Is Arsene Wenger being a hypocrite?

Listen to Arsene Wenger, and you might believe that he has always been the way he is now

Graham Ruthven
Graham Ruthven - Special to Al Arabiya English
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Listen to Arsene Wenger, and you might believe that he has always been the way he is now. The Arsenal manager often talks of principles and how they shape his philosophy as a football coach. It provides him with something to fall back on when things do not go as well as he and all at the club might have hoped. However, that safety net may have been pulled away from underneath Wenger.

There is a sense that the tolerance the Frenchman has been afforded over the best part of a decade is fading away, with Sunday’s defeat in the Gunners’ opening game of the new Premier League season against Liverpool the nadir in a gradual slide.

Arsenal have become the most tedious club in European football. Wenger has similarly become the most tedious coach in European football. He makes the same excuses for what has become a dilution of Arsenal as one of the Premier League’s predominant forces.

“Manchester United are the richest club in the world along with Real Madrid,” he said last week, shrugging off that Arsenal cannot compete at the top end of the transfer market. “Not many people can compete with their finances, but that doesn’t make a difference because at the moment on the pitch we can compete.

“That’s the most important thing. It’s not a financial competition. Football is a performance competition. We try to compete at our level with all the assets we have, and we try to compete with them. We showed that last Sunday [in a 3-2 friendly win over Manchester City in Sweden].”

Perhaps someone should remind Wenger of the time he was the Premier League’s big spender. He has not always been a man of such principles, once using the transfer market to turn his side into one of the most accomplished in England. It is only recently that he has been so prudent.

In the summer of 1997, Wenger spent over £18 million in the transfer market, making Arsenal one of the biggest spenders in Europe at the time. Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Giles Grimandi all made the move to North London, with Nwankwo Kanu, Thierry Henry and Davor Suker joining them for big money in the years that followed.

By the turn of the millennium, the Gunners were spending as much as £48 million in just one transfer window, with Sylvain Wiltord costing nearly £15 million alone. Francis Jeffers was signed from Everton for £13 million, with the striker going down as one of the costliest flops in the history of the English game.

Why has Wenger changed his ways so drastically? There have been big signings over the past five years, with the additions of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid and Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona most notable in that regard. However, the signing of those two players was an exception rather than the rule when it comes to Arsenal’s transfer market approach.

In fact, Wenger could be accused in some way of hypocrisy when it comes to criticism of others’ signings and the money being splurged to make them. How can the Arsenal boss scrutinize Manchester United’s world-record signing of Paul Pogba, for instance, when not so long ago he was the one blowing the rest of the Premier League out the financial waters?

It is unfeasible to expect Arsenal to shop from the very top tier of the transfer market. The reality is that only a handful of clubs have the financial muscle to reach all the way up there, but Wenger must compromise to salvage his legacy at the Emirates Stadium. He was not always this way, and it might be too late for him to be that way again.

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