Wenger's desire to keep changing

Arsène Wenger may be going for a fourth Premier League title, but he continues to rethink and revise his methods.

“Success is paralysing,” says the Frenchman. “If you don’t change anything, three years later you are suddenly not successful and you don’t know why.
You want to repeat quality but also to improve quality, so you have to change.

“When you lose there’s also a resistance to change, but when you are a manager you can’t be scared to put pressure on and to take a risk by changing. You can’t be scared of change.”

With the revolutionary zeal of a latter-day Robespierre, Wenger has created and undone three great teams at Arsenal.

Tony Adams and Lee Dixon, mainstays of the 1998 double-winning defence, were peripheral figures when the feat was repeated in 2002, their colleagues Nigel Winterburn and Steve Bould already gone. Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars were moved on to Barcelona for £30-million. Then David Seaman, Martin Keown and Sylvain Wiltord made way for Jens Lehmann, Kolo Touré and Gilberto Silva as Arsenal went unbeaten in 2004.

Today, only those three remain of the “invincibles” and, two points clear at the top of the Premier League with a game in hand, Wenger might be on the threshold of a fourth great side.

Few foresaw it when even Thierry Henry was deemed superfluous, but Wenger’s decision seems to have been spectacularly vindicated.

“The most talented player I have worked with is certainly Thierry Henry,” said Wenger. “He had pace, power, skill, intelligence. He had maybe some other problems, but he was gifted as a footballer. If I let Thierry Henry go it is because I was convinced at the moment of the decision that we will be successful. When you make decisions you know you have to win football games.

“The basic quality of being a manager—and I always say it when a young coach starts—is to trust people. The second part is resistance to stress. Don’t be inhibited. On the bench you can be scared to make an atrocious decision. It is better you make a quick decision than to defer it; to wait and make no decision because you know you can’t get it back. So you have to resist stress and always be able to innovate.”

Wenger certainly trusts his players. Three months after Cesc Fábregas celebrated his 17th birthday he was handed his first Premier League start, in a 4-1 win at Everton in August 2004. Now 20 and seven games into Arsenal’s season, the Spanish midfielder is already being tipped as this year’s footballer of the year.

Fábregas is the mainstay of a team that has an average age of 23 years and eight months, and Wenger has two reasons for employing such young players.

The first is psychological. “There has been research done by psychologists which explains that at 18 to 20 years old a person’s motivation is set, and after that you cannot change them,” he said. “It is about the environment they are in at that age and how they feel, but if somebody is not motivated you cannot instil it in them later.”

The second, appropriately for a man whose contribution has propelled Arsenal into the top tier of richest European clubs, is financial.

“The cycle of life is like a [bell] curve. It goes up like this and then it goes down like this,” he said. “Most of the time in football, clubs pay the maximum wages to players at 29, 30 years old, when they are on their way down.

“Here we like to buy players when they are on their way up. This is the most exciting squad [I have coached at Arsenal] because they have all been educated by us. When I first came, the team was inherited and several of the players were over 30 years old. This team came not just from me but from the whole club. This squad is the work of the whole staff. When they become big stars it is much less exciting.”—Â

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