27 May 2013

17 points behind Man U in the Prem, 0.02 points behind in quality...

I know we're all rightly upset to have finished so far behind Man U that we can barely see them with a telescope, and that there are some who have their knickers in a twist over our 4th place celebration, but I'd like to suggest that, even without a game-breaking signing or two in the summer transfer window, Arsenal is actually a lot closer to reclaiming a position among the world's elite than it has seemed over the last 12 months. A quick glance at a break-down from whoscored.com shows us a meager 0.02 points behind Man U on quality, finishing second-highest among Prem League teams and 0.06 points ahead of Man City and Chelsea. If only there was a trophy involved, we could then celebrate rightly and truly. As it stands, it's worth noting that the statistical breakdown of our quality has placed us 12th in the world, behind only some of the world's biggest (and freest-spending) clubs, not to mention ahead of several of them as well.

Quite a few lips have been flapping over Freddie Ljungberg's comments about our current squad's fourth-place celebration, and he does have a point. Lost in the kerfuffle over his comments is the compliment he offered to Arsène when he said this:
It's hard for any team if you let your best players go every year. It's not even possible to compete to win then, and Arsène Wenger has done really well with the squad he has.
It's worth noting, then, that Arsène has once again done quite a number on his rivals and has, I must say, proven how much better he is at his job than is Ferguson or Guardiola or Mourinho or any other modern manager. He's worked on a shoe-string budget for years and has had to see his best players leave--players whom he has forged into the players they are today and who have left without so much as a by your leave, not to mention a thank-you.

There are two key points to take away from this chart. One, of course, is to burnish Arsène's credentials as one of the best managers in the world. Say what you will about how he's handled transfers (and I know full-well that there's plenty to criticize). Even his harshest critics will have to admit that, even when he's been hamstringed by player-defections, his own philosophy, or the board's stinginess, he's kept this club competitive in the short-term while establishing a firm foundation for long-term success. Can the same be said of Ferguson, Mourinho, or Guardiola? Time will tell. However, on the surface, a hefty portion of these managers' successes can be chalked up to massive war-chests and teams so deep that their third- and fourth-choice players could still beat a fair number of other clubs' first-team selections. That's not management, per se; that's ego-massage. Give me Ramos, Casillas, and Ronaldo; Rooney, van Persie, and Vidic; or Messi, Iniesta, and Puyols, and I'll look like manager of the year. The list of top-flight, legendary players Arsène has worked with in the last few years is stunningly thin, but his ability to steer Arsenal to a Champions League qualification year after year after year surely qualifies Arsène as a manager of the highest quality.

The second point to take away is the financial one. In a world in which money talks louder than ever, Arsenal is the only team in the top twelve teams in the world, save Dortmund, to maintain a positive balance-sheet over the last five years (according to transfermrkt.co.uk). Of course, there is no trophy for financial prudence, but look at this for what it is: Arsène's plan for establishing the club's long-term success, something he has achieved without sacrificing the club's short-term achievements. Each club that has finished rated higher than Arsenal has only done so through aggressive, potentially reckless spending, the likes of which may just hobble them for years to come.

There's nothing sexy about balancing the books. However, if we could engineer an alternate reality in which Arsène, Mourinho, Ferguson, and Guardiola had to take turns managing each other's squads in an imaginary Champions League, I have to think that Arsène would hoist the trophy each and every time. Therefore, when I look at what Arsène has achieved, and when I look at the young men who represent this club, I feel pretty damned good about our prospects. Scroll through our young players, and how many of them could you see having a break-through season? I'll toss off a few names to whet your whistle: Wilshere. Gibbs. Ramsey. Jenkinson. Walcott.

If just one of these lads realizes his potential, we could certainly become the best team in London. If a second one joins in, one or both Manchesters will be nervously scrabbling to qualify for the Champions League. In the process, we'd be hailing Arsène as the best-ever manager in the Prem. This is all without any signings.

Falcao looks to join Monaco? Lewandowksi has joined Bayern? Neymar already signed with Barcelona? Fine. Let these weak-willed glory-hounds seek the cheap-and-easy. When we at Arsenal do finally hoist a trophy, whether it's a league cup, the FA Cup, the Prem League championship, or the UCL, we'll have earned it rightly and truly. The vindication of Arsène and his methods that this would deliver would be simply delicious. Fault me for being overly optimistic if you wish, but I don't think I'm wildly off-target here. We're on the verge of something big here...