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EPL: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger's philosophy at stake against Leicester City

For a man who tries not to think about the past, Arsene Wenger seems to spend a lot of time answering questions about it.

Being endlessly forced to defend his record is the huge task that Wenger will never quite be able to escape. And this is why Leicester City represent the gravest of threats.

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Not just because they could beat his Arsenal side on Sunday night (AEDT). Not just because they could effectively end his hopes of winning the Premier League for another year. But because they could demolish the intellectual basis upon which the past decade of his reign has been built.

How so? Well, here is the Arsenal manager speaking in 2008: "I could push the club into big debt and go away with success, and the guy who comes after me suffers."

Remaining philosophical: Arsene Wenger.
Remaining philosophical: Arsene Wenger. Photo: Getty Images

In 2013: "We had restricted finances because we built the stadium and had to pay that back. You look at any club who has done that, they have gone down."

And in 2015: "We had to balance the books and we had to pay the stadium back. It was a very sensitive period, and mentally a difficult period, but now we are over that."

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In the 12 years since his last league title, Wenger has sought - partly - to explain the drought in terms of finance. Events and logic have borne him out: the only three clubs to win the Premier League in that time have all been wealthier than Arsenal.

Myriad studies have established the correlation between wage bill and success to the point where it has become orthodoxy. But what happens when the orthodoxy is challenged?

This is why Leicester are so dangerous. Wenger's insistence that fourth place behind Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs was not such a bad result will begin to ring hollow if a squad with a quarter of Arsenal's wage bill can come along and win the Premier League.

If Leicester can be champions two seasons after promotion, then why could Arsenal never seem to finish higher than third?

"First of all, I have always defended the idea that it is not only money that is important in football," was Wenger's response.

"And of course, I was criticised a lot for that. So I will not say that it is absolutely not normal that Leicester are there. Football makes you humble, because the performance of a squad is difficult to predict."

Who could have predicted, for example, that N'Golo Kante would take the Premier League by storm? Well, Wenger, actually. "One of my best friends in life has known him since he was 10 years old, and spoke to me about him," he revealed.

"We went to watch him and saw he had quality. But I didn't know he would come so quickly to England."

The gems are still there, but now everyone is looking for them. Wenger admitted Riyad Mahrez, another signing from the French leagues, had not been on Arsenal's radar. "You are disappointed, yes, but that happens to every club," Wenger said.

So what we are seeing, according to Wenger, is not an indictment of previous title challengers but a recalibration of the competitive hierarchy. Possibly even an erosion of English football's traditional power base: the Big Four, the Big Seven, or however you want to define it.

"It could happen," he said. "I believe the Leicester example will happen more and more. For sure."

As ever with Wenger, you are never quite sure where the trenchant analysis ends and the self-defence begins. Where he is undeniably correct is his instinct that something seismic is occurring. The plates are shifting, and their shock waves could resound into the past as well as the future.

In a way, the stakes here are a lot higher than three points. Wenger is playing for the world he knew.

The Telegraph, London

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