Wenger reloads again at Arsenal

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Arsene Wenger was branded "crazy" for allowing star striker Thierry Henry to leave Arsenal for Barcelona and then not buying enough players to fill the void.

PREMIERSHIP NOTEBOOK

• Nigeria coach Berti Vogts will speak to Manchester City's Nedum Onuoha in a final bid to persuade him to play for Nigeria instead of England. Onuoha was born in Nigeria but has become a regular in Stuart Pearce's England under-21 side this season. He turns 21 on November 12 and, according to FIFA regulations, if he has not switched allegiances before then, he will no longer be eligible to play for Nigeria. Said Vogts: "I have to speak with him and let him know he has a good opportunity to do well with Nigeria."

Rafa Benitez is planning to unleash injury-prone winger Harry Kewell in Liverpool's Carling Cup tie with Cardiff on Wednesday. Kewell has not been featured for the Reds since coming on as a substitute during the Champions League final defeat to AC Milan last May. The 29-year-old Australian international is showing promising signs of recovering from a groin injury. "Maybe he will be ready next week," Benitez said. "I've been pleasantly surprised because Harry has been training really well lately. If he continues like this, you never know because he has enough quality."

Avram Grant has made it clear that Didier Drogba will not be allowed to leave in the January transfer window. All is not well with the Ivory Coast striker, despite pledging his 100-percent devotion to Stamford Bridge. French Champions Lyon are ready to test Chelsea's resolve with a £25m bid for the 29-year-old, but Drogba has been told that no matter what happens in January, he will be forced to remain with the club until the end of this season.

• FIFA president Sepp Blatter has responded to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger's complaints about FIFA trying to limit the number of foreign players at clubs. Blatter wants a maximum of five foreign players per team. "Arsene Wenger complained, but football has a morale and social obligation as well as a financial one," Blatter said. "We have to make sure that everything is right for all the millions of players operating outside the big clubs."

– Ian Edwards

The erudite French manager was warned that his club would struggle to finish fourth in the Premiership and would be left trailing in the wake of its rivals from the departure of vice chairman David Dein unless Arsenal accepted a huge foreign investment.

There were even question marks as to whether Wenger would be at the club he claims is in his heart because of Dein's exit and all the political maneuverings behind the scenes. Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool laughed at the predicted demise of the London club while they flashed around considerably more millions in the transfer market in grotesque demonstrations of superior wealth.

So who is top of the Premiership right now and already assured of a place in the Champions League's knockout stages after Tuesday night's record-tying 7-0 demolition of Slavia Prague?

Which team is playing the most attractive brand of football in the Premiership right now – the kind of sexy football that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is searching for at Stamford Bridge?

Which team has won its last 12 games and is just two more away from equaling a record set 20 years ago?

Yes, that's right, the same Arsenal team that was supposedly on the brink of meltdown with all the in-fighting this summer. Fortunately, Wenger is far too intelligent to allow himself to be smug and come out firing at all of the people who gave him free advice and the others who wrote him and his club off a few months back.

Instead, he has gone about building his third dynasty at the club. These Gunners are capable of challenging the side led so impressively by Ian Wright, Patrick Vieira and Manu Petit, as well as the one characterized by the Henry and Dennis Bergkamp years.

Speak to people within the game about Wenger and they'll tell you that the Frenchman knows everyone in the sport. If there's a young talent operating somewhere in the world, he'll be one of the first to know about it.

That kind of intense groundwork goes a long way toward proving that foreign investment is not essential. That roubles, dollars or whatever currency is no guarantee to buy success, no matter how many willing billionaires are lining up to throw their cash into the next available club.

Arsenal are right to extend the lock-down agreement on the sale of shares until 2009, right to resist U.S. businessman Stan Kroenke and Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov. It has a tradition and a history to uphold, and there is something honorable about the way it is acting.

Any club can take the easy route, but Arsenal is proving it can work the other way and there is no need for get-rich-quick schemes. After all, the Gunners have recently announced financial results through May and income is up 46 percent to £200.8 million.

"We are doing it our way and I believe I can compete and be successful because I have a team that can win the Premier League and do well in the Champions League," Wenger said. "That's why I'm here."

"There are many ways to work in the game. We buy good players when they come on to the market, but generally we have gone for a different solution and we will continue to do that. It's my decision to take this route."

Wenger has every right to be regarded as one of the best managers, if not the best manager, the Premiership has seen. Sir Alex Ferguson has won more trophies, but his resources at Manchester United are limitless in comparison to Wenger, who has nurtured talent all along but never compromised his beliefs. His brand of football is for the purist.

While the players who have left (Petit, Vieira and to a certain extent Henry) have never quite managed the same levels of success in their post-Arsenal days, the replacements – Robin Van Persie (for Bergkamp), Emmanuel Adebayor (for Henry), Cesc Fabregas (for Vieira), Kolo Toure (for Tony Adams) and Gael Clichy (for Ashley Cole) – have been have been integrated without disrupting the quality of play.

And what if Wenger pulls off the seemingly impossible task of winning the Premiership this season? Then he must surely go down as its best.

In the next couple weeks, we will have a pretty good idea just how good his latest model truly is, starting Sunday against Liverpool. This will be the young Gunners' first real Litmus test of their potential. If successful at Anfield, it is highly unlikely struggling Championship side Sheffield United will stop Arsenal from equaling that consecutive wins mark in the Carling Cup next week.

And that would set up the best possible matchup at Emirates Stadium to set the new record. A defeat of Manchester United on November 3 would be emphatic proof that Wenger's side is the real deal after all.

Ian Edwards covers English football for the Wardle Agency.