This week Arsene Wenger answered questions from the fans as part of an online webchat. Here are some transcripts of the questions and answers I thought might interest you:
Which player do you most regret not signing?
Well there are many… many many many. We spoke about Ronaldo who nearly signed here… Ribery, Makelele… Because the number of top players is restricted, you know them, and in the end it’s always down to ‘are you first?’, ‘are you spending a little bit less money?’, and we lost a few cases with Chelsea because at that time they were very very rich. And as well there are some players we missed because we had some doubts about them.
Ronaldo is a massive one, but we don’t feel guilty about that, because we did our job very well: we were on the case, very close, we were the first and in the end Man United had an agreement with Sporting Lisbon because they had a partnership.
Whilst missing out on Ronaldo is no news to us, failing to sign Franck Ribery is something we haven’t neccessarily had confirmed before. I believe it was close to happening in the Summer of 2006, but a fee couldn’t be agreed with Marseille. It’s a shame, because Ribery has gone on to prove his class with Bayern Munich and is probably way out of our price-range now.
How do you compare this team with the team that won the league in 2004?
That team in 2004 was of course special, but funnily I believe that this team is not very far, and can get there as much as the team in 2004. That’s the question you want to answer in the next month – not only to show that we have potential, but show that we can respond to the expectation level for our fans – I believe we can. But at the moment my regret is that we swim a little against the stream because we do not feel that around the team there is the same belief as we have inside. We can understand that, we can take that on board, because we lost some games we should not have lost. But we have a few months in front of us to show that we are right to believe in our strengths and that we can be compared to the teams of such quality in 2004 and maybe even aim to be stronger.
The belief I have in this team is not shared by the immediate people who love this club. That’s why I work very hard to convince everybody that we have the ambition, the motivation and the quality to achieve that.
When answering this question, Arsene seemed a little bit annoyed what he perceives as a lack of support from “the immediate people who love this club” – us, the fans. But Arsene must see why. Booing is a step too far, but blind faith won’t win any trophies.
Which position will Jack Wilshere end up in and why?
I believe he will end up as a central midfielder behind a striker. The ‘Bergkamp role’ – he can play maybe a little bit deeper, but you need as well to have the ball in midfield, so he might play a little bit behind the striker, just off the striker, you know? Because I am convinced that he will have a tremendous power… penetrative power – we forget that this boy is only 16! You give him four more years… he is a very strong boy, and I believe he can penetrate, he can give a final ball, and he can score goals aswell. And he’s a passionate guy, he’s a committed one; not afraid of tackles; you would want these players to finish central.
I don’t think that Jack will ever be tall, but he will be very strong, very very strong. We have a good comparison with players of his own age – he’s so strong in terms of pure power, pure force, pure strength, that you imagine that in four more years this boy will be massively strong.
He is comparable to Rooney. I wouldn’t like to put too much pressure on him – that’s one of the basic problems you have when you’re talented and very very young – Theo Walcott went through that at the start – there’s a lot of enthusiasm at the start and then suddenly they say ‘Oh, he’s not as good as he thought he would be’, and there’s a lot of scepticism around the player, and then he has to survive at the top level and it’s not easy. But Theo dealt well with that and I’m confident we can surround Jack well enough to deal with it.
From the above, we can probably conclude that Jack is some kind of superhero. I hope we see more of him in the FA Cup.
Do you intend to buy in the January transfer window?
At the moment I am more to develop the team that we have because I feel when you look at our players most of them are under-21 players and there’s a lot to come from them. That’s why if it appears that we can make something special… at the moment I must sincerely say we have not seen anything special that can convince us we will be much stronger, so I cannot say that something will happen… but you never know.
Sometimes a signing can give an extra belief to the squad, and it can help even if on the pitch it’s not that convincing. We don’t reject it, but we cannot say for certain it will be done.
We have gone with a policy that we have to respect, and the solution is not to go out and buy every time you do not have what you want, because you destroy the work you have done so far. I believe we have a young team, a club in a very good shape – we have a very good financial situation… that is suddenly quite important – and I believe that what you want with a young team is for your fans to be behind them, and give you the extra something special that you do not have when you have not won yet.
Please let this just be pre-window rhetoric. And again with a little elbow in the rib of the fans, eh?
Would you rather win the league of the Champions League?
It’s difficult to choose. very difficult to choose. We want to win one of the two, no matter which it is.
Arsene couldn’t really answer this, could be? If he said the Champions League (which I suspect is the realistic answer, for this season at least), he’d be slated for not showing the required ambition in the league.
Can Abou Diaby claim a spot in central midfield?
Yes. He has all the ingredients; physical, technical – but at the moment, not tactical. I believe in his mind he is more an offensive player, not a defensive player. And that technical defensive awareness is more in Denilson, say, or Song at the moment. Diaby is more interested in going forward and making a difference going forward… but we try to develop that in him and he has the ingredients to become a central midfielder.
How do you develop that in him?
By working on it, he’s conscious of that… but I believe also you have to choose a position for a player where he feels completely comfortable and is suited to his psychological profile… and if you place somebody against his deep desire, he can never be completely himself.
I can’t help but come away from that wondering what exactly the point in Diaby is. He’s not a winger, but he’s not a midfielder. What is he? Maybe he doesn’t see himself as a defensive player, but a look at his passport will see his profession listed as ‘footballer’ not ‘attacker’. If he wants to make a career for himself, he has to get his priorities in order.
Who is the most improved player this season?
Maybe Song… Song and Djourou are at level that was not completely expected by everybody… Denilson as well… of course it’s always younger players, but they have made a big step forward.
Big up yourself, Song. Wenger’s faith in you is clearly undying. <cries>
Anyway, there is other news. Potentially significant news. The Board has been restructured, and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith has departed. As the Chairman points out, this means she is not exempt from the ‘Lockdown’ agreement, and is free to sell her shares.
Now, I can’t pretend to know much about the truth behind Lady Nina’s departure (yet), but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was linked to her desire to cash in – with Alisher Usmanov a likely buyer. If that were to happen, it would immediately trigger an automatic offer for the rest of the shares in the company, and the club would face its more serious takeover proposition to date.
Hm. Wait and see, I guess. More on this in the next few days.