It is a bold statement – fuelled by the fact that his team sit handsomely on top of the Premier League – but Arsène Wenger declared yesterday that there was not a "superstar" player in the world who could improve Arsenal.
Despite having, in theory, more than £70m to spend in the transfer market because of the financial strength of the club – following their move to the Emirates Stadium – Wenger said that buying "£30m players" would "ruin the work I have done in the last five years".
He didn't rule out dipping into the funds in the future but added: "There might come a time when I need to put my hands on it and I say 'listen we need to put the money in for one special player who could give us a plus'. I don't see this player at the moment anywhere."
Indeed Wenger singled out Ronaldinho, the Brazilian who is suffering at Barcelona after being universally-acknowledged as the planet's finest. "You ask me on Ronaldinho," Wenger said. "Maybe one year ago he was the best player in the world. Is he today? No. It's as simple as that. What people have problems to accept in football, is that it's like tennis. You can be No 1 in tennis in March and No 10 in November. Football players are the same.
"I think we've had players here who are superstars, Bergkamp, Henry, Vieira, you forget Petit, they were all superstars but what, in the end, is a superstar? For me, he is a player who has a better performance than another player on the pitch. If he speaks three times more on television? For me, that doesn't make him a superstar. Let's see what kind of performance he will put in.
"You develop players and, just in the last minute, you put £30m into a player who is not necessary better than the players you have, just to keep everybody saying 'oh, have you seen Arsenal, they've bought a super player'. And in the end you see he's not better than the players you have. I just was really convinced that it was not needed."
Wenger's bold strategy is partly constructed through necessity – despite claims by the board he simply didn't have the funds to compete at the top end of the market until now – and partly through philosophy and a desire to nurture young players.
But there has also been experience. His two most expensive purchases were Sylvain Wiltord, at £13m, and Jose Antonio Reyes who, Wenger confirmed yesterday, was his record signing at £15m. Neither, it could be said, were resounding successes. "You have to trust to your judgement knowing you will make mistakes," Wenger said of his transfer dealings. "I always say you have to be relaxed about that and smiling knowing that you have a bomb in the right hand and a hand grenade in your left and that it can explode in your face because you were wrong."
Little has exploded so far this season. Except on the pitch. It has been a sweet vindication for Wenger and his methods with a run of 10 matches unbeaten, including seven straight victories. Today Arsenal face West Ham United at Upton Park with the home side expected to include Freddie Ljungberg after his recovery from injury. It will be the first time the Swede has faced Arsenal after his summer departure, following nine seasons at the club. There were bitter words then, with Ljungberg accusing Arsenal of lacking ambition, although they have since been retracted.
Alongside Ljungberg should be Dean Ashton with Wenger confirming that he had attempted to sign the striker soon after his emergence at Crewe Alexandra. At that time he was told the Cheshire club had an agreement in place to eventually sell to Liverpool – so Wenger was surprised when he pitched up at Norwich City before moving to West Ham.
"He is an intelligent player and uses his body well and is good in the air," Wenger said. "We were looking at the time for someone who could give us something a bit different and help us play slightly more direct if needed and we felt he could develop into that sort of player. He showed a lot of character to come back [from a year out through injury]."
Wenger predicted that Ashton would be in the next England squad. "I wouldn't be surprised to see Steve McClaren in the stand," he said of today's game. It will provide a test for Arsenal – not least as a benchmark to how far they have progressed from last season when, in the same fixture, Wenger lost his temper and clashed with the then West Ham manager, Alan Pardew. Intriguingly West Ham are seeking their fourth successive Premier League victory over Arsenal.
There is also the continuing challenge of fighting off would-be owner Alisher Usmanov. The Uzbek billionaire has increased his stake Arsenal to 23 per cent, a two per cent increase, a week after saying he wanted at least a 25 per cent holding.Reuse content