What is Wenger worth?

Arsene Wenger was brought to Arsenal by the hyper-active vice-chairman David Dein, who was later forced out of the club after conflict with his fellow directors, but he has arguably been missed ever since. By Brian Glanville.

Arsenal’s narrow hard-earned victory over modest Hull City elicited a torrent of hyperbolic praise for their manager Arsene Wenger, and a colossal new contract, worth GBP24 million, and GBP100 million to spend in the ensuing transfer market. One of the most shrewd and perceptive sports columnist hailed Wenger’s tactics as the work of genius. Yet, to me, putting Jack Wilshere, the only English player of today who can really pass the ball, and the Czech Tomas Rosicky on after 105 minutes seems ludicrously delayed. I would have had Wilshere on long before, probably for the GBP42 million German international Mesut Ozil, while Rosicky looked a great deal more influential than the Spaniard Santi Cazorla, whose free-kick goal was a masterpiece, but who was little to be seen before and after that. Was putting Wilshere and Rosicky on, truly, a gamble, as this columnist answered? Or was the true gamble keeping them off, for so long, against a Hull team manifestly and increasingly tired after half-time?

Hull’s astonishing beginning, the 2-0 lead, which could well have been three, evoked comparisons — almost wholly ignored — with what happened way back in 1930. When they met the Gunners, for the only other time, in an FA Cup tie; the semi-finals at Leeds. Hull then were on the way to being relegated to the Third Division. Arsenal were at the beginning of their dominance of the English game though, beaten by a bizarre goal by Cardiff three years earlier, they were yet to win a major English honour in their 44 years of existence.

And Hull, just as at Wembley, went into a dramatic and sensational two-goal lead. First thanks to a blunder by Arsenal’s Welsh goalkeeper Danny Lewis, his mere 30-yard clearance was sent back over his head by Jimmy Howiesen of Hull, while Lewis watched unworried, convinced the ball was flying over the bar. It didn’t. It flew into the net. And Eddie Hapgood, due to become England’s captain and left back, sliced the ball into his own goal to make it 2-0 for Hull.

Down to 10 fit men for much of the second half, Hull ultimately gave away a goal to the formidable David Jack, then, with time running out, Cliff Bastin, the Gunner’s teenaged prodigy at outside left, who hadn’t touched the ball for 20 minutes, glided through the defence to equalise. At Villa Park the Gunners won the replay 1-0 and went on to defeat Huddersfield Town in the final.

Too easily ignored and forgotten is the fact that Hull, though under sustained pressure in the latter stages of the game, could so easily have forced penalties at the end of extra-time when Arsenal’s hefty, sometimes ponderous, centre back, the German international Per Mertesacker fell to the ground, giving a clear run to the Hull substitutes, Aluko, whose low cross flew across the goal, needing just a touch to bring the equaliser. In the early phases, a Hull team, which boldly threw caution to the winds, twice breached the Arsenal defence but predictably perhaps their efforts needed tremendous physical commitment, which was bound to run out; and had effectively done so by half-time.

So Arsenal, doing it the hard way, were able to win their first major trophy for nine years. A bleak record for a great club, which, under Wenger himself, has previously won trophies galore. And there is no doubt that Wenger, who arrived at Highbury in 1996, revolutionised the club in manifold ways. In the tactics, in training, in personnel! In the training facilities, leaving the grounds owned by the University College of London, to build a new and ambitiously modern ones, not far away at London Colney in Hertfordshire. The players’ diet was changed, their training was revolutionised.

The insular fools who had sneered at his appointment demanding “Arsene Who?”, when anyone with a knowledge of European football knew how well he had done in the French League with Monaco, with whom he had won the Championship.

He was brought to Arsenal by the hyper-active vice-chairman David Dein, who was later forced out of the club after conflict with his fellow directors, but he has arguably been missed ever since. Today the owner and chairman is the American Stan Kroenke, a multi- millionaire, who owns sports franchises in the United States, but has little or no knowledge of soccer and whose visits to the Emirates where Arsenal play — after so successfully leaving their old Highbury home and building the far larger new stadium in record time — are rare and fleeting.

The chief executive Ivan Gazidis, who cut his teeth in American sports, is beyond doubt a highly effective financial figure, but again, hardly what you might call a football man. The result being that Wenger for all his undoubted abilities has no one of real effective stature beside him, to help and at times to guide him. The truth is that he was very lucky to survive earlier this just-ended season. Three shocking defeats by embarrassing margins to Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea would have got him the sack at almost any Serie A club and probably in Spain as well.

In the end he managed with difficulty to ease Everton out of the vital fourth place in the Premiership, which once again enabled the Gunners to compete in the European Champions League, something vital to their economic well-being. Had they failed to qualify, it would have been exceedingly hard to tempt major players to join them, no matter how much money they were prepared to pay them. And even in their present euphoria, Arsenal’s impatient fans will be watching keenly to see whom he signs. There was large discontent among them, which arguably pressed Wenger into spending such a vast sum on Ozil so late in the transfer window. But the Gunners laboured through the season, having lost Robin van Persie to Manchester United (not to mention Samir Nasri to Manchester City), without a centre forward of real renown, though the French international Olivier Giroud, whose neat back-heel brought Arsenal a vital goal at Wembley, had his sporadic moments.

In Wenger’s defence, serious injury to Theo Walcott, his dynamic outside-right, and injuries to the effervescent young Welshman Aaron Ramsey took their toll. And not to be forgotten was his remarkable promotion of the then young and small Cesc Fabregas to the dominating midfield role occupied by the big Patrick Vieira.

Meanwhile, euphoria rules. But you wonder for just how long.