3. Manutd4eva says:

    cudnt hav said it betta. u shud put dat in one of arsenals blogs.

  4. Gunner77 says:

    This is very presumptuous. How do you know Fergie would be fired in the same situation? How long did Utd wait for him to win his first title for you lot?(albeit a long time ago now) And secondly how do you know Wenger won’t be fired? Personally I hope he doesn’t get fired. Big English clubs have traditions of holding onto their managers, unlike Chelsea who fired their most successful ever manager.
    The article is also presumptuous because it seems to imply that you believe Utd have already won the title, it also discounts Chelsea’s threat as well as or own(now outside) chance of winning the title. You must have a lot of time on your hands to write an essay on another club.

  5. Gunner77 says:

    By the way, if it’s trophies your talking about it won’t be four years it will be three years. Our last trophy was 2005 when we beat you in the FA cup final with wonderful free flowing football;), or don’t you remember that?

  6. liiiiiitesuraaaa says:

    “Our last trophy was 2005 when we beat you in the FA cup final with wonderful free flowing football;), or don’t you remember that?”

    I can’t tell if you’re serious or not, but if you are you’re seriously deluded. Arsenal played very defensive football in a 4-5-1 formation and Ronaldo and Rooney absolutely battered your fulllbacks. We played you off the park.

  7. Salford Red. says:

    Does anyone else share a strange ambivalence towards Arsenal? Where my feelings towards the dippers are absolute regradless of there league position/current form, my feelings towards Arsenal depend on whether or not we are above them in the league. A couple of weeks ago my contempt for Arsenal could barely be contained. Mates who eulogised about their performance in the san siro were met with a curt “didn’t watch it mate.” My contempt for them never matched the heady days of the cup-semi in 2004, where i cannot remember pouring so much vitrol on an opposing team. Howver after we destroyed the “invincibles” in Oct 2004, my attitude softened to our effete cockney friends in the French colony of islington. After all they played great football. Their fans, on the whole, were still an affront to the principles of natural selection, but at least they were step up on the evolutionary ladder from the dippers. My feelings now are somewhat similar. What Wenger is doing at arsenal should be commended. Not since Cloughe, and currently Fergie, has one man completely embodied the ethos, spirit and attitude of a football club. I wager not a single gooner would consider for a second removing wenger from his duties. They are undoubtedly a work in progress. The only problem for them is that so are we. And we have the potential materials to create a true masterpiece, where arsenal meerly have the potential to become a very very good football team.

  8. Mick says:

    Cracking read that. Thanks.

  9. PG says:

    Actually surprisingly this is a far more balanced article than I have seen on this blog. And yes Tom F, the reason gunners land here is because it appears on our newsnow feed. One cant resist a good argument.

    So back to this article, I think there are some factual inaccuracies. Arsene didnt always have the funds to spend. Remember building of the Emirates Stadium did mean a cut down on the spending.

    Also, Arsene hasnt always been reluctant to spend money. We spent £15M for Theo, £17M for Reyes and even £8M for Francis Jeffers ( I know I know).

    This season, the option was to either make some expensive signings or trust the players who have been with the club for 3 years. Fabregas, Flamini, Hleb, Van Persie, Kolo, Eboue have been there for a while. It was either give these guys a platform to perform or sideline them through an expensive signing. We have made signings like Rosicky and Eduardo who can fit in well with the team but not made wholesale changes.

    All Arsene has done is trust his team to deliver. Yes, in hindsight it might look like an opportunity lost, but who is to say that a high profile signing would have been a match winner. Remember Julio Baptista ? Couldnt hit a cows arse with a banjo.

    i think its too early to write off Arsenal’s season. You made the mistake in December and then we took a 5 point lead. So I suggest dont open the champagne just yet. The chavs are in hunt too.

  10. OMelhorDoMundo says:

    Great article yet again, Scott.I think I remember hearing that the average age of the team that beat Lyon at Old Trafford was lower than that of Arsenal’s team that beat Milan at the San Siro.
    Anyway, my point:
    United have a policy of playing young players as long as they’re good enough. Prodigious talent like Rooney, Ronaldo, Giggs make the starting XI straight away while Beckham, Evra, Foster and so on are given time to develop.
    Thierry Henry’s move was undoubtedly a good thing for the younger players at Arsenal but who’s going to give Clichy a pat him on the back when he makes a mistake? Vieira, Ljungberg, Henry, Pires? Only Gilberto and Gallas.
    Sir Alex has the youth but doesn’t throw them in the spotlight straight away. Rather, players like Nani and Anderson are protected under Giggs and Scholes’s shadows and have less pressure to perform. Clichy has a bad game and all the pressure is on him. There are no excuses for making a mistake because he’s the most experienced left back on whom the responsibility of the left flank is heaped upon. Imagine Nani or SImpson starting regularly with their backups younger than them. What enormous pressure that must have on them? And if they mess up, would they be mature enough to deal with it? Especially if their captain, who should help, sulks at the centre circle?

    Wenger is great at bringing up young talent but is it fair on Fabregas to have to lead the team through a bad patch? I think Scholes, Neville, Giggs and Ferdinand have the obligation to lead the team since they have won plenty of titles between them, they’ve been through every possible scenario as players. Fabregas, Flamini, Adebayor and Gallas who are the leaders of the team don’t have the same wealth of experience to keep their composure in tough situations as we saw in the Carling Cup final and against Chelsea and United this season. This is no criticism of Gallas as a player but who would want a captain that kicks another player for juggling the ball? I can accept Flamini and Hoyte getting angry about it but if the captain acts in such an immature manner, how can the rest of the team keep calm in the end of the season?

  11. Tom F says:

    It’s ok PG

  12. Tom F says:

    It’s ok PG I’ll let you off as you are one of the more sensible Gooners on here :D

    In all honesty, if Machester United do not win the league the only team I’d want to win it of the big 4 is Arsenal as the way they have played this season they do deserve it. I admire Arsenal for their playing style but that is all. I really do not like Chelsea and I hate Liverpool..

    Last season (apart from Carrick) Manchester United did what Arsenal have done this season, yes we do have experience but Fergie trusted a team in development who haven’t won the title in a few years and we outplayed our nearest rivals Chelsea who always spend BIG.

    It’s all about trophies and I like to see the big names as well as new young talent at United, we spent big on 4 players last summer and I was and still am delighted!

  13. Tre says:

    I think Fergie’s done a better job with his squad because he doesn’t make wholesale changes to his side, even though United is accused of spending a lot of money. At United we’ve seen a real gradual change from old-to-new talent. We still have remnants from 1992! (Thanks Giggsy). Giggs, Scholes, Gary Nevillie, Wes Brown, even Silvestre, and then youth players like Fletcher and O’Shea. We have a tenured team and our manager, along with these players, has really built the club around an identity that he is a part of. Meanwhile Arsenal’s most tenured player, Gilberto da Silva, only dates back to 2002! Even before that the faces of Arsenal were Henry, Freddy Ljunberg and Robert Pires; players who hadn’t been there long at all. Arsenal’s identity with Wenger stops with Wenger, who’s been there for a while. United’s identity revolves around Fergie, Giggsy, etc. I think there is a lot to be said about this. United is still the pride of the Northwest; Arsenal is a French Embassy.

  14. Anant says:

    “Does anyone else share a strange ambivalence towards Arsenal ?”
    yes . salford red . i share exactly the same sentiments . after all , its hard to dislike their brand of football. i have always said that after united , if there was an english team id pay to watch it would be arsenal (spurs also maybe – fantastic entertainment) . that said , the amount of hatred that goes into the making of a united-arsenal clash is difficult to stay away from . its just not the same when we’re playin the scousers or the rent boys . also , i share the same views when it comes to liverpool fans . theyre jus plain retarded . even though they’ve not won much since forever they go around claiming theyre the best in the land . i feel its not worth anyones while trying to argue with them . they will probably never see the light . hence , given a choice id say arsenal fans are much more level headed than the dippers and its a lot easier to involve them in a sensible conversation .
    oh n since this is my first post here id like to commend scott on the brilliant articles this forum has to offer. honestly – the one about brown’s contract was an eye opener . cheers!

  15. denton davey says:

    Wenger has been under fairly tight fiscal controls as TheArse have had to spend very big to get their new stadium and the associated revenue flow. To be sure, that constrained his spending from 2003-2007 but it is hardly fair to say that he hasn’t “spent big” – J-A Reyes, Julio Baptista, and Eduardo were not exactly purchased from car boot sales, nor was Theo Walcott. What is more relevant to point out is that TheWninger has invested in very few journeymen professionals – Gallas and Rosicky and Hleb are the exceptions to this statement. This is relevant because squad depth has been the Arse’s Achilles’ Heel this year and last year and the year before that. When he has had to bring in Senderos, Hoyte, and the other young hopefuls, the team play has suffered. As we have seen with UTD, if you start chopping-and-changing then sooner or later the overall quality of the squad drops and things get tricky. That said, having Wesley, JohnnyO’ and Fletherinho in addition to Hargreaves and Carrick has given UTD excellent squad-depth and that has, I think, been the key difference between the two teams. SAF has a much deeper bench from which to choose and that quality gets borne out in games like last night’s when he gives a run-out to squaddies like Fletch, O’Shea, and LouiisLouisHaHa as well as someone very marginal like Pique. IF the Arse can make some additional signings to bulk up their squad then I can see them being a more consistent threat to our supremacy NEXT YEAR.

    Right now, the Arse seem to be in a kind of late-winter doldrum/free-fall which is just about what they have experienced for the past few years. If they can get fourteen points from their remaining eight games then a season-total of 80 will be something of an improvement – and five more that I predicted !

    IN contrast to the Arse, I think that the RentBoyz might be in a fairly parlous state as their team turnover this summer seems to be dangerously high – Drogba, Carvalho, Essien, Makalele and a couple of others seem to be on the way out. I don’t think that money alone could repair those cracks in their armour.

  16. Jam says:

    Exellent read. Great posts too.


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