By I.J. Yarison
Arsene Wenger’s ambition for next season is very clear. He wants to win the Premier League and (or) the Champions League.
Wenger expresses this ambition in response to a recent interview by Sol Campbell in which the latter insinuates lack of ambition on the part of Arsenal.
Speaking to BBC Sport’s David Orstein, Sol Campbell, former Gunner and part of Arsenal’s now famous Invincibles, is reported as saying:
“You’ve got to ask yourself, where are Arsenal going? Do they want to actually win anything? You can have players for the future but it is about getting players who can make a difference now.”
This charge, if you’ll permit to parse it a little, is similar to the one a particular reader left on the comments section of one of my recent articles. Here is that reader’s indictment:
[I]n this article, you come across like most arsenal fans that I speak to do, a fool desperate to show everyone else up as “glory hunters” and to boast that Arsenal have more “class” than the other top clubs in the league.
And why does he think I’m a desperate fool? Because of what Wenger describes in the following statement, which he made in February this year. Responding fiercely to criticism such as the one levelled here by Sol Campbell and by this reader at me, Wenger could not hide his incredulity at the charge of lack of ambition.
What is unbelievable is that we run the model that should be absolutely normal and we look crazy. That is crazy. People will do anything stupid, but we are not crazy, we are all right.
We spend £1 if we make £1 and [then people say] ‘What are they doing?’ That is what is absolutely mad in our world, but the whole world is bankrupt because of that.
I told that reader, a self-confessed Chelsea fan, that I am indeed a fool, but that I didn’t know what that makes him, since we are having this discussion right in the face of the collapse of one of the world’s iconic football clubs, Rangers FC, and right on the cusp of other such examples like Leeds United, Portsmouth, Crystal Palace, and Southampton.
Moreover, I fail to secure proper qualification for this person since this same person’s club endured years mediocrity until some oligarch came waving money around.
One wonders what is to happen to Chelsea, a club that has posted huge financial losses this last half of a decade, if the oligarch were to suddenly withdraw from the club, or lose interest in his bloated royal blue toy.
Chelsea would no doubt survive, but one wonders what kind of survival it’d be.
As the reader can tell, I tend to react with unconcealed exasperation when readers such as this one barge into a forum looking down their nose and calling every other person “fool” simply because they opine that there are other virtues in football other than wanton spending and buying of trophies.
It is for this reason I applaud Arsene Wenger when he responds sarcastically to Sol Campbell in the following words:
Sol Campbell has a lot of money, his gifts are welcome.
If he gives us money, we will spend it, believe me. The best way always to give advice is to show example. Give your own money and we will spend it.
Chelsea has posted huge losses in the last half decade in the quest of winning trophies.
Now, I have no doubt that Campbell means well. His passion, as can be detected from his words, means he’s still very much a Gunner, and his words cannot fail to resonate with most Gooners.
Campbell continues in the above referenced interview:
Sometimes you’ve got to make your season, but you can’t do that if you haven’t got the right players in and around the squad.
You’ve got to push the boat out, swallow your pride and pay a little bit more, put a bit more on the table and get the players in.
You need the players who are going to come in for two or three years and make the difference. It’s all about the here and now.
Good as these words sound; one must parse them through the lens of other factors that have been at work at Arsenal lately.
For example, in that same interview in which Wenger defended Arsenal from the charge of lack of ambition, he offered this additional perspective.
Last year we were very close to the top and there was a rupture in the building of our team with losing Fabregas, Nasri and Wilshere. We could compete with anybody in Europe with our midfield.
When we play a young team you have to understand as well that we have chosen that policy.
What is difficult to take once you get close is that the players move, and that is where we are in trouble. It is not the policy; it is not keeping our players once they arrive in a mature way.
Few will disagree that the loss of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasir was a huge factor in Arsenal’s inability to challenge for the league title this year.
For more perspective, consider that Arsenal have reached three cup finals in the so-called trophy-less years.
Continuing his response to Campbell, Wenger provides a more measured perspective when he outlines his ambition for the coming season:
What has not changed at all is our policy that we will be as ambitious as ever and spend the money we have available, if possible in an intelligent and wise way…
We have always spent money because we are ambitious for top-class players and if you look at the history of our last 15 years, we have always had top-class players. Sol Campbell is one of them.
The problem hasn’t been lack of ambition at Arsenal, part of the problem has been clubs like Chelsea, Barcelona and now Manchester City who have disrupted Arsenal’s squad by luring some the club’s best players away.
What’s more, Manchester City seems set to capture Robin van Persie as well, if are anything to go by.
This notwithstanding, Wenger is convinced that Arsenal will be competitive next season.
Manchester City is hot on the trail of Arsenal’s best player.
“It [that is the allure of Manchester City or Barcelona] does not mean you cannot win the title.”
Wenger elaborates on his ambition:
There are two basic trophies for me that are the sign of the quality of a team; they are the Premier League and the Champions League.
The Champions League is prestigious and it is half league and half cup. That means that at the end, the teams who win must show real quality.
All the rest, they are trophies of course and they are important, but they do not really reflect the deep quality of a team. The championship does, and we want to win it.
Allow me to highlight the most important part of this statement.
Wenger wants to win the Champions League.
It is the only trophy that has eluded his illustrious career, and one Arsenal could do with winning.
This ambition is a major reason I think Wenger will buy players in the coming summer market.
Let’s give him the last word.
“Our ambition is intact, to win the championship. It depends on how we finish the season to decide how much we need to buy to have a chance to win the championship next season.”