Two weeks ago, Bavarian Football Works sought Arsenal insight from The Short Fuse manager Thomas Wachtel. Arsenal went on to conquer Bayern Munich in the Champions League clash in London on two goals against the run of play.
Looking for better omens this time around, BFW has decided to change its strategy, turning to Arsenal expert at The Short Fuse Paul DeBruler instead. His recent work includes a proposal to remove Premier League clubs from the Capital One Cup and a comprehensive guide for traveling to the Emirates (Part 1 | Part 2).
Here is our talk with Mr. DeBruler, and hopefully the change in interviewee will lead to more favorable results in Munich:
BFW: Arsenal is not traveling with many players that filled their team sheet in the last clash; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, and Theo Walcott to name a few. Joel Campbell and Olivier Giroud played at the weekend in their stead. How much do the injuries change Arsenal’s identity in attack?
DeBruler: Considering that Olivier Giroud is basically Arsenal's first attacking choice, that particular one doesn't really change anything - Giroud gets a lot of grief for not being "world class", whatever that empty pointless phrase actually means, but he's also a damn good striker who scored 19 goals in all competitions last year, and is fourth in the Premier League this year with six. So I'm not worried about Giroud or about Arsenal's attack. Now, as for Joel Campbell...
BFW: Well Joel Campbell is an interesting character, a player that Arsenal bought four years ago but has loaned out to four different clubs. His squad role has ballooned with Arsenal’s injuries, but to me he feels like a last resort. He has drawn attention on other side of the pond becaus of his international successes with Costa Rica, but the CONCACAF caveat probably applies. What are you expecting out of him until the injured players come back? And what is your confidence level in his abilities?
DeBruler: I have been calling Joel Campbell "The Joel Campbell Experience" lately, because he was honestly a pretty large unknown on the club scene - as you say, he's played well with Costa Rica, but hasn't really made an impact anywhere - his most succesful stint on loan was probably at Olympiakos, where he scored eight goals, but otherwise he's failed to impress at a few other stops.
Given that, it was a surprise when Wenger said before this season that Campbell was a part of his plans for this season; he hasn't played much of a role up to now, but he started last weekend against Swansea City and, of course, played really well and scored a pretty nice goal.
Does this mean he's going to be the runaway winner of the Ballon d'Or? No, but it does mean that our collective fears about the Joel Campbell Experience may have been a bit overstated, and that he'll do fine in his role. Bayern, of course, are a different test than Swansea City, so I may need to revise this answer, but at least in league play, I think Campbell's ready to contribute.
BFW: The Short Fuse had an interesting story last week, one that indicated Arsène Wenger could receive a two-year contract extension. That could mean Arsenal could potentially employ Wenger until the end of 2019. How do you feel about a prolonged Wenger era? Do you feel differently about Wenger than other Arsenal fans do?
DeBruler: It's funny; every Q&A I've been a part of this season has asked some variation of this exact question. Before I give my answer, I have to give a little context - as with every long-tenured manager or player, Arsene Wenger has become less a person than a dueling series of constructs and tropes, one positive and one negative, and everything he does and everything that happens at Arsenal is viewed through the lens of whichever set of views you happen to subscribe to.
It's almost impossible to have a calm, measured conversation about Wenger with a large segment of the Arsenal fan base, because both sides are so entrenched in their view at this point that any differing stance is treated with either dismissive contempt or outright hostility.
To answer your first question: I feel fantastic about a prolonged Wenger era. I am an unabashed Wenger fan, and I have been ever since he arrived at Arsenal. More recent soccer fans, particularly ones in the States, seem to overlook the fact that Arsene Wenger basically reinvented the English game in the late 1990's - from training regimens to dietary practices to player acquisition strategies, not to mention actual game day tactics and strategies, Arsene Wenger took Arsenal to places English soccer hadn't ever seen before. And oh yeah, coached them to an undefeated season, which had not been done before and has not been done since.
He enjoyed a monopoly on his style and practices for years, but then in the mid-2000's, teams started catching up to him both on and off the pitch. The revolutionary became commonplace, and still Arsene stuck to his ways, because they worked, even while other English teams took what he had done and evolved it, and eventually surpassed Arsenal. The fact that Arsenal were building a self-funded stadium didn't help, because while other teams were starting to spend like crazy, Arsenal couldn't - they committed all their resources to building the Emirates, and it cost them, both in departed players and in time and ground lost to their rivals over a few seasons. The fact that Arsenal spent several years in relative poverty (relative, of course, to the free spending oil teams and Spanish government backed teams) and still never finished lower than fourth is a huge testament to the skill of Arsene Wenger and should not be understated.
One of the big things about Arsene Wenger is that he is famously stubborn - he has his ideas and his ways, and he is going to stick to those ways, no matter what, because he believes those ways, and the players he has employed to execute them, will do the job. This has been a large part of the frustration many fans have with him - he does not change. Ever. He does what he thinks is right, and if it works, great; if it doesn't, it's because something outside his control got in his way.
This is both admirable and frustrating - I've long wanted Wenger to have a "plan B" in case his first choice plan doesn't work, but he just won't. He buys players who he trusts, and he doesn't really coach them - he imbues them with a philosophy, and trusts that they will carry out said philosophy on the pitch with a minimum of instruction. When that works, it's breathtaking - when it doesn't, though, it's a mess.
As with all managers, Arsene has his shortcomings - his aforementioned resistance to evolution, his almost pathological faith in the qualities of even his least-qualified players, and his complete refusal to play the transfer-market-overpayment game (he's a Ph.D. economist, and if his valuation of a player doesn't match the market's - which it almost never does, because the market for players is not rational - he doesn't even try for the player) are three of the areas where I get frustrated at his unwillingness to reconsider his stance.
But overall, I (and the TSF staff) worship at the altar of Arsene Wenger - without him, Arsenal would be mid-table mediocrity right now, and I will be crushed when he goes. He's rumored to be signing another two-year contract soon, though, so that day will hopefully be pushed back just that little bit further.