When 'Le Professeur' first joined Arsenal he revolutionised the Premiership with 'The Arsenal Way' and the principles that accompanied this policy. His fitness regimes extended the careers of the 'old guard' of the Arsenal back four, and his training methods re-sculpted and brought the best out of players like Bergkamp and Henry. His scouting network unearthed young talent from across the world, and his tactics delivered success in sublime style.
Arsene Wenger cut the figure of an assured genius and created a series of enthralling campaigns against Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United - the epoch of which was 'les invincibles' season. Due to the unforeseen billions of Abramovich and Sheikh Mohammed the game has changed beyond recognition. In reply Ferguson has once more adapted with varying success whilst Wenger has remained to his core principles.
Since that epoch and seven trophy less seasons Arsene Wenger has portrayed an increasingly forlorn, animated and stubborn figure; be it on the sidelines when his player is writhing in agony from a hard tackle or at a press conference about his transfer activities and lack of recent success. Arsenal's recent demise can either be attributed to an unwillingness to embrace the physical aspects of the English game or a laudable stance not to partake in the financial madness of the Premiership. Either way, more questions are being asked of Wenger and opinions are becoming more divided. None more so than the sale of Robin van Persie to Manchester United.
Arsene Wenger and Arsenal are no strangers to losing star players to their rivals. They have either moved to the higher echelons of Barcelona and Real Madrid (Overmars, Petit, Anelka) or been lost by greed to the insurmountable riches of Chelsea and Manchester City (Cole, Adebayor). Despite their loss of players they had always managed to keep their star players during their prime - Henry and Viera - and then sell them for a profit once they had diminishing returns.
Last season presented a particularly painful change for Wenger. He lost Nasri and Fabregas as they were reaching the prime of their careers. On this occasion Wenger has lost his star player to pursue trophies with his bitterest foe of all and one time adversary for the Premiership title. Ferguson must be grinning like a dog with two dicks - one successfully prising his old nemesis' prize asset and two the change in parity between the two clubs since Arsenal won their last trophy.
As an economics graduate, one can assume that Wenger is not only familiar with the concept of diminishing returns but that it's intrinsic to 'The Arsenal Way'. The previous over 30 policy for contract renewals and the timing of the sales of Henry and Viera indicate so. However, the evidence is now stark that since the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona this policy is also encountering diminishing returns.
At what point do you place greater emphasis on the balance sheet over success on the pitch? Giroud, Podolski and Carzola still leave a surplus when you consider the transfers of van Persie, Nasri and Fabregas. All teams at Arsenal's level have also replicated their previous competitive advantage of unearthing and developing young talent. At what point does his transfer policy of not buying the finished product change from highly principled to bloody mindedness?
Arsene Wenger hasn't adapted to the change in competition and either hopes or waits for greater parity with Chelsea and Manchester City when the Financial Fair Play system comes into place. In the meantime they're losing their best players each season and ground on the title contenders. Until then 'The Arsenal Way' appears to be consolidating for 3rd or 4th place in the Premiership and the quarter finals of the Champions League.
Arsene Wenger is an undoubted genius and will go down in history as one of the great managers. As Spurs fans will attest in January - you never write off Arsenal or Arsene Wenger. However, perhaps now is the time to stop crying foul at opponents aggressive tactics or financial clout. The game has changed and so should 'The Arsenal Way' if they're to regain and maintain success.
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