Wenger keeps faith in Arsenal vision
Widely regarded as one of the best managers in the game, Arsene Wenger has enjoyed great success at Arsenal since joining the north London club in 1996.
Having made his name with AS Monaco and Japanese club Grampus Eight, Wenger has picked up three Premier League titles and four FA Cups in his thirteen years at Arsenal and has built the foundations of the club around a successful youth policy which has seen the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Gaël Clichy make the step up into the first-team.
However, without a trophy in three years, the club have struggled again this season. The Gunners are yet to face any of their likely title rivals but have already lost twice, to Fulham and Hull City.
With inconsistency casting doubts on Arsenal's title credentials, ESPNsoccernet Press Pass caught up with the Frenchman to dissect the Gunners' start to the season.
Q. Arsene, it's been a funny start to the season for Arsenal, you've hit the high notes in many matches, but you've struggled in others. You've come in for criticism and we've heard talk about a lack of mental toughness, lack of character and trouble on set pieces. How do you respond to that sort of criticism?
A. Well I believe there's only one way to respond and it's to put quality performances in. I believe that we are a very, very young side, very talented, and I want to lead this team to where it can be and that's at the top of the league. I believe we dropped points because we were a bit over confident, but this group is intelligent and I hope we have learned from that.
Q. Let's talk a little bit about the two main competitors to Arsenal, at least for the past few seasons in the Premier League, Chelsea and Manchester United. Chelsea seem to be as complete as they've been since you've been in charge here at Arsenal.
A. Yes, Chelsea are a team who around 2002 to 2004 were doing very well. Since then they are competing every year for the top honours and this year again they'll be there again. Manchester United, if I tell you the striking force they have, you will come to the conclusion that it is impossible that they will not compete for the Premier League, because they have Tevez, Rooney, Berbatov and Ronaldo - four stikers who can score at any minute. And you add to that Anderson, Nani, Giggs and Scholes; they have an unbelievable offensive power.
Q. Is the Champions League, in a strange sort of way, almost more winnable than the Premier League?
A. It becomes a cup game if you get through the group stages and then of course it is easier. Easier, but also more difficult. In the Premier League you need 38 games of top level performance and in the Champions League you need only 15 and that makes a big difference.
Q. Do you think it's important to try to wrap up qualification for the knock-out stages as early as possible?
A. Yes, we came through a different way, because we had to play a qualifier and even that was very difficult. Of course we want to focus as quickly as possible on the Premier League only and that can only be achieved if you qualify in the Champions League quickly.
Q. The world-wide financial crisis is occupying minds at the moment. How do you see that crisis affecting football?
A. I think it will affect football and at the moment we continue to live in our game like nothing has happened. Certainly many people try and do that in their own activities, but it's impossible that to isolate football from the rest of the world. We are dependent on the media, on the adverts and on the fans coming to the games. If the recession kicks in it'll come into the game as well, apart from clubs like Man City and Chelsea who do not depend on natural resources, but on the sponsorship of one individual.
Q. Do you think here at Arsenal you're better equipped than other clubs to weather the financial crisis? I say that, because your scouting systems are further developed and you have trimmed your budget in a way that some of your competitors haven't.
A. Yes, because we make profit every year. We have a debt, but a manageable debt and we do not have a wage bill which we cannot afford to pay. We do not need any external resources to run the club.
Q. You mentioned Manchester City there, their new owners somewhat confidently, some might say arrogantly, have said they want to buy the best players in the world, they want to win everything. Can they pull that off and is it good for the game?
A. No, I don't believe that it's good for the game. I believe it can have an isolated inflationist pressure on all the other wages in the league and pressure on clubs who do not want to sell their players. That's why I don't think it's very healthy, especially since there are rules which say you have to first contact the club if you want to buy a player and you cannot come out publicly.
Q. Do you wish, with the benefit of hindsight, that you had bought a bit more experience in the midfield area during the summer?
A. Not at the moment, no. I believe that I have gone for something that needs a lot of strength and a lot of belief, but I'm convinced that the talent of this team is good enough to win this Premier League.
Q. Talking about some of the players, Emmanuel Adebayor, first of all, our viewers in Africa love to watch him on a week to week basis and Arsenal fans were relieved when he re-signed during the summer. Where do you think he is now in terms of strikers around the world? Where does he rank?
A. He's one of the best, I believe still. At the moment he's fighting very hard to come back to his best. He will still develop and he will be one of the best two, three strikers in the world.
Q. We watched with interest the way you used Theo Walcott at the start. A careful way, you didn't rush him, you waited for the right time to bring him into the side. Where do you see his development now and how far can he go?
A. I think everybody would agree that Theo Walcott has improved from year to year. Now he's improving from month to month. He's a striker and that means he's a special case. He's only 19 years old. We tried to manage and develop him well and I think we have done a good job with him.
Q. There's also been a lot of interest in Carlos Vela who you had on loan in Spain for a while. I wonder if that was instrumental in his progress as well? The stints that he had in Spain.
A. Yes, of course. He gained experience of La Liga which is a very good league. He adapted to Europe in a smoother way going through Spain and not coming directly to a real culture-shock like England. I must say if you ask all of our fans, they really love Carlos Vela, because he's got a natural gift to play football. He's calm, he's relaxed, he has a good technique, he's a good finisher and everybody loves him here.
Q. Stylistically, Arsenal play in a way that's pleasing to most neutral fans. You hear that time and again from the media and commentators, but does that matter as the person who's designed this system?
A. Yes. I believe that the ambition of a big club is to win and to win with style. You need vision and ambition and not just to sit there and get bored in every game. I feel we have to have the ambition to entertain people who pay a lot of money to watch us and not to be minimalists.
Q. You said recently that your own fans now demand that entertainment and that style, but at what point does it become almost a fight, a debate between style and wining trophies?
A. There's no debate. I believe that historically all the teams who have won have played with style and all the teams who remain in history will know we played exactly in the same style. We are the only team in the modern game who played the whole season unbeaten and at that time nobody asked me that question. We had exactly the same ambition and nobody contested the way we played. I believe our culture is what it is. The fact that we win or lose is down to our talent and our attitude.
Q. You're in your thirteenth year now with Arsenal. You're up there with Guy Roux (Auxerre) and Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United) as the legends who have been at one club for a considerable length of time. At what stage will you think to yourself, perhaps I need another challenge?
A. I don't know, but at the moment I don't feel that. The day I do, I hope I will be honest enough to say, "listen, that's enough."