We agree that Arsene Wenger can’t win the Champions League. But why can’t he?

Over at EPL Talk, the Gaffer has an interesting piece up explaining how Arsene Wenger will never win a Champions League and how, in general, Wenger’s not the man for the job if Arsenal wants to win trophies.

Well written as it is, I disagree with him on that point. Barcelona proves that you can play that kind of style and succeed on the highest of stages. Wenger’s tactics are more flexible than he’s often credited for. Additionally, even if you’re willing to grand that he’s not quite as tactically acute (or at least flexible) as other managerial giants, Arsene opponents must grant that he does possess the motivational skills to get the best out of his players. Sven Goran Eriksson he is not. The first leg against Barca should be all the evidence you need on that count.

He continues on Barcelona:
Gaffer makes is sound like there is some sort of “structural reason” that Arsenal’s players could never beat Barcelona. I disagree with that too. London is a big city, with lots things that would (and does) make it attractive for the world’s best players. Now, if he is referencing a difference in terms of money, then maybe I could go along with that point. But, Arsenal fans are told over and over that there is plenty of money to spend. So, until I see evidence otherwise, I won’t say that Arsenal simply cannot attract the same caliber of players as Barcelona.

The reason that the Gaffer leaves out is in fact the critical reason why Arsene Wenger’s teams cannot compete with Barcelona. It’s that the players that Wenger brings to and keeps at Arsenal, are not, no matter how many times he repeats it, as good as those at Barcelona. It’s not Wenger’s tactics or motivation that holds Arsenal’s back, it’s his player-personnel skills. It’s Wenger the GM or TD that’s the problem.

Back when Arsenal was at its best, David Dein was still at the club advising Arsene Wenger. Dein served as a another, often dissenting, voice in Wenger’s personnel decisions. These weren’t fights, of course. Wenger was hugely close to Dein and trusted him and his judgements. Dein could steer Wenger away from some of his more stubborn moments that helped Wenger and Arsenal push to new heights. Since Dein left in 2007, Arsenal has not won a thing and I do not think it’s a coincidence.

So, my point is that I think it’s a mistake to blame Arsenal’s tactics and style for the club’s lack of recent trophies. Instead, the blame be laid, as I often do) at the feet of Arsene Wenger’s stubborn lack of movement in the transfer market to strengthen the team at defender, holding midfielder and striker.

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11 thoughts on “We agree that Arsene Wenger can’t win the Champions League. But why can’t he?

  1. Ughhh, calm down Beavis.

    Wenger is an amazing coach and exceptional at finding new talent. As much as I love watching the pace of English footy, it’s no secret that individually players are alittle behind then many leagues around the world. If the pace isn’t fast and hard, then most English teams are in trouble. Wenger’s approach to the game is appropriate given his environment. THE EPL.

    Arsenal plays a fast beautiful game that is staged for the fastest and most physical league in the world. Personally, I don’t think Barcelona could handle the physicallity of the EPL for very long if they were to play there for a season. Barcelona is more tactical and have recruited players that have remarkable talent and speed rather then players that have a hard nose and a physical presense.

    Wenger is coaching for an EPL team. He’s coaching accordingly and doing a fine job.

  2. There are certainly major structural differences between Arsenal and Barcelona, any one of which could be giving Barca an advantage.

    1) Barcelona is in Spain, and Arsenal is in England. Given that their youth systems are an important part of their model, this will mean that Barcelona will always have easier access to Spanish youngsters, and Arsenal to English ones.

    2) Barcelona plays in a league that is historically less competitive than is England’s.

    3) Barcelona is ‘owned’ by 155,000 socios that instead of expecting an annual dividend, actually pay an annual fee of a couple hundred bucks a year for the privilege of ownership. This means that Barca can effectively ‘lose’ US$30M or so a year on its operations and be fine. I couldn’t tell with a quick search whether this has legal tax advantages, but even if it doesn’t, never earning a profit means you aren’t paying the profit tax.

  3. wenger is constantly complaining about how Arsenal is done wrong and then goes out and commits the same offenses against their opponents. he reflects a woe is me attitude that is picked up by the players. instead of toughing it out and doing whatever needs to be done to win the game. he could win it if he became pragmatic but he’s too much of an idealist

  4. The last several Arsenal squads remind me of the better years of the “Moneyball” A’s. Wenger gets a lot out of what he has but he runs out of luck when bumping up against the equivalent of the Yankees. I still haven’t been able to figure out how much of Arsenal’s refusal to upgrade in the transfer market relates to the stadium debt situation.

  5. Arsenal fans are not told over and over that there is “plenty of money to spend”. That’s a mischaracterization of what Wenger has said – as if he’s saying that money is no object. He says he has money to use on any given transfer if he wants to do so, but not without consequences in terms of future transfer market flexibility or putting pressure on the wage scale (which ultimately impacts their ability to retain players like Cesc down the road).

    When the debt is paid off on the Emirates, there will be more money there. In the meantime, it’s a question of whether the incremental benefit of spending more in any particular instance is going to bring sufficient bang for the buck to make it worth it (especially when you can’t see in advance exactly which injuries are going to occur). When there was a clear need last year, he loosened the purse strings to get Arshavin, and that has been money pretty well spent. The Vermaelen purchase was very sound this summer. There’s no doubt he will move again to strenthen central defense this summer, whether or not Gallas re-signs.

    What specific, additional transfer move do you think would have really changed Arsenal’s ability to compete for the league or CL this season?

  6. It depends what you mean by “doing a fine job.” He hasn’t won a trophy in 5 years. Arsenal fans aren’t going to be patient with that forever.

    Everybody on Earth could recognize that Arsenal was thin in the center of defense. Everybody knew they needed to sign another defender. And Arsene did. It was…………Sol Campbell. Why not go out and get somebody who can actually play? With Puyol and Pique out, Barcelona was able to rely on Milito and Marquez…….and not miss a beat. Arsenal can’t do the same. Now, maybe he’s just showing some fiscal responsibility. Which is an admirable trait these days. But that’s not going to win you trophies.

    Arsenal is better than 95% of the teams in Europe. I truly believe that. But if they plan on winning the premier league or champions league, they’re lacking that star quality. Can you see Arsenal going and getting David Villa this off-season? No. They’ll get Chamakh. Chelsea, Madrid, Barcelona, etc. will get Villa……………..and still maintain that gap in talent between themselves and the Gunners.

  7. seems to me that the english game would benefit immensely from a youth development system based on wenger’s ideas. i agree arsenal have failed to act expeditiously in the transfer market and they lack some grit, but being in the top two or three of the EPL all the time isn’t exactly shameful.

  8. I would love to win the Champions League and dominate the Premier League but it ain’t gonna happen. Over the 20 odd years of following Arsenal they have never been a win a trophy every year team so I don’t see why this now the standard. Yes, we enjoyed success under Wenger and it increase expectations but let’s not forget building the new stadium and the real estate development was meant to improve the club’s ability to compete financially with the big boys. The glory years of the late 90s and early 2000s Arsenal was punching above its weight and even then that was pre-Abramovich Chelsea. Yet, now with the competition even greater the expectations still increase.

  9. People seem to forget that although Arsenal plays the beautiful game, during tough away fixtures in the CL the last couple of years Wenger has used a 4-5-1 on occasion.

  10. Trying to judge Wenger’s performance hinges on the question “do Arsenal not have the money, or do they have the money and Wenger won’t spend it?” And I’ve never heard a straight answer on that question, or more accurately I year a “yes they have the money” from one source and a “no they don’t” from another.

    The Gaffer is wrong. There’s no particular reason Wenger can’t win the Champions League. Articles like that are irritating because they assign everything that happens the weight of inevitability. If Arsenal continue to make it into the quarterfinals/semifinals (and they once made a final), then eventually they’ll win the trophy, it’s just a matter of time and probability.

  11. These are old post, but here are my two cents… lets recognize that Wenger lacks tactical knowledge to win the CL. Teams that win play defense and Wenger’s ARsenal teams do not…they rely on outscoring the opponent. Well that might work against lesser teams, with less on the line, but in the CL you must play some defense and attack at the correct time. And yes a strong defense starts with a World Cup GK which Arsenal has not had for years! Just look at what occurred on Monday vs MAN U…Fergie clearly out managed Wenger! Wenger tried to respond with loading the offense in the last 15 mins.

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