Search icon


13th Sep 2016

Why Arsene Wenger’s “experience” claim about his Arsenal side is missing the point entirely

Age is not an issue for Arsenal but progress quite clearly is

Tony Barrett

That Arsene Wenger is now in his period of doubt is not in question.

Not that he is uncertain about himself, more that others no longer believe in him as they once did. The days when the Arsenal manager was perceived as some sort of Gallic soothsayer who could see things that mere mortals could not have long gone. He has not yet entered the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ stage but at the very least his attire is under mounting scrutiny.

On Monday, Wenger made the not illogical claim that the squad he has at his disposal is of the right age profile for Arsenal to be a force to be reckoned with in the Champions League. A decade ago, such confidence would have served as an injection of belief to his club’s supporters and sanguine nods of agreement from everyone else because we wanted to be seen to fall into line with the great man’s latest words of wisdom.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 15: Arsene Wenger Manager of Arsenal looks on after the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium on May 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Now? The landscape has changed. The firm ground that Wenger once made his pronouncements from has shifted to such an extent that even some of his most ardent admirers are no longer as easily convinced as they once were. It’s not that they don’t want him to be proved right, they want that as much as ever, it’s that his vision is no longer totally in keeping with Arsenal’s reality. He has become the favourite uncle who everyone wants the best for but no one is sure if he still knows what is best for himself.

Taken at face value, Wenger’s assertion that his players now have the necessary maturity to challenge Europe’s elite and not just feature in the same competition as them without any realistic expectation of winning is sound enough.

“I was used to playing with younger squads because, when you build a new ground like the Emirates Stadium, you don’t have the resources,” he said.

“Now I have a team with more experienced players. There are exceptions, obviously, but the majority of the squad is basically between 24 and 30 in age. That’s where you have a good combination of physical strength and experience.

“They are not 19 or 20 years old. This is one of my strongest squads, certainly. And certainly one of the oldest as well. I always believed we had a chance, even when we had young players but, certainly, I haven’t had a squad of players [like this] for a long time; full of players who have enough experience to compete.”

All of that makes perfect sense. Over the past decade the average age of the Champions League winners has been just shy of 27-years-old. Barcelona, with an average age of 25.5 in 2010/11, had the youngest squad to lift the trophy in that period, AC Milan, averaging 30.3 when beating Liverpool in 2006/07, had the eldest. Arsenal, like most other participants in this season’s tournament, fit neatly inside the preferred age bracket.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at Emirates Stadium on September 10, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

The problem with Wenger’s hypothesis, though, is that it is dependent on maturity and development going hand in hand and in Arsenal’s case it is not clear that that process is happening under his management, at least not to the extent that it once did. An objective scrutiny of Wenger’s players would find few have improved significantly over the last three or four years. Laurent Koscielny clearly has, so too Hector Bellerin, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla.

For most of the rest, it would be hard to make a case for them being much better than they were and in some instances, most notably those of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere (now on loan) there has either been stagnation or regression.

Age is not an issue for Arsenal but progress quite clearly is. There could, of course, have been an accelerated development of Arsenal’s squad had Wenger resorted to the quick fixes provided by the transfer market as a catalyst for improvement but with his club’s financial model being “self-sustaining” as Ivan Gazidis, the chief executive, admitted, he has been more cautious in this respect than many of his managerial rivals.

Arsenal are unquestionably one of Europe’s biggest clubs, that status having been earned on Wenger’s watch, but there is a sense that they are last among equals.

While Manchester United can put together a world record deal to attract Paul Pogba, Manchester City can pick up some of football’s best young talent, not to mention appoint arguably the world’s greatest manager, Barcelona and Real Madrid continue to battle for superstars and Bayern Munich remain a powerhouse, Arsenal are operating on a different plane. It is that reality which will dictate their chances of success in this season’s Champions League to a much greater extent than the average age of Wenger’s squad.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14: Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal reacts after the Liverpool goal scored by Philippe Coutinho during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on August 14, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

It is one thing having a group in which Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets are all in the 24-30 bracket; that is a standard as much as well as an age profile. Arsenal do not have a similar spread of quality, regardless of the individual talent of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, and Wenger is astute enough to recognise that.

But given the ongoing questioning of his position as manager, he is more obliged than ever to talk up Arsenal’s chances. Doubts are for others. The moment he starts harbouring them himself it really will be time to go.

The GAA Hour took their show on the road to Castlebar to preview the All-Ireland final with Colm Parkinson, James Horan and some very special guests. 

WATCH: Liverpool BOTTLED the title race 🤬 | Who will win the Premier League?