Saturday 15 December 2018

Wenger insists he has no time for complaining about 'richer' clubs

Wenger: Equalling Ferguson’s record. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA
Wenger: Equalling Ferguson’s record. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA

Jeremy Wilson

The historic milestones arrive regularly these days for Arsene Wenger and, as he prepares tonight to equal Alex Ferguson's record of 810 Premier League games, it was somehow fitting that he should blend his reminisces with a pointed riposte at another great nemesis.

The historic milestones arrive regularly these days for Arsene Wenger and, as he prepares tonight to equal Alex Ferguson's record of 810 Premier League games, it was somehow fitting that he should blend his reminisces with a pointed riposte at another great nemesis.

Jose Mourinho had complained on St Stephen's Day that Manchester United's vast spending since he became manager was inadequate and, in digesting that observation, Wenger's grin spoke volumes. The Frenchman's greatest team were of course ultimately toppled by Mourinho's Chelsea side, with the Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein then describing Roman Abramovich as "parking his Russian tank in our front garden and firing £50 notes at us".

It was the biggest single external change in Wenger's Arsenal tenure and it has been compounded since 2007 by the arrival at Manchester City of another billionaire benefactor.

"I have always had one team at least - sometimes four - who were richer than I was, so I learned to cope with that," said Wenger. "I will not start to complain now. What is most important is that you deal with your own situation and, yes, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United are richer than us. People don't want to know about that. They want you to win the games. We still have to find a way to be successful."

Wenger's managerial strategy has been rooted in certain core values and, in reflecting with rare depth yesterday upon the past 21 years, he regularly came back to that same theme. "I think it's been a conjunction of many things," he said. "Loyalty, dedication, hard work and the sacrifice of your life. That's what it demands. Also luck because I was in a club who trusted in me through good and bad. I didn't miss one game in 21 years, which means you need to be healthy. I stayed here as well because I am at a club where I can identify with the values."

These values can be surmised as playing with an attacking identity, giving young players their chance and acting also with a certain level of respect and integrity.

Part of the context for this was how Wenger was a direct victim previously of match-fixing in French football and his suspicion that doping is a significant issue in elite football.

"We live in a society that is more demanding, more individualism, more opinionated, less stable," said Wenger. "The overall problem in Europe is that the respect for basic things has been lost or is weaker than 20 years ago. But as well you have positive things. People are better informed. People have more knowledge of the game. In every single job, people are questioned more. Overall, it is more the decor that has changed. The core of the game is the same. That means human beings putting their effort together to achieve something."

Wenger's first match at Arsenal was a 2-0 win at Blackburn. "I banned all the chocolate that the players had before the game and, when we drove to Blackburn on the coach, the players chanted, 'We want our Mars Bars'," he said. "If someone had told me I'd still be here now, I would have said, 'You're absolutely mad, absolutely no chance'. Every game is such a gamble. It's Russian roulette. You think, at some stage, the trigger will hit you. It's unbelievable."

Wenger's methodology has always rested on an extraordinary confidence even in flawed players. "The ultimate goal is to make people happy; that is the proudest thing you can have," he said. "What is the most important quality in this job - and something that people rarely talk about - is to believe in human beings.

"If you are paranoid, don't choose this job because you have every reason to become more paranoid but you still have to believe that there is a light in every human being that you can get out. You must have that strength of belief in human beings that takes over at difficult moments."

Ahead of returning tonight to Crystal Palace, one such moment was in the corresponding fixture last season when Wenger's position looked in severe peril following a 3-0 defeat. "When you lose a game there is always a big focus on the negative side," he said. "If we watch again this game against Palace, you will see it was not as bad as everybody said. Don't be carried away by all the negativity. When you win it's the same. People will say it was absolutely fantastic but you watch again and you made mistakes."

The Palace game was followed by a change in system to 3-4-2-1 that has again now been temporarily abandoned in preference for 4-2-3-1. It has meant Sead Kolasinac losing his place and an extra attacker. It was suggested that, deep down, Wenger really prefers to play with an additional attacker and his reply pretty much summed up by the previous 809 games. "Four at the back?" he said, with a smile. "In my heart, I prefer with one defender." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

  • Crystal Palace v Arsenal, Live, Sky Sports, 8.0

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