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Must Arsene Wenger spend BIG to win titles?

By: Ufuoma Egbamuno

It’s really a tough time to be an Arsenal supporter. Whether you are in Malaysia having a once-in-a-lifetime- opportunity to see your beloved Gunners stars in pre-season action; in England where you’ve had the opportunity to watch the team for 6 barren years; or on the streets of Lagos, Nigeria scanning through a copy of Complete Sports (a Nigerian national sports daily) to check if Wenger has made a new signing, there’s one common denominator for all Arsenal fans: HEARTBREAK!

Yes heartbreak! It’s either the heartbreak of not being able to hold on to a lead in a final (check Carling cup final 2007 and before that Champions League final 2006), or you witness the now customary calamitous end to a season (check 2007-2008, 2009-2010 and 2010-2011). Such has been Arsenal’s misery that Patrick Viera’s last kick for the club in 2005 ensured Arsenal’s last trophy.

This has led many– fans, journalists, ex players—to call on Wenger to splash the cash insisting that unless he does like his rivals (the two Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Tottenham who have all spent big in recent times), Arsenal’s barren drought may go on for years to come.

Former left back Gael Clitchy who just joined the City revolution seems to be adding more salt to the injury. He describes Arsenal as a club who are always challenging for trophies but never winning.

“After spending eight years with Arsenal it would have been easy to sign a new contract to stay there because they’re a fantastic club that will always be challenging for trophies”, he says. “But it got to a point for me where I didn’t want to just challenge for the titles only to be disappointed in the final weeks of the season.

He goes on to add: “I wanted to play for a club that would win them. I joined City because I felt that this was a club ready to win important trophies over the next few years.”

Despite statements like these, Wenger has remained adamant. Lille Striker, Gervinho who  looks set to sign coming in for a modest 10 million pounds is the only major signing. Versatile 19 year old defender Carl Jenkinson came in for 1 million while as I write this reports suggest another 19 year old, Costa Rica striker Joel Campbell has agreed to join on a 5 year deal worth 900,000 pounds.

The question now is does Wenger necessarily need to spend big to win titles? I’ll tell you what I think: NO!

Wenger has shown over the years that you don’t necessarily need to spend big. Let’s take a quick look down memory lane. In 1996 just before the Frenchman arrived he asked the Arsenal board to secure the services of a certain Patrick Viera who saw limited opportunities at AC Milan. Viera came in for 3.5million; Nicolas Anelka for 500,000; Emmanuel Petit for 2.5 and Marc Overmars for 5.5million. They helped secure the double in 1998. Now many might argue that the core of the team was built by former manager George Graham. Quite agreed that’s a reasonable argument especially noting that Wenger inherited a solid backline of David Seaman, Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Nigel Winterburn, and Lee Dixon. Fast forward four years on to Wenger’s second double in 2002.  Arsene had eased in Sol Campbell (who came from Spurs for free); Ashley Cole (from the Academy); a certain Thierry Henry (who despite being talented was yet to fulfill his potentials);  Robert Pires (who came in for 6 million); and Sylvian Wiltord (who can rightly be tagged Arsenal’s big money signing at 13 million). Two years later in 2004, this team went undefeated en-route winning the league again. This time, Tony Adams place had gone to Kolo Toure who came for a reported 250, 000 pounds and Germany’s Jens Lehman had replaced Seaman in goal.

 

What’s the point in this analysis? To show how despite selling some of his best stars, Wenger has also being able to achieve success by first and foremost keeping the core of his experienced squad and then adding important signings to it. Unfortunately for the former Monaco boss, he stopped this since 2005 easing off his “Invincibles” squad too quickly. Viera, Pires, Henry, Gilberto left a little too soon unlike Alex Ferguson at United who has seen the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Garry Neville and lately Rio Fedinand serve as inspiration to the youthful additions like Cristiano Ronaldo, Rooney, The Brazilian Twins Rafael and Fabio etc.

Wenger seems to have realized this mistake hence his bullish stance on two of his most prized assets declaring recently, “If we sell both Fabregas and Nasri, no one will think we are ambitious.” I agree with him.

Arsenal’s problems in the last few seasons have been either a small squad plus injuries to key players (as in the case of 2007-2008 season), or a combination of lack of experience and mental strength when things get tough and squad players who are not good enough (as in the case of 2009-2010 and last seasons). All Wenger needs to do is simple: fight to keep the duo of Nasri and captain Cesc; weed out a few dead wood (Almunia, Bendtner and Denilson); and add another centre back possibly Blackburn’s Chris Samba to shore up the defence.

If Arsene can pull these off, Arsenal will sure be on the way to winning a trophy next season. Wenger doesn’t necessarily need to spend big to achieve that. All he needs is that final step to glory. The question is will he make that decisive move?

Ufuoma Egbamuno
Sports Enthusiast
Follow me on Twitter: @foskolo

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