Arsene Wenger in his press conference asked about his somnolent transfer activity in the January window:
” You cannot buy a player every time you have an injury: where do you finish? England is bankrupt, the whole of Europe is bankrupt and everyone continues to spend like nothing happened.”
If injuries were a one time occurrence, his statement would make a lot of sense. If it involved two or three players, there would be no problems, we could take that. But to have eleven players out, some who have not played a lick of football for months, is to deny a larger, more serious issue. Why do Arsenal suffer so many injuries at crucial moments every season?
One harkens back to last season when Thomas Vermaelen was out with an ankle injury which just kept getting prolonged even as Wenger said he would not need cover as the Verminator would be back in mid January. This was not a mealy mouthed prediction, it was stated as bald fact. But the centre back only got his start a month before the end and later Wenger revealed he had known all along that Vermaelen’s return was going to be delayed. By that time it was too late to do anything, Arsenal’s psyche shredded multiple times with the loss to Barca, to Birmingham, and sapping stalemates with Liverpool and Spurs, limping to fourth in the Premiership.
What have injuries done to Arsenal’s squad this time around? We have been playing with four centre backs for the last 6 weeks and the last two matches have highlighted the paucity of movement and coverage on set pieces two healthy full backs could have provided. Aaron Ramsey looked jaded in the Swansea match trying to combine Mikel Arteta’s and Jack Wilshere’s work in one body. This squad is overstretched with injuries with few healthy players and within that subset is a subset that actually performs to expectations.
Wenger is also using a narrow economic perspective to promote Arsenal’s transfer philosophy. Yes, clubs like City, Liverpool, and Spurs have spent money like drunken sailors on players but the inescapable fact is Arsenal’s wage bill is the fourth largest in the league. The club that prides itself in a self sustaining model, spends millions in wages on players who aren’t performing to standards or are injured repeatedly for prolonged periods of time. For such a model, trimming the fat must be a priority, which if we use Wenger’s European analogy is what the most endangered economies have been advised to do.
The problem as pointed by observers far more astute than I, is that this proves a great barrier to offloading players who want the same wages from their prospective employers. Last summer was eclipsed by the Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri saga but smaller ones like the sale of Nicklas Bendtner, Emmanuel Eboue, and Denilson carried on as clubs balked at their wage demands. Bendtner finally went on loan to Sunderland but it is most likely Arsenal is probably bearing part of his wage bill. Abou Diaby has missed about 20 months through injury in his Arsenal career, a sequelae to the horrendous ankle fracture suffered through Dan Smith’s tackle in 2006 but despite his repeated absences from the pitch continues to draw at least £30,000 or more in weekly wages. We have to be more astute in tamping down on wages by not just imposing an artificial upper limit but the many middle tiered salaries that eat into the club’s revenues without any expectation or justified reward.
In the same press conference, Wenger also repeated what he said was a litany of refereeing decisions that went against Arsenal. It was a Swedish guy who proved that we are a wronged club.
“Well, yes, but still we want the right decisions to be made. There are some people who made a study of last season and we were second in the league considering the decisions of the referees and yet we finished fourth. It [the study] showed we were two points behind the leaders.”
Last season, as per this person’s analysis Arsenal should have been runners up, two points behind Utd. At this point we can bring anybody, pay them good money, roll tape, and come up with wrong decisions which would make Sunderland, five time Premiership winners. Wenger’s statements assign blame on external factors, when his focus should be on why Arsenal keep getting so many injuries, give up so many goals through set pieces, the lack of focus and alacrity that seems to be a club staple, and getting every player on the pitch to play to their standards.
I will say this, Wenger is a man of tremendous courage and principles, and he has taken the bullet for many a player and the club’s board not once, but repeatedly. However, in this instance he has to introspect differently. The enemy is not them all the times, it is us, and one has to recognize when we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.