Arsenal's 'foreign policy' - The definitive article...

Last updated : 20 February 2005 By Chris Parry
Roy Collins of the Daily Telegraph has summed up the situation far more eloquently than I ever could, therefore I make no apologies for reproducing his article in full here:

Wenger right to pick the best

By Roy Collins (Filed: 20/02/2005)

Since having the audacity to field a complete team of foreigners capable of beating Crystal Palace by only a pitifully inadequate 5-1 in Monday's Premiership game, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has all but been accused of being the Herod of English football, indiscriminately slaughtering indigenous young talent.

Hilariously, one of the first to cry foul was former Arsenal player Paul Merson, as English as a barrel of beer, who was given more chances of going straight than the bloke who robbed farmer Tony Martin before eventually being sold off because football got in the way of his addictions to booze, cocaine and gambling.

It was Merson, never the sharpest knife in the box, who memorably observed that Dennis Bergkamp, a dreadful foreign mercenary who has spent only 10 years mesmerising Arsenal fans, was the most technically gifted player at Highbury, yet insisted on staying on the training field after all his team-mates had decamped to the pub. One can only imagine what Wenger was thinking when he snapped off the hands of Middlesbrough eight years ago to accept an offer of £4.5 million for Merson.

And, instead of being put off English players by his Merson experience, 18 months later Wenger wrote a cheque for £2million to make Jermaine Pennant the most expensive teenager in the history of British football; the same Pennant who is facing jail after two drink-driving convictions in less than 12 months.

What on earth does Wenger see in men like Bergkamp and Thierry Henry? The former, in fact, was due to be pensioned off this summer but may now sign for another season while Englishman David Bentley, the man being groomed to succeed him, learns to adopt a few foreign ways. During his brief loan spell at Norwich, where he is meant to be proving his Premiership skills, Bentley has already suffered one suspension by manager Nigel Worthington for not taking training seriously.

Given these experiences, Wenger could be excused for washing his hands of English players altogether. But he gave a first-team debut to Bentley last season and, this term, has introduced both Justin Hoyte and Ryan Smith, who are expected to develop into first-team regulars. And the highest earner at Highbury until recently was England centre-half Sol Campbell.

No one can accuse Wenger of ignoring English-born players. In a mad Anglophile moment, he even splashed £10 million on Francis Jeffers, who was touted as Arsenal's fox in the box, until it became obvious this referred only to the fact he went to ground so early. Even home-town Everton did not want him back and having, like Merson, been given umpteen chances, Jeffers is currently moaning about his lack of first-team opportunities at Charlton.
Wenger, clearly not the world's best judge of a goalkeeper, also paid £6 million for Richard Wright from Ipswich, who infamously gave away two penalties on his England debut. He is now playing second fiddle at Everton to 38-year-old Nigel Martyn.

As he has built one of Arsenal's most successful teams, Wenger has been forced to accept that some of the English talent he inherited was not quite up to it. But none of those he sold has exactly confounded his judgment; central defender Matthew Upson has probably fared the best, though no one would claim that helping Birmingham City to avoid relegation compares to Arsenal's Champions League encounter against Bayern Munich on Tuesday.

The singling out of Arsenal is ridiculous when even Kidderminster Harriers, fighting to stay in the league, have players from Senegal, France and Spain.
What next? Should the Gunners be limited to using players born within shouting distance of Islington's Granita restaurant, where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were said to have made their pact about sharing the post of Prime Minister?

Chelsea were the first team to field a foreign starting X1 under Gianluca Vialli and, despite Gary Neville's claims that Manchester United always field local youngsters, Wes Brown apart, how many can he name in recent years? And it was 19 years ago that Liverpool fielded an FA Cup final team without a single Englishman.

As for Arsenal, how would their fans fancy this line-up, of former players rejected by Wenger, against Bayern in midweek:

Richard Wright (Everton); John Halls (Stoke), Matthew Rose (QPR), Matthew Upson (Birmingham), Jason Crowe (Grismby); Julian Gray (Birmingham), Stephen Sidwell (Reading), Stephen Hughes (Coventry), Paolo Vernazza (Rotherham); Francis Jeffers (Charlton), Jay Boothroyd (Blackburn). Subs: Paul Merson (Walsall), Lee Harper (Northampton), Tommy Black (Crystal Palace), Isaiah Rankin (Brentford).

(Article reproduced from this page on the Telegraph website)