Arsene Wenger didn’t need the vote of confidence he got from Alisher Usmanov a few days ago. If anything, the Russian billionaire should be down on his hands and knees thanking his manager.
Usmanov told us something most good football people already knew. Wenger did sacrifice a big stretch of his career to make sure that Arsenal survived as one of the big players in European football.
He need only look at Louis van Gaal’s capacity to shovel cash onto the transfer market to see the kind of fate which might have befallen Arsenal if Wenger had not maintained a wage cap, avoided spending big money on trophy players and still managed to keep his team in the Champions League.
While Wenger was minding the pennies, Alex Ferguson was able to ignore financial restrictions and unvest big money to maintain his squad.
All around him, managers spent big but Wenger chose a different way to do the job and as a result, Usmanov and the other shareholders own a club which is debt free and in a position to spend the money needed to complete the squad.
In the latter years of Ferguson’s time, Manchester United found themselves third best in the transfer market behind Chelsea and Manchester City. Even Spurs seemed to have more resources to spend.
When David Moyes took over, he had a threadbare squad and poor backing from his employers so that when Van Gaal arrived, a huge investment had to be made to rebuild the squad. Wenger avoided that fate.
He will leave a remarkable legacy behind him when he does choose to go but I don’t see that happening any time soon, particularly now that Wenger believes he has a group of players which can make a realistic run at the Premier League title.
I know there are still doubts. I have them myself. Petr Cech certainly addresses some of the issues which have haunted Wenger’s approach to his defence but not all of them.
I would have liked to see Wenger invest in a few really top quality defenders but I didn’t expect him to do it. He will not change his approach. He doesn’t see the need.
It’s a blind spot in Wenger’s make-up which I’ve never understood. Just look at how Jose Mourinho organises and prioritises his defence and the rewards he has gathered as a result.
Put it this way, if Mourinho had Wenger’s squad, including Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny as his top defensive pairing, he could win the title with that group of players.
Mourinho is the best there is at setting up his team to do a good job defensively. He has an instinct for that side of the game which bypassed Wenger completely.
It’s the reason why I’ve put my hat on Chelsea to win the title again this year despite the fact that Mourinho has been very, very quiet in the transfer market and does not have the resources up front that he needs.
Falcao is a gamble and Diego Costa seems to have an endless hamstring problem. Loic Remy is unproven and unless Mourinho pulls out the cheque book, he will be light on the attacking side.
Even working with a restricted pool of striking talent last season, Mourinho won the title at a canter and he did that because his defence was the meanest in the competition.
Wenger, too, needs help with goals but I would expect him to do some business in that area before the window closes. Whether it’s Benzema, Higuain or somebody else, Arsenal will have more options up front before the end of the month.
The Arsenal manager will also have to cope with raised expectations and after declaring his undying respect for his manager, Usmanov did Wenger no favours when he suggested that, with one addition, the squad would be capable of competing “successfully” in European competitions.
Arsenal fans are already in a heightened state of anticipation. Last season’s FA Cup win and some excellent form during the run-in has given them justifiable scope for optimism and they are a long time waiting for a solid run of success.
By and large, they have been remarkably patient but we saw last season that some of the more extreme fringe were ready to abuse Wenger in the street.
By saying that Arsenal are ready to win the Champions League, Usmanov heaped pressure on Wenger who, I have no doubt,, would be happier with a Premier League winners medal at the end of this season.