The former Manchester United defender has attacked the Gunners’ “naive or arrogant” transfer policy since their last Premier League title in 2004 – and with justification
Arsene Wenger bristled when he was informed of Gary Neville’s stinging criticism of Arsenal’s “naive or arrogant” transfer policy in the 11 years since they last won the Premier League title.
But the Gunners manager would be better off taking Neville’s criticism on board and examining it in more detail – because the former Manchester United defender is spot on with his assessment.
Arsenal still have 35 matches to correct their shaky start to the season, but in their first three games Wenger’s side have looked miles away from winning the title.
Neville’s argument is that Wenger falsely clings on to a belief that Arsenal can return to the top with only technical players and that they have never replaced the physical dominance of the likes of Patrick Vieira and Gilberto.
Few Arsenal fans could disagree having watched so many lightweight performances since the ‘Invincibles’ tore opponents apart on a weekly basis in 2003-04.
In the interim, Wenger has tried to copy the model of Spain and Barcelona by relying on flair players.
When it clicks, it looks brilliant, yet they cannot grind out results in the same way as their more physical title rivals like Chelsea and Manchester City.
Wenger strives for a utopia in which the Londoners can simply outplay their opponents every week. It is never going to happen and it’s not how you win the league. Santi Cazorla can buzz around all he likes, but he needs an imposing figure next to him when the going gets tough.
Ignoring the opposition might have worked for the ‘Invincibles’ but not only did they have the physical prowess that Neville cites, they were so good that they could play how they wanted.
It is naive to think that the current Arsenal team will always pass their opponents off the pitch.
It is arrogant to believe that Arsenal can win the league this season by signing only a goalkeeper after they finished 12 points behind the champions last term.
You could sense that attitude had crept through to the squad over the summer, too. After the players spoke about something “special” happening throughout pre-season, they were caught cold by West Ham on the opening day.
Wenger admits his side have made a “very average” start to the season with four points from their first three matches already leaving them six points behind City. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise when you consider that Arsenal have the same outfielders as last season while City have improved their already superior squad.
Arsenal’s title challenge was blown apart long before Christmas last year after a poor start to the campaign and supporters will dread history repeating itself. It has happened too many times in recent seasons.
So how does Wenger plan to turn it around in the remaining week of the transfer window?
Wenger insists that he is only in the market for “exceptional” players to improve his squad and that is understandable in many respects.
The lack of top class strikers in world football means the club have focused on Karim Benzema as their main forward target this summer, with few alternatives that can provide a guaranteed upgrade on Olivier Giroud, Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck.
But Wenger also turned his nose up at the £25 million pricetag for Morgan Schneiderlin earlier in the summer when the French midfielder could add the physicality and experience that Neville talks about. There are others out there who can do a similar job such as Grzegorz Krychowiak at Sevilla, who has been strongly linked with a move to north London.
“I can’t think of a word to describe that bunch – I could but it wouldn’t be usable on television,” Neville said about the Arsenal squad.
“They’re certainly not what I would call what you want to win you a league, the powerful characters, the strength you need running through your team.
“I just cannot get my head around why he would not sign players of power to assist these talented players you’ve got to enable them to win the league.
“It is the one big, if you like, black mark against Arsene Wenger in these last 10 years… to me it’s arrogance – to think that you are not going to adapt your team to impact on the other teams you’re playing against. It is either naivety or arrogance because they keep losing this way.”
Wenger has an enormous transfer budget – up to £80m – and he should be more ruthless, too. While Per Mertesacker is a good player and a great leader, there are plenty of central defenders out there that would improve Arsenal’s starting XI.
Petr Cech is an exceptional signing and showed why with two magnificent saves in the goalless draw with Liverpool on Monday night.
It is naive and arrogant, though, to think that Cech’s arrival alone will be enough for Arsenal to win their first title since 2004.