Arsenal ended their 9 year wait for a trophy with Saturday’s FA Cup Final victory over Hull City, and whilst Arsene Wenger’s record continues to divide opinion, his club’s achievements should be measured in stability and sustainability as well as silverware.
The FA Cup has seen its importance and popularity waiver in recent years, with the Barclays Premier League and UEFA’s Champions League taking precedence. Today it seems English clubs would prefer to “concentrate on the league” than chance fatigue, injuries, and relegation; a fate which befell last year’s winners Wigan Athletic.
This year’s FA Cup Final was a refreshing throwback to a bygone era with both clubs giving their all at Wembley. Hull City, appearing in the first major cup final of their 110-year history, started in spectacular fashion, seizing an early 2-0 lead through defenders James Chester and Curtis Davies to astonish their opponents.
However, time was still on Arsenal’s side and Santi Cazorla signaled the onslaught had begun with a sublime set-piece on 17 minutes, sending jitters through the City supporters. Laurent Koscielny’s second half effort levelled the match before Aaron Ramsey’s extra-time drive ultimately proved decisive, and delivered Arsenal the title that had eluded them for so long.
Hull City manager, Steve Bruce, can take pride in the performance and a season in which his side has exceeded all expectations. Tipped for relegation, City surprised many to finish in 16th place and relative safety. City’s players will have grown through this season’s experiences; and the reward for helping to restore some of the Cup’s romance and magic is the adventure of their first European football campaign and the challenge that brings.
Wenger’s 18 seasons at Arsenal make him English football’s longest serving current manager, yet his long wait for honours has drawn questions from fans, press and peers alike, most notably Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho. To many, Wenger is a visionary whose continental coaching and conditioning methods have brought major success; shaping the careers of a host of international stars and changing the English game forever. To others, his unwavering belief in an expressive, expansive style of play and apparent absence of a “plan B,” hints at shortsightedness.
Rival clubs, including Tottenham Hotspur, crave the stability displayed at Arsenal. Their procession of 10 managers during Wenger’s reign has prompted questions over their long-term strategy. Wenger’s 4 Premier League crowns, 5 FA Cup wins and 17 years of consecutive Champions League qualification compares favourably to Spurs’ 2 League Cup wins and solitary season amongst Europe’s elite.
During Wenger’s time at Arsenal, training facilities have been enhanced, and the marble halls of Highbury were replaced by the magnificent Emirates Stadium; a move designed to boost the club’s ability to compete for honours through increased attendance and revenue. However, financing those moves led to many of Wenger’s protégés including Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri leaving the club. Arsenal’s ambitions have repeatedly been questioned, as rivals became stronger with Arsenal seemingly unwilling to loosen the purse strings or embrace outside investment.
UEFA’s introduction of Financial Fair Play (FFP) penalties suggests more clubs will need to follow Wenger and Arsenal’s model. Premier League champions Manchester City saw limits imposed on their budget and squad for next season, in a move designed to promote a level financial playing field. City’s billionaire owners, who have lavished hundreds of millions of pounds on the playing squad, will now need to invest heavily in the club’s infrastructure in an attempt to recruit and develop players in a more sustainable manner. In the age of FFP, responsible recruitment and nurturing of talent are becoming a necessity and underlines Arsenal’s model of self-sufficient success as the correct approach to follow.
Whilst in the short term, trophies and titles are essential, history will reflect on Wenger’s achievements in the same way it does Arsenal legend Herbert Chapman; a man largely credited with laying the foundations for the club. Wenger, in a modern game, with modern pressures, has shrewdly built on the traditions of one of England’s greatest clubs to deliver a platform for future achievements.
What productive aspects can the Premier League chairmen learn from business in terms of succession planning and recruitment?