Wenger’s Room

Posted: July 1, 2015 in Arsenal FC
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After having written Schrödinger’s Arsenal, it was a natural continuation to take another thought experiment and introduce Arsenal variables to see if it could stand up to scrutiny. There were many experiments that were intriguing, but then I stumbled onto one in an old textbook and knew right away there was no need to look any further. It was a perfect fit for the one subject that all Arsenal supporters weigh in on, almost on a daily basis – Wenger.

 

The Theory

Before delving into the actual experiment one must understand what it is trying to disprove, mainly the theory of physicalism. This philosophical theory states, broad strokes view, that mental processes are the result of, or can be reduced to, physical processes in the brain. There are many unique theories both philosophical and scientific that stem from this but all contain the same notion, that there is only one substance with a place in ontology, the physical. For the moment this is all we need.

 

The Thought Experiment – Mary’s Room 

This variation is quite modest and tackles one example of a multi-layered argument first made by Frank Jackson in 1982. It’ll do for the purposes of this entry. Mary’s Room is a very simple thought experiment that means to prove physicalism false, specifically the branch of physicalism that claims completeness of physical explanations of mental states.

Mary has been confined her entire life in a room which purposely lacks any colour. She’s never seen colour although she does have the ability to see it. Through books, also devoid of colour, black and white monitors and other colourless media, she is practised in neuroscience to the point where she is an expert on the subject. Mary is educated on everything possible about the perception of colour in the brain and all the physical facts about how light works and the process necessary to see colour.

After Mary’s education is complete she is allowed to leave the room. This is when, for the first time, she experiences direct colour perception. She sees the colour yellow and just by seeing it, learns something new about colour perception; what the colour yellow looks like.

Jackson concluded from this simple thought experiment that if physicalism is true, Mary would have gained all the knowledge about colour perception through her education, but since she learned something upon leaving the room, physicalism must be false. He goes on to explain:

“It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then is it inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false.”

Got it? Good. Now, what does this have to do with Arsenal? I’m glad you asked.

 

Wenger’s Room

For the purpose of this entry, we’ll say that Wenger’s 10 year trophy-less time was his period in the colourless room.

Wenger, for all intents and purposes, was severely restricted for most of those ten years. In theory he had a transfer budget, but it wasn’t what it had been upon his arrival. I say he was restricted for most of those years as it was obvious from the expenditures the last few years that the restrictions were lessened by the end of the drought.

So Wenger in this white room, had to educate himself in financial restraint. Selling off top-end assets, acquiring lesser assets to combine and attempt to replace the originals for the sake of qualifying to the CL year after year. Maintaining that status quo and paying off the stadium debt became paramount and winning titles, or at the very least truly competing for them, was something that was lost in the bargain. Legends were replaced with boys with big dreams, big demands and no backbone. Wenger during this time became a good businessman, but as a manager was unable to mould those kids into champions.

Lesser managers would have seen the club drop out of the top four, sat with a new stadium and increasingly less attractive product on the pitch and in financial turmoil. Better managers, wouldn’t have stuck around under those restraints. Wenger taught himself rather well and was able to push the squad on year after year. Sometimes underachieving, sometimes overachieving, but always in the mix near the top. The football, whilst not title-winning, was attractive, until, ironically enough, the restrictions began to lift and there was more money available. Wenger was finally let out of the white room, but had he lost his mojo from the early years at Arsenal? It certainly seemed so. Attractive football with memorable matches were replaced with laboured wins and forgettable losses.

The club seemed behind the curve in things like training methods (one example), that were once hailed as revolutionary. The time in the white room seemed to have dulled Wenger’s ability in the one thing us as supporters care about the most, the product on the pitch. Take all the things mentioned and add the increasingly bizarre way that Arsenal, year after year, climbed the injury table you could easily come to the conclusion that he had “lost it”. Was it fair? Absolutely not. Was it likely. It appeared so, as there was no evidence to the contrary bar the annual trips to a competition Arsenal had very little chance of winning but needed to stay ahead in the financial game. Even when the restraints were slowly lifted the team lost players and signed the likes of Squillaci. Even with good times around the corner, there still were/are, some growing pains. There was an increased rate of turnover as “Project Youth” came to a halt and there was a greater effort into recruiting more mature, experienced players that were indeed, more talented as well. Wenger was seeing colour again as if for the first time, learning something new…or re-learning.

So now, over the past few years with lessened financial restraint, the boss has reinforced the squad with the likes of Özil, Sanchez and just recently Petr Čech. Obviously unshackled Wenger has found his stride with two FA Cup wins in two seasons and partial runs at the title derailed either side of Christmas due to injury. Has the old man learned something he was missing or just back to basics now unburdened with having to be cheap as opposed to just prudent? For me, I would like to think it’s a bit of both. Wenger came out of this period with a more hardened sense of truth. He saw boys he groomed into top players turn their back on him and betray his trust. This definitely had an effect on him, you can see it in his shrewd decision-making of late. Sitting Vermaelen, as captain, benching Szczesny in league play for Ospina, etc. I could go on but I think you catch my drift. The reinforcements he’s added and is seemingly continuing to add show the restraints are now a distant memory. The youth that is now being given a chance have a deeper sense of loyalty as well. Lessons lived, lessons learned.

All in all, whether we like it or not, Arsenal went through this period and the face of it, the embodiment of it was Wenger. Through thick and thin the man stood there and took his shots, deserved or not, and for that he deserves praise. The juggling act he performed to maintain the status quo certainly hurt the rest of his duties, denying that is just folly, but the man, like the club, persevered and learned from it. Now we can watch a revamped side push on and truly compete for titles, with a few more additions and a bit of luck! The journey is not complete, when is it really ever complete in sport?

The lesson’s learned IN the room in this case are just as important as the lessons learned and actions taken once free of it. The club is in an enviable position to push on now and for that, we should all be grateful.

 

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