Amidst all the fallout of the last fortnight, there has been a great deal of criticism of Wenger’s patience with certain players. Stubborn he certainly is when it comes to particular individuals, but it wouldn’t be correct to label him as incapable of ruthlessness when cutting players. So why do some get more time than others?
Wenger is at his most ruthless with stars whose spark has dimmed. Dismantling the Invincibles was probably the most stark example of this – at the time the sales of Vieira and Henry in particular could have been seen as premature. Ultimately, however, the timing was perfect – their stock was still high enough to get a good fee, but their best was behind them. Similarly, the twin sale of Adebayor and Toure to City was excellent business.
He is also quick to ship a player out if their attitude and behaviour is not suitable for an Arsenal player. Quincy Owusu-Abeyie was quickly shunted to Russia, Pennant exited shortly after a hattrick against Southampton, amongst others – each could have had brighter futures had their approach been better. It is perhaps the reason Jay Emmanuel-Thomas is living on borrowed time – undoubtedly a massive talent, he hasn’t yet shown the application required, something Wenger has been quite frank about.
Where Wenger shows endless patience is with the young players he has nurtured from an early age, who are yet to fulfill the potential he believes they have, for reasons other than a poor attitude. It is almost as if he doesn’t want to be proven wrong and be forced into admitting they aren’t up to it – he will continue to give such players chance after chance to vindicate himself.
If asked, he would probably justify the approach based on the successes. Alex Song is the most prominent of the current crop – his first couple of years at Arsenal were a disaster, and I know of no-one who thought he would ever be good enough. Now, he is a critical part of the team, and a cog we badly missed on Saturday.
And there are others. Djourou was written off by many because of his injury woes, and to a lesser extent Fabianski was starting to show why Wenger had so much faith in him before injury ended his season. Ironically, it may be that injury, and Szczesny’s emergence, that curtails his Arsenal career, not the mistakes that came before.
But for all the success stories, there are players who, despite endless chances, ultimately weren’t or aren’t up to the job. Jeremie Aliadière is a prime example – seven years of football at Arsenal, but he was never able to push on from the promising teenager who lit up the League Cup in his early days, prompting comparisons with a certain Thierry Henry. Those comparisons seem ludicrous now.
Elsewhere, other players were reluctantly allowed to leave after spending years under Wenger’s tutelage, as he tried to prove the world they were up to the job. Justin Hoyte springs to mind, and of the current crop of Carling Cup-only players, the likes of Mark Randall may find his loan spell is not a springboard to a better Arsenal future, while Carlos Vela also has a lot to prove.
There are further examples playing regularly at the moment, and time will tell whether those in the current spotlight go on to become Aliadieres or Songs. Many suspect the former, sadly, and in a couple of cases I cannot argue. I do sometimes think we pick on certain individuals whenever we suffer a defeat, regardless of whether it was actually their fault or not, but ultimately that comes from a string of poor performances in the past. It takes an equally long string of good days to erase all that.
It is possible – Song went from laughing stock, to ‘actually he played alright today’, to ‘he’s putting a good run together’, to ‘yeah, he’s actually pretty good’. It takes time, but it is possible.
Each summer, time runs out for a couple. If we fail to lift the league title, I suspect that number to be higher than normal.