You can’t argue with him really. After years of Arsenal fans urging the club to spend big, they finally have, and it seems an age since Robin van Persie decided to move up north in search of trophies. Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez have come in during the last twelve months and not only improve Wenger’s side significantly, but the message that those two signings sends out to the world is just as significant for the Gunners.
There’s nothing like a few big signings to raise a clubs’ profile and make them more appealing, and the signing of Alexis Sánchez this summer proves that the Özil buy wasn’t just a one-off piece of opportunism to appease a fan base growing increasingly impatient with the seemingly apparent lack of ambition shown by the club. The arrival of two world-class stars will undoubtedly make it easier for big players to choose Arsenal as a destination in the future, and that’s vitally important.
Fans like to talk about money being the biggest motivator for players in today’s game, but never underestimate the attraction and appeal of an ambitiously spending club to the biggest and best out there. The traditionalists among us will bemoan this but buying and buying big is the best way to achieve that outlook, to stand the best chance of attracting players and the best chance of keeping the ones you already have.
But to me, Wenger’s public insistence that Arsenal are now able to “compete at the top” financially is curious. I immediately question the necessity to public announce this. It just raises expectations and piles pressure onto both him and his team (and whoever is supplying him with his transfer funds!). And it isn’t the first time Wenger’s done this.
Despite a poor record in the last decade (trophy-wise at least), Wenger seems to love talking his team up. Not however in the arrogant way a Mourinho or a Ferguson might, it’s just that he doesn’t do a great deal of talking his team down, lowering expectations and trying to ease the pressure on his players.
The last few years have seen Arsenal make inconsistent challenges for the title. Last season’s challenge was their strongest for while, in fact they spent more time in 1st place than anyone, but in typical Arsenal style it tailed off around Spring.
Quite frequently Arsenal have made serious title challenges but almost as frequently, they’ve had some form of disastrous capitulation or collapse during the business end. And for me, Wenger sets himself up for this collapse year after year. Whether brought on through insecurity regarding his trophy-less run or just through a lack of thinking, Wenger seems to love to insist and to stress that his team are in the title picture and that his team can challenge for all the honours. Season after season it happens, and season after season, totally unnecessary pressure is heaped onto the shoulders of an already highly scrutinised Arsenal side.
Incidentally, what Wenger says is completely the case, they usually are in the title picture, they usually can challenge on most fronts, but seemingly harmless admittances like these can suddenly lead to very damaging circumstances.
Prior to winning the FA Cup last season, Arsenal had been on a 9-year trophy-less run. Pressure on the players to end the drought has been sky-high for years and that was aptly demonstrated by their 2011 Carling Cup Final loss to Birmingham City, and the struggles they had during the semi-final and final of their cup-winning run last term. Adding any more pressure should be the last thing on Arsène’s agenda, and yet we see him do it frequently.
The Arsenal boss has a rather admirable policy when it comes to journalists in that he believes that every question that he’s asked deserves an answer – no matter the topic. So I apologise if this seems a little pedantic, when after all, he’s probably just answering questions that are put to him. But nevertheless, Wenger needs to realise when self-hype is unnecessary.
Comparing him to Brendan Rodgers in this way last season is extremely telling. Despite Liverpool having every right to brand themselves as firm under dogs, Rodgers made every attempt possible last season to play down his teams’ expectations and chances. Every time he was prompted to talk up his side’s title credentials, he always responded in the same manner – sternly denying that his team should expect anything other than a 4th placed finish. He was adamant that a Champions League place was their target and that anything more than that would be a bonus, and it kept his players’ feet on the ground. Of course, Wenger would be universally condemned if he suggested that 4th place was Arsenal’s seasonal target (despite all the jokes), so the comparison isn’t 100% fair, but Rodgers demonstrated the importance of lowering expectations and taking pressure away from your players brilliantly (and if it wasn’t for an unfortunate slip, that approach would’ve won Liverpool the title). And despite his many years at the top, this is something Wenger apparently still needs to learn.
Mourinho did everything he could (rather embarrassingly at times) to play down Chelsea’s title chances, branding his side a little horse et al, but Wenger remained the only manager seemingly keen on talking his team’s chances up until they’d all but gone, almost as if he was desperate to quash any suggestion that Arsenal are no longer big-time. There’s a fine line between hyping your players to give them confidence and over-hyping them, and in my view Wenger finds himself frequently crossing that line. Insecurity does spring to mind.
The unnecessary over-hyping doesn’t seem to stop with the manager however. We’ve seen Jack Wilshere tweet about winning the Premier League title, we’ve seen Aaron Ramsey talk about how impressive Alexis Sánchez is and how he’ll guide Arsenal to new-found glory. These boys seem intent on talking themselves up and in the process, they get set up for a red-faced anti-climax every time.
Following Arsenal’s impressive victory over Manchester City in the Community Shield, we’ve seen the exact same thing. Wilshere told talkSPORT about how Arsenal are ready for the title, emphasising the fact that they just beat the Champions of England. Can he not see how talking up his side’s title chances like this can be nothing but an unnecessary addition of pressure and expectation? How can Wenger allow things like this to happen? Now, Arsenal must win the league to prevent Wilshere from looking a bit of a fool (more or less). You gain nothing by hyping yourself up and you certainly stand to lose a lot if you do. So why oh why do Arsenal seem to persist with this?
They decided to celebrate the win with a night on the town, and sure if you haven’t won much in the last decade you might be tempted to enjoy yourself a little bit when the odd trophy does come your way, but celebrating the Community Shield like that? It all seems a bit much.
It just sends out the wrong message, in the same way that they were criticised for supposedly celebrating finishing fourth a couple of seasons ago. Arsenal need to put themselves above all that. Everyone should enjoy their success however big or small, but winning the Community Shield shouldn’t be cause for such elaborate celebration much in the same way finishing fourth shouldn’t be either. It’s a great start, but Arsenal need to show everyone that they’re worth more than that.
And the way in which Wilshere in particular has reacted, Arsenal fans will now expect the title. And guess what? If they don’t win it, guess who has an entire fan base on his back complaining about yet another end of season collapse? Mr Wenger.
Heightening expectations, whether for a team or a particular player is never a good thing in sport, and it’s high time Wenger learned that. He needs to let his actions do the talking for him. – on the pitch. Instead of talking about how Arsenal are in the title picture, go out and let your team prove it. Instead of talking up Alexis Sánchez’ ability, let him demonstrate it for himself. Let the papers and the pundits do the talking for you. Not living up to someone else’s hype is one thing, but not living up to your own hype is just disastrous.
Whether intentionally or unintentionally, Wenger seems to continuously be putting himself and his team in a spot of potential bother, or indeed allowing his players to do the same. Now Arsenal will have to make sure they don’t sell any more players to their rivals otherwise Wenger looks a hypocrite. Now Arsenal will have to win the league to avoid fan discontentment. He needn’t have stated that Arsenal are no longer a selling club, all he needed to do was let everyone work it out for themselves by not selling and continuing to spend big. He needn’t talk up Arsenal’s title chances, or let his players do it either, he just needs to keep winning games and people will come to that conclusion themselves. You needn’t have to convince everyone of something if you go out and do it first. Don’t write the headline Mr Wenger, be the headline.
He just needs to understand the difference between harmless hype and unnecessary pressure building and maybe now with the trophy monkey off his back, we’ll see a change in the Frenchman’s approach. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, stop with the selfie-taking, stop with tweeting, stop with the self-hyping and just get on with it. If you succeed, happy days, if you fail, at least you don’t look like a bunch of muppets!