Professor needs to forget his principles
An exodus is on the cards at Arsenal and Arsene Wenger must change his philosophy, writes Paul Hayward
At most aristocratic football clubs, breaking up a side that had not won a bean for six years would feel like a moral duty. The problem starts when the best players break it up themselves without waiting for the manager to announce who should stay or go.
The deepest motivations of Samir Nasri are impossible to know but we can be sure they correspond in part to the size of his weekly wage packet. Cesc Fabregas is a little more obvious; he pines for home and a chance to play in the world's best team with the pals he left behind to join a Barcelona cloning operation in London. But in both cases you detect a collapse of faith that could soon become infectious across Arsene Wenger's fragile squad.
Without control, a manager is no longer the author of his own story.
This summer, Wenger is being dictated to by events for which he is to blame. A grand idea taken to an unworkable extreme is the way many of us regard the great Arsenal project to impose flowing one-touch football on the Premier League. Those of us who want him to prosper with a team built in his own creative image despair when fundamental prerequisites for success are wilfully omitted, such as a properly organised and resolute back five.
The fear seizing all Arsenal supporters is that any windfall from the sale of Fabregas, Nasri and Gael Clichy would disappear into the vortex of the club's finances: a confusing swirl of takeover ambitions, stadium costs and Wenger's own refusal to play the mad transfer market game. In a good year this can seem heroic, in a bad one -- when they lose a Carling Cup final to relegated Birmingham City, say -- it strikes the fans more as a deluded obsession with unproven youngsters from small French clubs.
Fernando Torres performed a service to football by demanding to leave Liverpool for Chelsea. He reminded the whole game that clubs with heritage and tradition should always expel players who no longer want to be there. The life of the club must always be asserted over the whims of the individual. To sell a persistently restless player is a restatement of strength.
For Wenger, though, the picture is more complex. The disaffection in his ranks is more ominous. His players are starting to look like parishioners tiring of their messianic preacher and filing out of the church in mid-sermon. A €40m offer for Fabregas last summer was resisted only after Wenger had promised his captain the jam promised for tomorrow was coming up the drive.
The top Arsenal players have probably ceased to believe that message and no longer want to face a grumpy Emirates crowd while being pushed around by Manchester United and Chelsea. Already there are suggestions that Robin van Persie is growing twitchy about the potential for an exodus and the possibility that Fabregas and Nasri would not be replaced by players of similar calibre.
This is where Wenger has to act. A desire not to be ripped off in the transfer market is no longer an adequate excuse when so many of the young players he has educated and supported keep letting him down. Why should he sacrifice his own career to people who go missing in the biggest games?
The complication is Wenger's fixation with finding raw talent and feeding it through the London Colney university in line with the Arsenal way. Well, the Arsenal way is not working, and the fans know it, which is why they resent the constant calls for patience while ticket prices shoot up.
They want less Abou Diaby and more Yaya Toure. They want the spirit of Patrick Vieira in midfield and the dog-bite of Adams, Keown and Bould in defence.
Arsenal were never effete. The current generation of followers grew up watching George Graham's teams, admired the solidity as well as the skill of Wenger's first Double-winning side and adored 'The Invincibles'. All they ask is that beauty is realigned with more of the old belligerence. They crave toughness and a winning spirit.
Building a new side around Jack Wilshere, Wenger could use the coming windfall to declare a six-year period of dreaming officially over, and head out into the market to find the kind of players Arsenal used to employ before frailty became the norm. The hard part for the manager will be an admission that he took a wrong turn with his Sorbonne of all the talents.
The next job might be rebuilding from the back, where United and Chelsea build better barricades.
This could be the best chance -- the last chance -- for Wenger to purge a failing culture and begin afresh with hardened winners. Ideally, he would want to shed the passengers rather than the officer class, but that luxury is denied to him by his own error in over-investing in potential. It may sound shallow to say £70-80m of incoming wealth should be spent straight away but this is where Arsenal happen to stand: at the end of something, with a better path ahead.
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