Arsène Wenger’s eroding sandcastle

How could a Gooner read news reports on every respectable sports channel and not get concerned about the way the club is currently being handled? First of all, there is the omnipresent question about the club’s ambitions and the direction that the club is heading. The summer transfer window is almost ending and optimism has given way to consternation and (with the latest news that Cesc and Samir Nasri is finally on the way out) eventually dissolving into anger and frustration.

With or without the two jokers, why is the club not strengthening its playing staff? Even if Cesc or Nasri stay or leave, the club would have to recruit reinforcements regardless of the situation surrounding the two players. Why, even today, Wenger had the audacity to claim that he doesn’t need centre-backs. The reason given was that he already had 4 centre-backs to last the whole season. Good. That’s nice to know. So, we won’t be having a no-nonsense, hardtackling centreback we have been craving all season – instead we have only one reliable Belgian, a largely unproven and inconsistent Frenchman with a Polish name, another Frenchman who is past his prime and is strangely incapable of defending well despite making the grade for his national team and a Swiss international who has yet to prove himself as well. All four to last an entire season. Are we planning to beat Udinese then? Just checking! 

In the Cesc situation, pragmatically, by refusing to sell Cesc to Barcelona for a perceivably ‘cheaper’ price may have helped Arsenal to save face and recoup some lost prestige but no more than that. To be honest, Cesc was not at his best last year and some pockets of disinterest could be detected. The best times with Cesc is over – he has been a marvelous player and respectful employee of the club and should be granted his wish at the earliest possible opportunity to play for his cherished club. That would rid the club of the need to deal with this protracted saga at the end of every season. I’d take the £30million and set about finding a decent replacement.   

To begin with, there are not many players demanding that sort of transfer fees these days and those that could would not go to Arsenal. For instance, we hear Wesley Sneijder being touted as a potential target by the two Manchester clubs but not Arsenal. Javier Pastore has chosen PSG but not Arsenal. We just need some good players – no need for brilliant ones, just good enough should do the job. Instead, the club goes on to buy two youngsters who are still learning the game and have featured for a less-demanding league.

Carl Jenkinson came first. I’ve seen him play and thought that he looked alright. I was horrified, though, when Wenger quipped that the club’s successful application for Ryo Miyaichi’s work permit is like a ‘new signing’. I’m not denying that Ryo is a good player – not great, just good – he has done reasonably well for Feyenoord last season and the fallen Dutch giants have reiterated their intention to take him on loan again from Arsenal. I’ve watched him play against Malaysia and thought that he is a player of some promise but we will see as the season progresses. However, the gist is that Wenger has even been branding players coming back from injuries as ‘new signings’ – are we seeing a trend here? Why is the club constantly holding back and occasionally reverting to the sub’s bench for renewed optimism and comfort? The financial situation at the club may not be severe – Ivan Gazidis had promised Wenger publicly that there would be money for the gaffer to sign new players even after signing Gervinho for a good part of £10million from Lille OSC. Then Wenger proceeded to open the club’s checkbook early this week to sign Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who looked pretty good on Youtube compilations but he is still a boy. A knee-jerk reaction triggered would be – what is Wenger’s obsession with youth? Sure, they have bags of energy, plenty of youthful fire and always need to prove themselves. After they do prove themselves but failing to win any silverware of worth with the club, rival clubs would come calling and the youth investment would leave because of some puppetry at work behind the scenes manipulated by sneaky agents. But it has nothing to do with human greed – it has something to do with the identity of the club which every player would be dying to join : one with solid ambitions, probably a manager who won’t tolerate insubordination and petty behaviour and most of all, a club which attracts players every year to join not as a stepping stone but as a club to win shelves upon shelves of trophies and honours and retire as club heroes. That was the Arsenal that Wenger inherited and helped built to be the ‘Invincibles’ not what he has created in the past 6 seasons when his best players went separate ways and the club struggled to uncover able replacements.       

With Nasri, the obvious mistake has been that the club allowed his contract to run down to the final year before opening talks with him. I’ve no recollection whether Nasri has flatly refused to sign an extension at the end of the 2009-2010 season but if his heart has indeed been set on a move since that time, then the club should allow him to leave for the best price. As the saying goes to young Samir, don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out. For all his obvious talent, he has given way too easily near the end of the season when the club expects him to perform. To say that the team was collectively devastated as a result of the loss of the League Cup final 2010 to Birmingham City is apocryphal at best especially when the team was still in the running for a strong league finish – the League Cup may have been a pot worth winning even in Alex Ferguson’s eyes but it should not be the only pot worth winning for a club like Arsenal.

Was Wenger really holding back on signing new players as replacements to avoid being seen as conceding defeat to Barcelona or the marauding clubs sniffing for Nasri’s signature or that he was simply too naive to believe that the likes of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey would be sufficient to man the midfield effectively?

I’ve read many forums of the Arsenal saying that for the first time in many years, the prospects of the club in all competitions look bleak. For the first time that I can recall during Wenger’s reign, pessimism has landed upon the club with the impending departure of two playmakers just a mere two days before the actual start of the season.  

Be that as it may, to be all upset and overly furious over the loss of two key players is melodramatic. No player is ever bigger than the club – Thierry Henry’s loss to the despised Catalans was probably the most profound of all but the club looks after its own and survives. Patchy pre-season form aside, there is nothing else but to be quietly optimistic that the club will emerge from this obstacle stronger than ever. As a measure of reassurance – I recalled that the team struggled in the 2005/2006 season and I admitted that I was so livid that I slammed tables and chairs at the team’s insipid performance that year – but they qualified for the Champions League final that year and came very close to winning the prize. So, you see, the next two weeks would be very crucial moments before the transfer window closes for good. If the club benefitted from the sale of two unwilling players and bought one or two willing ones who are eager to make their name, then we would have come out ahead even if we come up lighter on the talent aspect. I believe that determination and attitude matters more than raw talent – the team’s style of play has always been about cracking defenses and probing for leaks in the opposition defence, so the doctrine shall remain.

Stay tuned and support the club… 



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