Sport Soccer

Saturday 17 March 2018

Wenger condemned to a year of living dangerously

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

Arsene Wenger summed it all up a month ago: "Imagine the worst situation -- we lose Fabregas and Nasri -- you cannot convince people you are ambitious after that." Everyone has had their say on how their departures would affect Arsenal, but those words of Wenger's starkly illustrate the club's problems.

Cesc Fabregas has been sold to Barcelona, while Samir Nasri is set to sign for Manchester City at any moment. Despite the new arrivals over the summer, Wenger begins this season with a markedly weaker squad than the one which capitulated when anything meaningful was at stake last time round. I never thought I would say this, but failure to improve on their showing last season, and the Arsenal board would do well to consider a future without him in charge.

The timing of the Fabregas deal isn't great but that couldn't be helped. For brinkmanship to work, patience is required. Even up until Friday morning, Wenger said he expected that there would be nobody leaving the club. That was used by many of his critics as another sign that he doesn't really know what he's at, but public comments need to match private negotiation ploys. He couldn't be expected to have said anything different.

Wenger is not the only target for Arsenal fans. Cesc Fabregas is being vilified for not only wanting the move to take place, but for waiving his right to further amounts from Arsenal in order to push it through. While this may be the first time a player has ever been criticised for sacrificing money in order to bring about a move, I don't see how anyone could give him stick for either his desire to leave or his conduct in making it happen. Other than bitter and blinkered Arsenal fans, obviously.

Fabregas made no public remarks offending anyone at Arsenal, at no point did he threaten to strike, and was respectful to his club, his manager and their supporters throughout the entire process. I know it is perhaps a measure of how little we have come to expect from footballers that any display of respect and common decency should warrant praise, but he conducted himself in precisely the manner expected of all players in these scenarios.

Despite this, his preference to return home to play for the best side in Europe rather than the fourth best in England seems to have angered and offended many Arsenal fans. If players really are out of touch with how supporters see things, then this is surely proof that those fans are equally clueless about what goes on in the minds of the players.

Even his team-mates would have fully understood his decision to go, and not one of them would have turned down the same opportunity if it arose for them. Pleas to remain for one more year from any of them would have been laughed away. He's agreed to that for the last two years now and has nothing to show for it. In any case, players tend not to get involved in these things with each other. There is just no logic for prolonging his stay anymore, something everyone in the dressing room would have fully understood.

Have a quick look back on many of the transfers which have taken place in the last few years and you'll find countless examples of disloyalty, greed and ingratitude shown by the players involved. None of this applies here. He arrived for free as a kid and developed into one of the finest midfielders in the country. His ambitions can no longer be met by Arsenal. And despite what they're saying about him personally, this is exactly what hurts their fans the most.

This is shaping up to be Wenger's year. He will either prove his critics wrong or lose his job. Recent comments by the CEO Ivan Gazidis suggest there is a finite amount of patience in the Arsenal boardroom, but the loss of both Fabregas and Nasri will hurt a lot. In a statement prior to the club's tour of Asia, Wenger said they could no longer be considered a "big club" if their best players left, "because a big club holds on to its big players and gives a message to all the other big clubs that they cannot come in and take them away from you." It is a very different message from the club now.

He did point out that Manchester United were still referred to as a big club following the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo, but United had just won their third title in a row and reached the Champions League final when he left, so the parallel is desperate.

The situation at Arsenal is becoming clearer by the day. Failure to remain in the top four, failure to win a trophy, or failure to demonstrate movement forward, could well result in his own departure nine months from now. And if it doesn't, one can only assume it is because the board have accepted their standing as also-rans when it matters most. And just wait for the fans' reaction if that's the case.

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