Football: Wenger doesn't need a star who will rock steady boat

Football: Wenger doesn't need a star who will rock steady boat
Chuba Akpom (centre), who bagged a hat-trick for Arsenal against a Singapore Selection at the recent Barclays Asia Trophy, is only 19 years old. He could turn out to be another gem under Arsene Wenger’s polishing.
PHOTO: ST

Given the time of year, and the fact that Arsenal have just been down your way, it might be sensible to take the rumours of transfer spending with a pinch of Singapore Spice rather than the traditional pinch of salt.

Arsene Wenger is nearing the 19th anniversary of his time with the Gunners (and the 52nd year of his involvement in professional football). He has probably heard more ridiculous tales of which players he needs to buy than most of us have had hot suppers.

But there are times when the loose talk comes from people who ought to know better.

Imagine Wenger's innermost thoughts when he disembarked from the flight home to London last week to read in the Daily Mail the "disclosure" by one of Arsenal's directors that the club have £200 million (S$425 million) in the bank and that Wenger could break the club record if he can get the world-class centre-forward he has on his wanted list.

"Money was tight when we moved to the Emirates (stadium) but it's a lot freer now," said Philip Harris, a London businessman who founded a chain of carpet sales shops and apparently has considerable influence from the Upper Chamber of Parliament in the way the Conservative Party is funded.

Carpets and politics are not Arsenal's business. Buying, or in Wenger's time developing, top players has generally been left to Monsieur Wenger throughout the major shareholdings that once were dominated by a diamond dealer, Danny Fiszman, and nowadays have a schism between an American (Stan Kroenke) and a Russian (Alisher Usmanov) who own the largest and second-largest stakes in Arsenal FC.

Curiously enough, the stability of the club has come down to these stakeholders having the good sense to leave playing matters to Wenger.

Harris has an advisory role at Arsenal, in the areas of ticket sales and sponsorships. On Friday, Wenger was asked if it was helpful to have a member of the board say out loud that the manager could go out and buy any player he wanted, apart from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"Helpful or not, it doesn't matter," Wenger responded.

"He has gone a bit overboard because that's not true. We're in a position where we have a strong squad, but if an opportunity turns up, we'll still do something."

Harris had also said that a centre-forward was on Wenger's wanted list.

The lord wouldn't confirm the name but the media was quick to put Karim Benzema's name to that speculation.

So as night follows day, Wenger was asked to comment on the agent of Benzema saying that his client was "one thousand per cent" certain to stay at Real Madrid.

"One thousand per cent is a lot!" the urbane Wenger mused.

"That looks quite convincing."

He was pressed on the names of the Bayern Munich centre-forward Robert Lewandowski, the Borussia Dortmund forward Marco Reus, and somewhat down the scale of those names, the Spaniard Fernando Llorente.

All that Wenger would say, all that he ever says during the summer sales, is that he has mentioned no names.

He has Olivier Giroud, a solid leader of the attack, but not a predatory finisher.

He has Alexis Sanchez, who scored goals like a striker from the wings last season.

He has Theo Walcott, who wants to be a central striker.

He has Danny Welbeck, the former Manchester United player who, when fit, is another winger who hungers to be a central striker.

And, knowing Wenger as we should after almost two decades at the club, he is developing a youngster - the 19-year-old Chuba Akpom. The player, fast like Wenger likes them to be, joined Arsenal at six. He has had loan spells at Brentford, Coventry and Nottingham Forest.

Wenger's history is that of a teacher as much as a coach or manager.

His work will forever be linked to Thierry Henry.

So if, in his mind's eye, he thinks he can make Henry II out of Akpom, why would he fill the gap with Llorente, who was not first choice last season with Juventus?

Benzema or Lewandowski (both under contract) might be a different matter, an instant transformation of the potency of the Gunners' attack.

But I was struck by what Wenger had to say about team, or in his case club, building. And about what the most important player he has signed in this window so far, Petr Cech, also told reporters while the team were in Singapore.

"We have reduced the gap," said Wenger. "And I believe we are ready to go further. We now have the stability that gives us strength.

"Before, I was exposed to 'Who will go?' and now the question I get is 'Who will come?' "

Stability, he added, is undervalued.

Stability at the back is potentially much better now that Arsenal have been able to sign Cech.

And the experienced goalkeeper said in Singapore: "What I've found with Arsenal is a team spirit that is quite extraordinary. Everybody pulls in the same direction, which is why I believe we will have a successful season."

Consider for a second where Cech comes from, and what success he had with Chelsea.

If he finds the team spirit at Arsenal so extraordinary, and his measure must be Chelsea, that is a statement and a half.

"We have a good balance," Cech continued. "We have players with a lot of experience who have won World Cups, for example.

"And young players who are hungry to prove their point."

The summer trading, Wenger states, is not over.

Where is all this going?

Arsenal's finish to last season was the best out there, but as the manager admits, the form and the team spirit that made it so arrived too late after a bad start.

Chelsea were already out of the blocks and away, 11 points to the good once Arsenal found their rhythm. This time around, even if there is a No. 9 whom the manager wants and the club can prise away from Madrid or Munich, he has to consider a value beyond the money.

Does the superstar fit into this team spirit that Cech finds so extraordinary?

stsports@sph.com.sg

Wenger's history is that of a teacher as much as a coach or manager. His work will forever be linked to Thierry Henry. So if, in his mind's eye, he thinks he can make Henry II out of Akpom, why would he fill the gap with Llorente, who was not first choice last season with Juventus?


This article was first published on July 26, 2015.
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