Readers, fans, spambots,

Sadly I must report that Gingers for Limpar is to be dormant for a while. The blog will head off on a (metaphorical) summer holiday, but hopefully return at some stage next year.

The Twitter account will stay active, mainly on selected Arsenal matchdays.

The video tab will continue to publish the vlogs of Hayley & Vince Wright.

See you on the other side,


Arsenal are preparing to attack the summer’s transfer market with a £70m-£150m warchest, if various reports from this morning are to be believed. While this kind of promise would have fans of most clubs licking their lips in anticipation of some big juicy signings, its effect on Arsenal supporters has been similar to that of poking a dying lion with a pointy stick.

Already driven to near-madness by the home defeat to Blackburn on the weekend – the second humiliating cup exit in one season at the hands of lower league opposition – the suggestion that an uncharacteristic shopping spree is on its way has only managed to aggravate Gooners even more. Why? Because we’ve heard it all before.

“There are sufficient funds available to the manager for transfers,” said Arsenal’s then-CEO Keith Edelman back in September 2005. Four months earlier the Invincibles had seen their Premier League title snatched by Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea, who subsequently beat Arsenal twice that August.

Patrick Vieira left the club in the summer, having won the FA Cup with his final kick in red and white. Edu also departed, while Alex Hleb arrived. Transfer deadline day involved reserve goalkeeper Mart Poom joining from Sunderland.

Arsenal thus made a net transfer profit from player trading, that summer – a trend that has, overall, continued for the eight years since. The eight year period during which, infamously, the club has failed to pick up any silverware has coincided with it raking in an estimated £33.5m in profits from selling players and investing less back into the squad.

Arsene Wenger recently put this down to financial restrictions imposed by the move to an expensive new stadium – albeit one that allows the club to earn around £120m a season from its match-going fans.

“We have been restricted financially because of stadium; [now] that is coming to a close,” Arsene said last month. “I am always painted like a guy who refuses to spend money, [but] we had restricted funds and I acted in a responsible way.”

Fair enough, no? But the problem is that this does not tally with the messages that the board has been feeding the fans since 2005.

“Arsene is not one to go and spend huge amounts of money on players,” Edelman said in February 2007. “But if he wanted to do something of that magnitude there’s no reason we couldn’t get that to happen. We can do it. It’s just a matter of what Arsene’s strategy is. There is money available for Arsene in the summer.”

That summer Edelman held a conference with Arsenal fans, that I attended, in which he stressed that the decision not to spend more money on players was the manager’s, not the board’s.

Needless to say there was no big splash that summer; in fact the club made another profit in the transfer market. Then after the close of the window, in September 2007, Edelman came out and said: “We have substantial resources of cash if Arsene wants to spend it. If Arsene came to the board in January and wanted £40m for a player, we would have the money. We said to Arsene in the summer that we have money to spend. He said, ‘Thanks very much, I have done my business in the summer. I will spend it later on’.”

Hammering home the point, Edelman added: “We have got plenty of financial firepower to makes the transfers Arsene wants to make. We had over £70m of cash at the end of the year and if Arsene wants to spend that money we will make it available. I think we are in a very good position. We gave Arsene a budget in the summer and he didn’t even spend all of it on transfers and hopefully we’ll be able to carry that forward into future years.”

Edelman left his position the following year and was replaced by Ivan Gazidis. The new CEO is more cautious with his words, but has nonetheless continued to issue the same sentiments. Within a year of his arrival headlines of “Gazidis gives Gunners boss Wenger the green light for summer spending spree” were hitting the press.

In May 2009 Gazidis admitted that Arsenal “quite possibly” needed new players – but the club yet again made a (huge) profit on transfers during that summer, pulling in a hilarious amount of cash for Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure (thanks, Sheikh), while spending far less.

And two years ago Gazidis told fans to prepare for a summer of feverish transfer activity and insisted that funds were available. “It is very clear we had some shortcomings and in this close season we are going to see some turnover of players,” he said.

“If we found an established world-class player and we thought the economics made sense and he would add to what we could do on the pitch then there’s no philosophical objection to that… Financially we’re in a strong position, we have resources to spend. We’re certainly not sitting there saying ‘let’s hold back on our resources’ for some reason, why would we?”

He added: “The resources are there. We’ve got a substantial amount of money that we can invest.”

Yet we know how this ends. Arsenal made over £60m from the sales of players such as Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Gael Clichy, and spent less on a hurried set of, largely substandard, replacements. In the midst of this chaos came the 8-2 defeat to Manchester United. “Certainly in January and next summer there are significant funds available to bolster the team,” Gazidis said, attempting to reassure the fans by saying that the club had “kept our powder dry” for a near-future explosion of transfer activity.

Since then the same old cycle of spin has continued to emanate from the club. Prior to or immediately after a transfer window, we are told that investment is imminent – but the words are rarely backed up by actions.

“There is money available,” Gazidis said a year ago. Then back in November, prior to the just-passed midseason transfer window, he revealed: “The decision to invest is up to Arsene Wenger, but now more resources are available to him. We’ve got funds to make the right decisions for the club.”

In December the AST’s Tim Payton reported that Gazidis had told him personally, at a meeting with fans, that “there is plenty of money there”.

“That was the message that Ivan and his finance director were giving this evening,” Payton said. Needless to say, Gazidis’s assurances were given the day after the defeat to fourth division Bradford.

It’s all getting a bit tiresome, isn’t it? And the worst element is that the manager is correct about one thing: you cannot solve a team’s problems by simply splashing cash in one transfer window. Even if our cynicism is misplaced, and the club spend big in the coming summer, it cannot magically cure years of decline in the standard of the squad and performance of the team.

Successful teams tend to keep their best players, rather than losing them with the alarming regularity that has plagued our squad. Arsenal’s failure to invest, on a net basis, in the transfer market reflects the constant sales of big players just as much as the reluctance to bring in expensive new talent. And this season’s performances against Norwich, Bradford, Southampton (away), Birmingham, and in many other games, reveal even deeper problems than a gradual slide in player quality.

This summer is not Wenger’s “last chance”, as some have suggested. The same was said before the transfer window just passed. And the one before that, and the one before that. The questions about Arsenal’s condition are more long term and serious.

Why has the board constantly, and seemingly systematically, told us that there is cash available, only for the manager to rake in far more than he spends? Why has it been so tough to keep hold of players? Why does the transfer strategy seem to be reactive – as shown by last minute mad-dash signings such as Nacho Monreal, made only when forced by exceptional circumstances? Why is the squad quality not proactively improved, incrementally, through the transfer market – in the way that happened so successfully, twice, during Arsene’s first eight or nine years at the club?

The frenetic echo-room nature of modern internet-based football chat means that the overall picture can be drowned out by noisy minutiae and tangents. There are lots of ifs and buts involved in analysing the last eight seasons – relatively abysmal commercial revenue, nearly winning the title in 2008, boardroom battles, et cetera – yet the bottom line is that most transfer windows are resulting in a decline in the overall quality of the squad, and most seasons are revealing a decline in the achievements of the team. Repetitive cheap talk of an impending “transfer warchest” does nothing to change that.

Love him or not, Arsene Wenger is without doubt an increasingly exceptional football manager. While most of his peers spend shorter and shorter periods of time at each team, he is in his 17th year in north London, at a club over which he exerts an unusual degree of influence. Most managers tend to scrape as much cash out of their chairmen as possible in order to get the strongest possible squad, yet Arsene has in recent seasons become almost synonymous with parsimony. Someone once said that while Jose Mourinho manages as if he has the team’s next 10 days at heart, Arsene manages as if he’s most concerned with where the club will be in 80 years’ from now.

At the time of writing – with Arsenal having made their worst league start since Arsene took over as manager – many Gooners are questioning whether the Frenchman’s unique attributes are still helping, or even hindering the side. It is a pertinent moment, then, to examine the “Wenger Code” – the titular objective of a book released last month by GCR, authored by Richard Evans.

The introduction is devoted to a reflection of recent seasons during which the so called Wenger Code has fallen into question. It recounts the unwelcome transformation from a silverware-winning team to one that has been unable to contribute to the trophy cabinet; it also considers the move to the new stadium, and how various fans have reacted to the changing outlook. In a swipe that appears to set out the author’s position, Evans cites “the brasher, better-heeled brigade who came on board when Wenger started winning things”, concluding that “some supporters need to be reminded that no team, not even Arsenal, have a divine right to win things.” Needless to say that Evans was a fan back in the days of Reg Lewis and Joe Mercer.

As with the most recent Arsenal book that I reviewed, this is a piece of work by a fan, written for other fans. The author explains the need for catharsis that led to him taking pen to paper: this past summer, following “two of [Arsenal's] most frustrating seasons” under the current manager, he sought “an outlet for my frustration – I tied my Arsenal scarf around my neck and took a detailed look at the highs and lows and ultimate failures of the last two campaigns.”

The Wenger Code: will it survive the age of the oligarch?, to use its full title, is therefore not a theoretical examination of Arsene’s ideology, but rather a fan’s-eye view of recent events – written in the hope that this context will help provide an answer to the question it poses. The book takes the reader back through numerous games, but is not confined to on-pitch activities, also referencing changing evidence of supporters’ views (such as the results of fan surveys) and how events have been portrayed through the media (the introduction, amusingly, cites an article from a prominent national newspaper in 2001 suggesting that Leeds and Liverpool would offer more of a threat to Manchester United in the 2002 season than Arsenal would be capable of.)

Narrating the past couple of seasons, the author attempts to dissect where things went wrong, occasionally deploying lists of statistics in a bid to understand the bottom line outcomes. To this extent The Wenger Code often reads like a (very long) blog post, printed into hard back.

The conclusion of the Wenger Code is, essentially, that there isn’t one. At the very beginning Evans is modest enough to admit that he “certainly do[es]n’t have the answers” to how Arsene’s multiple-silverware-winning sides have turned into significantly less successful teams. “Firstly, I am not a coach, and secondly one of the best in the business, a certain Arsene Wenger, is not absolutely certain he knows himself.”

As we head towards Christmas with Arsenal stranded in mid-table, Gooners will be hoping that the boss has a firm idea of what’s gone wrong and, thus, how to fix it. While some want Arsene shown the door, the author of the Wenger Code still has hope that the three-time Premier League winner will turn things around.

You can buy the book directly for just £13.99 from GCR Books here. Or from Amazon here.

Or for your chance to WIN a copy, click on the Contact tab above and send me the answer to this simple question…

Arsene Wenger’s 350th league win for Arsenal came against which team?

a) Norwich City

b) Everton

c) West Ham

Good luck.

Update: Congratulations to Paul Jeater from Essex, who correctly answered that Arsene’s 350th league win came against West Ham (this season, at Upton Park).