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May 18, 2009

Wenger playing a dangerous game

Arsenal fans have not had much reason to be cheerful recently and, with the quotes attributed to Arsene Wenger on Monday, will now have even less to smile about.

Having been comfortably beaten in the Champions League and Premier League races by Manchester United this season, one could forgive the French boss for casting an eye towards Europe's most successful club, Real Madrid. Four years of drought at the Emirates stadium have passed without too much criticism, but now the voices of discontent are being raised.

The news that Madrid are interested in Wenger is unsurprising. His replies, or lack of them, are something more of a bombshell.

Wenger usually bats away speculation over his future with consummate ease. His focus has always been on building the foundations at Arsenal - the club he has been at for over a decade - and blooding a squad of young players talented enough to challenge for the title is his goal.

However, it is possible that there is a growing realisation from within that this may not happen in the short-term and that he has taken the club as far as he can. A 'season of transition' has been occurring yearly in North London since the Invincibles of 2003-04 were broken up and, despite some promising performances, Wenger's young side have not matched up when it matters most.

The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Gael Clichy form the basis of a team that has unlimited potential, but has failed to perform on the biggest stage. Experience is called for and Wenger's stubborn desire to sign more young players, hides the fact that the Gunners really only need two new signings: replacements for Patrick Vieira and Tony Adams.

Bringing in leadership in these two key positions would not undermine Wenger's philosophy and would strengthen the core of the team, but the Frenchman seems unwilling to spend money in those areas. Andrei Arshavin was bought in for £15m (despite having similar players in the shape of Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky), when Wigan's tough defensive midfielder Wilson Palacios (a player Wenger himself recommended to Steve Bruce) was transferred to Spurs for a similar fee.

His argument that the likes of Nicklas Bendtner and Abou Diaby have shown why he can keep his chequebook in his pocket this summer doesn't stick, and it comes down to his own desire to keep the club's financial stability secure. In theory, this is admirable, but when major shareholder and director Danny Fiszman makes it clear money is there for the manager questions must be raised.

Despite the situation the club find themselves in, it seems unthinkable that Wenger would swap Arsenal for the Gálactico culture of Florentino Pérez and Real Madrid; but he has not helped the speculation with his comments.

Madrid may prove to be an 'interesting project' for whoever gets the job, but Wenger may be merely playing a game with the board, and his critics, to prove just how important he is to the Gunners in the face of some harsh criticism.

Despite the fact that no Arsenal fan wants to see the back of him, his flirtation with Madrid could prove damaging. Stability is in short supply in Spain and with growing disillusionment with his vision of the future in London; Wenger should be careful what games he plays.

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