Wenger must flex his transfer muscles
Some Arsenal supporters will argue that parting company with Cesc Fabregas this summer would benefit the team. And some Arsenal fans might suggest that selling Samir Nasri during the current transfer window would be the right decision. One would be hard pushed, however, to find an advocate of both exits - at least without a guarantee of sufficient replacements.
Arsene Wenger is a man happy to play the waiting game, and it therefore looms large that the greater implication of a double departure is to send an unconvincing message, to both the followers of the Gunners and the remaining crop of players.
Say what you like about Barcelona graduate Fabregas, the Spaniard's absence would be felt at Emirates Stadium. The Arsenal skipper recorded 14 Premier League assists in 25 matches last season, the third-best tally in the division. He is world-class. There are, though, points for a sale. It would be a monkey off Arsenal's back, for one thing. Summer after summer produces the inevitable saga linking him with a return to his homeland, and this speculation only serves as an unwanted, and very tiresome in truth, distraction.
Also, there are the concerns over the 24-year-old's fitness, with his fragile hamstrings causing him much bother in recent years. Indeed, Fabregas last started more than 30 league games in the 2007-08 term.
Nasri, meanwhile, was arguably the player of the first half of the 2010-11 campaign, only to fade during the second segment. It is this tail off that perhaps irks supporters the most, with the Frenchman allegedly demanding a significant pay-rise in spite of making half an impression. Nasri's want for success, while understandable, would sit a little better had he been of a consistently title-winning level. The 24-year-old only joined Arsenal three years ago, signing from Marseille for a fee of £15.8 million.
"I came to England to get trophies," he recently said. "I am hungry for titles. Money has never been my motivation." These quotes give the impression of a player attempting to curry favour with the haters ahead of a proposed move; placating the animosity directed at reports of Manchester City potentially doubling Arsenal's contract offer of £90,000.
All this must come as an insult to Wenger, his 'project' revolting from within. His nurtured youngsters are having more than just growing pains, and now the exodus hormone appears to be catching. What hurts more: the fans doubting him, or the players? The press have arguably gone a little overboard with their list of likely exits in the wake the Fabregas and Nasri speculation, although it would come as no surprise if it emerged true that the likes of Robin van Persie were getting a little concerned about how empty the dressing room might be upon his return to pre-season training. Just Emmanuel Eboue left to greet him? Murmurs that Theo Walcott could request a move adds speculative insult to injury.
One departure that does seem certain is that of left-back Gael Clichy to City, the Frenchman is the only remaining member of Arsenal's Invincibles squad. Unlike with Nasri and Fabregas, little can be argued in favour of a Clichy stay, the player in the final year of his contract and has plateaued, if not declined, over the last few seasons. With Kieran Gibbs waiting in the wings, whether sidelined or otherwise, few tears will be shed over Clichy being moved on. The lack of inward movement, however, is of great concern.
Wenger's pondering policy has served to irritate. "We are in a waiting period, everybody is waiting that the other [club] moves," said the French coach. "Everybody has their cards in [their] hands, hoping for the big transfer. There is no moving yet. The period will me more active at the end of July when we will need to really strengthen the team." Granted the transfer window only officially opened on July 1, but that is nothing more than a technical registration date and has not stopped other clubs announcing their transfer dealings. If Wenger is talking frankly here, some questions need to be asked. To wait until the end of July might be catastrophic - what of the policy of giving new additions time to blend into the squad during pre-season? And does deliberating not risk missing out on potential targets?
Even more pressing is that a Wenger reaction might plug uproar. Stating that Wenger needs to flex his transfer muscles is not knee-jerk. Should the aforementioned star duo depart, the prerequisite will be for the Arsenal boss to swiftly muffle his doubters with a powerful statement. Gervinho, while indeed talented, from Lille will not suffice.
Wenger needs to think bigger. His reputation, rightly, precedes him. But, with no silverware since 2005, some of the deadwood, such as Denilson and Tomas Rosicky, rumoured to be remaining and the same mistakes seemingly on loop come every August, he needs to provide fans with a pick-me-up. And fast.
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