Arsene Wenger's Arsenal, a 'prudent' club
For much of the past decade, as the trophies dried up and the legion of sceptics grew, Arsenal supporters have had a standard response when their manager's methods are queried. "Arsene knows," we're told. But with every passing day, there seems to be less and less conviction in those words. Perhaps Arsene Wenger does know.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Pic/Getty Images
But what's beyond dispute is that several other managers and coaches have expanded on that body of knowledge and taken their teams to far greater heights. After the Champions League exit against Bayern Munich, Wenger bemoaned the fates that had conspired to ensure match-ups against the likes of Bayern and Barcelona in recent seasons.
The last five finals have featured one or the other, and it's hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy for Wenger, whose team would surely have disposed of Olympiakos, who go into the second leg against Manchester United with a 2-0 advantage.
What Wenger won't tell you though is how he and those that run Arsenal Football Club missed a fabulous opportunity to be part of the elite that Bayern and Barcelona represent. Back in 2005-06, when Barcelona edged out Arsenal in a gripping final at the Stade de France, Bayern didn't get past the round of 16. AC Milan, then the pre-eminent side in Europe, thumped them 5-2 on aggregate in the round of 16.
For Arsenal, it could have been the springboard for greatness. Instead, the club embraced what some fans laud as consistency, and what many others view as mediocrity. Before the start of every season, there are few things easier than predicting how Arsenal will fare.
You know they will do enough to qualify for the Champions League, but that they don't possess the depth to finish in the top two. They will get to the last 16 in Europe, knocking over a big name or two on the way, and then fall short in the games that matter. And the brilliant crop of youngsters Wenger usually trusts in will put together an eye-catching domestic Cup run or two.
At the end of it, they will win the square root of absolutely nothing. Contrast that with Bayern's progress since 2006. In 2008-09, when Arsenal last reached the final four, Bayern were humiliated 4-0 in the quarter-final first leg at the Camp Nou as Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry ran riot.
The following year, as the irrepressible Messi gave Arsenal's defenders motion sickness in the quarter-final second leg, Bayern went all the way to the final, bolstered by the signings of Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez.
No value from gambles
In the years since, Arsenal have lost players of the quality of Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, while getting next to no value from gambles on Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh. Bayern, who already had a robust spine of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Frank Ribery, steadily added quality.
Manuel Neuer took over in goal, while Javi Martinez arrived from Bilbao to provide both defensive midfield nous and energy. Other premium signings have included Mario Mandzukic, Thiago Alcantara and Mario Gotze.
Each of those players would have improved Arsenal's line-up, especially Martinez. Matthieu Flamini was brought back from Milan to strengthen the spine, but is five years older. Without him in the side, Arsenal were embarrassingly lightweight in the 5-1 thrashing an Anfield.
For no good reason, Arsenal seem to have positioned themselves as a 'prudent' club that sells more assets than it buys. This season, with the club so well placed at Christmas, it needed another attacker to relieve some of the burden on Olivier Giroud. Instead, Wenger signed a 31-year-old Swedish midfielder whose best years are long gone. In keeping with the sense of farce that has since enveloped Arsenal's season, Kim Kallstrom arrived at the club injured.
Unlike other clubs...
There's no reason why it should have come to this. Unlike Manchester City, Arsenal haven't had to spend close to a billion to become competitive. Unlike Liverpool, they have a state-of-the-art modern stadium. Unlike United, they don't have owners leeching off the club's profits.
One marquee signing a year could have taken Arsenal to where Bayern are now. Instead, Wenger balanced the books and watched as other teams left his far behind. If the FA Cup isn't won this May, the wait for a trophy will extend into a tenth year. Wenger should have known better.