No go Nasri
Arsenal are believed to have won the battle to keep Samir Nasri and are confident that they can now persuade Cesc Fabregas to stay, with Arsene Wenger admitting yesterday that no big club could allow both players to leave.
Wenger, though, acknowledged the £20m gamble that he is willing to take on Nasri by rejecting firm interest from Manchester United and Manchester City for a player who is in the final year of his contract.
The Fabregas situation is more complicated but Wenger was both defiant and upbeat yesterday in backing himself to convince the club's most influential player to stay.
In his first major interview of a frenzied summer, Wenger accused Barcelona of disrespecting Fabregas but also made the significant admission that he needed a happy captain.
"Imagine the worst situation -- we lose Fabregas and Nasri -- you cannot convince people you are ambitious after that," Wenger said. "The message we give out is important. For example, you see about Fabregas leaving, Nasri leaving. If you give that message out you cannot pretend you are a big club.
"A big club first of all holds on to its big players and gives a message out to all the other big clubs that they just cannot come in, serve (themselves) and take away from you. We worked very hard with these players for years to develop them and now it's time for us to keep them together."
Asked if he was convinced that Fabregas would stay, Wenger said: "Yes. As simple as that."
However, he did then acknowledge that Fabregas was genuinely torn between Arsenal and Barcelona. Fabregas is not on the club's pre-season tour of Asia but the manager and captain met to discuss the future last week.
"I am confident because I hope he will see that there will be no greater achievement for him in his life than to lead this team to success and that it will not be the right period for him to leave the club," Wenger said.
"I think Cesc has always been torn between his love for Arsenal, which I feel is genuine, and the desire to play for the biggest team at the moment in the world. Both exist in his head. You can only be in if you are completely in. He is the leader of the team. He has to be completely focused and convinced that he wants to stay. I am convinced but I want him to be convinced."
Barcelona have had one £27m bid rejected this summer for Fabregas and although Arsenal will only sell at their own valuation, Wenger said that the 24-year-old's happiness was paramount.
Asked what he would do if Fabregas told him he was unhappy, Wenger said: "That's the only way he could get out. I don't think he's unhappy but he wants to go back to Barcelona. It's not a question of money -- it's a question of desire.
"We are desperate to keep Cesc. You do not educate a player for eight years only to want him to go once he is at an age to deliver. We will fight until the last second to keep him."
There was also short shrift for Barcelona's claim that the value of Fabregas had diminished since they had two bids rejected last summer.
"That is disrespectful to Cesc," Wenger said. "I rate Cesc so highly. He is certainly in the top five midfield players in the world. I want him to be happy and stay."
While Fabregas is in what Wenger called "no-man's land", the immediate future of Nasri is resolved. According to Wenger, there is simply more value in having Nasri for one more season, even if he could then leave for nothing, than cashing in this summer. "Samir's situation is clear -- he stays," he said.
When it was put to Wenger that his decision could amount to a £20m gamble, he said: "You are the same people who reproach me for not spending money and now you reproach me for wanting to spend it. It is in the interests of the club.
"Even if you lose Nasri, to find the same quality player, you have to spend again the same amount of money."
Wenger is also ready to move Nasri into a more central position if Fabregas does leave. Having sold Gael Clichy to City for £7m, Wenger will now give Kieran Gibbs a chance at left-back. He also has Armand Traore and Thomas Vermaelen as cover in that position.
Wenger wants to sign at least one centre-back but the priority among his targets, who include Juan Mata, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Christopher Samba and Karim Benzema, will be shaped by who leaves. Wenger, therefore, wants the Fabregas saga to be settled as quickly as possible.
"I hope we can close that very quickly in our favour," he said. "As long as you do not know if this group stays together you cannot strengthen the team because you think, 'If he goes, I have to do what?' So you are in no-man's land. That is terrible.
"The players who are here as well will ask, 'Will he go?' That is not the way to prepare for the season. It is important now to settle psychologically and (ensure) that the players focus on the season and not the transfer market." (© Daily Telegraph, London)