There has been much discussion of Arsene Wenger’s interview with L’Equipe last weekend. The manager himself clarified some of the reported comments in his post-game press conference after the 2-1 win over Norwich, but to make sure everything is in context, here is the full transcript of the interview.
Translation very kindly provided by @mattspiro – and because it’s long it’s split into two pages.
L’EQUIPE MAGAZINE, Saturday November 19, 2011
The interview, conducted by Jean-Marc Butterlin, took place in the manager’s office at London Colney on Monday October 31, two days after the Chelsea game. The journalist spent one and a half hours talking to Wenger.
ARSENE WENGER: “In the storm, I’ve been solid and I’ve stayed on course.”
L’Equipe: When we reflect on your 15 years as Arsenal manager, we have the impression that after some glorious seasons, last summer was the worst time of all…
Wenger: Yes, definitely. There are periods when everything is easy and there are moments when suddenly everything becomes difficult. That’s part of the job and it’s an experience any manager can go through, with highs and lows.
L’Equipe: Did it not feel like things were suddenly slipping away from you, especially during the summer, during the transfer window?
Wenger: The hard thing is the feeling that something is ending. You had a project with guys that you took on at the age of 18 and they leave at the age of 23. That’s not what you dream about. What’s more, on top of the players that left, there were injuries. It’s simple: last season, our midfield was built around Wilshere, Nasri, Diaby and Fabregas. Then we find ourselves without Diaby and Wilshere who are injured for a long time, and without Nasri and Fabregas who have gone to Manchester City and Barça.
L’Equipe: Do you know who once said that the success of a season depends 90 percent on the summer’s recruitment?
Wenger: Yes, I said that and I still think it. I know that my recruitment has been criticised, but personally I think I have succeeded beyond my own hopes. I’m happy with Gervinho, Mertesacker, Santos, Park, Benayoun and Arteta. I’ve never signed so many players (so quickly) before, although I didn’t really have a choice.
L’Equipe: From the outside, it looks like a case of patching up…
Wenger: I acknowledge that not everything was planned. Above all, what wasn’t planned was Wilshere’s long injury and Vermaelen having to undergo surgery. Losing 8-2 at Manchester United wasn’t planned either, nor was Gibbs’ injury. When that happens you are obliged to act quickly, to adapt. I bought five players in three days at the end of August, and am happy about it.
L’Equipe: Still, there was a lot of commotion and it seems to be the end of the hopes you placed in a generation of players. Do you not see that as a personal failure?
Wenger: For the first time since I have been here, I lost young players who were reaching maturity. I suffered. Because it is painful to separate with key players who you have invested a lot in, it’s painful when the results are not good enough. We are fighting with clubs that have far superior means to us. We cannot account for the difference in the financial potential of clubs like Manchester City and ourselves.
L’Equipe: You can’t ignore the fact that the results haven’t been there. That might have worn down certain players and contributed to the exodus…
Wenger: Of course that played a part. In this respect, last season broke the squad. They could have been extraordinary. I often call it ‘the season of the last minute’. We lost the League Cup final in the last minute, we lost to Liverpool in the last minute (in fact Arsenal drew in April, Kuyt equalising in 12th minute of added time), we lost the chance of qualifying, with only ten players, against Barcelona with Bendtner’s opportunity. At Tottenham, we were 3-1 up and got pegged back. When that happens your backs are against the wall. When you no longer have anything to get your teeth into, one and a half months is a long time to spend together. We felt like the winds wouldn’t stop blowing against us and yet we were so close to exploding (winning) everything.
L’Equipe: How much responsibility do you take for the collapse?
Wenger: If I acknowledge one mistake, it was wanting to win everything. We played 27 matches between November and January. After that we started to run out of petrol.
L’Equipe: You wanted to win everything because above all you couldn’t afford to win nothing… again?
Wenger: Yes. To try to catch one, we ran after all the hares.
L’Equipe: What about this season?
Wenger: I’ll do the same thing. It’s the only response I have to pressure.
L’Equipe: Does the current team have what it takes to resist, to shoulder the pressure?
Wenger: I don’t know. Paradoxically, our bad start to the season has lowered the pressure. People are saying: ‘Arsenal are going to battle against relegation, they’ll do nothing’. That’s why our victory at Chelsea had such a resounding effect. Nobody believed we were capable of that. People had downplayed our wins so much up until then, it was a clap of thunder in the English sky.
L’Equipe: Was it a positive turning point?
Wenger: We will see where we are situated in December.
L’Equipe: Do you have a clue?
Wenger: None at all. We are coming from a long way back. We’ve had to rebuild at a time when there was a total lack of confidence. That takes time.
L’Equipe: It terms of technique and tactics, we have seen your team struggle like never before. Have you looked to change your footballing principles… become less ambitious?
Wenger: Our style is founded on a form of insouciance when it comes to risk-taking, and this is something that had disappeared. As a result, there was no longer spontaneity in our play and we were in difficulty. So we decided to try to get some ‘small’ wins. Confidence is something you lose quickly and regain slowly. You climb back up the slope step by step. But I never considered renouncing my playing philosophy. On the contrary, I told myself that if I also abandoned the playing habits that this club has been founded on until now, the team would become disorientated. If I tell the players tomorrow ‘hit the ball long towards the forwards’, they will be even more unsettled. I have kept faith in our style, knowing all along that it would be hard work and laborious.