'For years we have no money. Now we have money and we cannot find players to buy'
The Arsenal manager admits a frugal youth policy is hampering his quest for trophies, writes Amy Lawrence
O n the eve of the new season, Arsene Wenger has admitted his patience is running dry with the youth policy that has been his bedrock over the past few years.
The Arsenal manager has been committed to a frugal and homespun approach as a means of staying afloat in the upper echelons of the Premier League whilst shouldering the cost of the construction of the Emirates Stadium. But now that the club are on a more prosperous footing, he is ready to change direction if trophies do not come soon.
And trophies to him mean only two things: the Premier League or Champions League. "Would you like to finish 10th in the league and win the League Cup and say you won a trophy? Certainly not," Wenger says, tutting.
Wenger showed his faith in the club, and his players, when he signed a three-year extension to his contract yesterday, committing him to Arsenal until 2014. "My heart belongs to Arsenal and my desire is to see this team win silverware," he said. "My commitment and drive are as strong and fresh as ever. Signing a new deal means that I can see this talented group of players reach their potential. Trust me, they are ready to deliver."
Although he is hopeful that his team are sufficiently older and wiser to push closer to the silverware that matters, he is mindful that Arsenal are under pressure to show something more concrete than promise. Another close-but-not-close-enough campaign will tempt him to beef up his team by being more audacious in the transfer market. Is there a deadline by which this policy must succeed? Is it this season or the chequebook?
"I don't know, for me it's this season. After every season you think about where you are," he says. "The main target is always to get the maximum out of the team. Last year we were not far off. With all the injuries we had, to finish third in the league and go out of the Champions League to Barcelona in the quarter-finals was not a shame. I believe we have done quite well.
"But my concern is that the policy we have chosen delivers trophies. In the last four, five years we have gone for a young team, to bring them up, while we built the new stadium and I believe we have managed quite well to stay in the top four. But we need to deliver trophies now."
Ideologically, he remains resistant to going down the Manchester City route, but he appreciates how he is now even more up against it than ever. "People say Manchester City have invested £100m, and we have invested £8m, and if we do not win it's a scandal," he says with a wry laugh. "I agree though. If we don't win the championship it's an absolute disgrace, but you have also to accept the league is a high level and it's not as easy as it looks."
His trust in the squad he has nurtured remains strong, and he expects the likes of Samir Nasri, Alex Song and Abou Diaby to be stronger and more influential this term. But he does not dispute the glaringly obvious areas of weakness. Arsenal have spent money on just one player this summer, for raw defender Laurent Koscielny who is set to make his Premier League debut at Anfield. But they have lost three experienced centre-halves from their squad, and done nothing to address their painful vulnerability in goal.
"Let's still not be fooled. We are short at the back, and we need to add," he concedes. "If we manage to do that, then we are better equipped."
Wenger has been disappointed by how much effort it takes to seal signings currently. To sign a player with the moderate pedigree of Koscielny, who had only one season in France's top division with Lorient under his belt, was "unbelievably difficult". That brings its obvious frustrations. "For years we have no money. Now we have money and we cannot find players to buy. Many teams who have good players do not want to sell," he says. "Germany for example is in a very strong financial situation. Clubs in France are well managed and don't need to sell. In Italy you have less players who can strengthen Arsenal now. In England the transfer market is flat."
The lack of new faces, coupled with the fitness issues holding back key World Cup performers, leave Wenger starting the season with a team that is makeshift already. That might mean a start for the latest wunderkind, Jack Wilshere. Wenger believes it sums up the bigger picture dilemma that Arsenal are expected to simultaneously blood an 18-year-old and challenge for the title.
Against that backdrop, he feels it is make or break for his philosophy. "Frankly, I consider it always like that in my head," he says. "Maybe now more than ever."