When you watch Arsene Wenger give a press conference, it’s hard not to like him. That’s my opinion anyway. But when you read what he has to say, without the benefit of seeing him speak, it’s easy to have a very different reaction. That was the experience I had today.
Because I felt reasonably certain that Wenger’s highly-anticipated 9am press conference would provide little or no insight into our transfer business, I opted not to stay awake for it. As a result, the first way I learned of his comments was by reading them on various twitter feeds along with accompanying reaction.
I read in amazement as Arsene callously disregarded reality and continued his policy of evading questions about Cesc and Nasri. His obfuscation reached a crescendo when he declared “I expect nobody to leave the club.” When you read comments like that the only possible reaction is incredulity.
After all, the manager has already admitted that Nik and Eboue are headed out of the club. But obviously that’s not the message he was delivering. Wenger was playing wordsmith. It was his Bill Clinton moment. The former US president once famously dodged a question by answering “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Arsene was merely doing the same. He wasn’t suggesting that players wouldn’t leave. He was only telling you his “expectation” for his players. President Clinton would be proud.
Unfortunately, Arsene’s answer, and indeed his entire approach to the line of questioning surrounding Nasri and Cesc this summer, has become unbearably tedious. There is no longer any doubt about what the players want. We have reached a point where we must accept that they are agitating for, and indeed nearing, a move out of Arsenal. But Wenger has been reluctant to openly admit that fact. And while his opposition to these transfers might have seemed noble a few months ago, his reticence to accept them now seems more like a state of denial.
You could argue that he can’t be forthright about these moves because it would potentially disadvantage Arsenal in pending negotiations. But then how can we explain his willingness to be direct about Eboue and Bendtner’s status. If Arsene had one sweeping policy regarding our transfer business, then you could at least defend it from a strategic standpoint. But his candor regarding certain players and his secrecy with respect to Nasri and Cesc belies an emotional component to the situation.
I genuinely believe that Wenger is hurt by the behavior and decision of his captain. Rumors suggest that Fabregas has not comported himself with the utmost professionalism this summer. I do not pretend to know the veracity of these rumors but there’s certainly evidence that he has not been 100% committed to the Arsenal cause.
Moreover, there is no ambiguity regarding Barca’s behavior. They have acted reprehensibly. And you can tell from Arsene’s statements that he has been unsettled by their methods. Today he said that it was not the time to speak about Barca’s tactics. But that suggests that such a time is coming.
When you combine his disappointment in Fabregas, his frustration with Barca, and the endless press speculation surrounding the saga, it’s not surprising that Arsene Wenger’s public reaction has been one of detachment. I thought his most telling comments came during the last week.
Despite the fact that Cesc’s chances of staying with Arsenal were remote, Wenger showed his true feelings about the Spaniard when he said “I love Fabregas and I want him to stay, that is basically it.” He also added that if Cesc was committed to Arsenal then no amount of money could take him from the club. And that really sums up how the manager feels about the player. He feels close to him personally and would love to see him stay with Arsenal.
But perhaps that emotional attachment has caused him to protect Cesc’s interest more than he should have done. Arsene owes his loyalty to the fans first and foremost. If Cesc has undermined the club’s interests, then he has also disrespected the supporters. Arsene Wenger must consider that fact when deciding how to address the matter publicly. Refusing to disclose details about the captain’s behavior and publicly professing love for him, leaves fans little choice but to get their information elsewhere. Unfortunately, the information coming from outside the club is unflattering to Cesc in the extreme. Without an honest and open statement from the manager counterbalancing the very pejorative viewpoints being offered by the press, it’s hard for fans to remain objective.
Nasri’s situation is much different than Cesc’s but with a similar impact on Wenger. Arsene seemed to genuinely believe he could convince the player to sign a new deal. But considering the money on offer from Manchester City, that was always highly optimistic. After a summer spent telling anyone who would listen that Nasri was staying with the club, the manager backed himself into a terrible corner. He even went as far as saying that Arsenal could not sell Cesc and Nasri and still be considered a big club. That fact was not lost on one journalist who asked him about that in today’s press conference. Naturally Wenger was unable to answer the question directly.
Arsene’s inability to convince Nasri to sign a new deal left him in a unpalatable position. After being so forceful in his declarations about the player’s future, and Arsenal’s unwillingness to sell, there was never going to be an easy way for him to backtrack. Once again, I’m sure he feels let down by the player, one he was certain he could convince to stay. And that feeling of disappointment, combined with his previous statements, has made it a difficult topic for him to address.
Unfortunately for Arsene, the fans aren’t very interested in his personal reactions to transfer business. Fans want real information. And I would argue that we’re entitled to it. Again, I don’t believe the club should ever disclose information that could impact on-going negotiations. But clearly Wenger can offer a more sincere appraisal of the current situation without impacting the business.
Football clubs exist only for the benefit of their fans. Today’s fan has access to more information than ever before. Some of it is pure fantasy, and some is accurate. But the modern football supporter can’t just be fed fabrications from the club without some backlash. When fans are waiting around computers all over the world, on the eve of a new season, anxious to get a glimmer of insight into the future of two influential players, it’s absurd to offer nothing more than a dubious statement from the manager that he doesn’t expect any players to leave. It borders on disrespectful. Wenger has put himself in a precarious position by allowing his feelings for two want-away players to influence how he’s transacted business this summer and how he’s discussed that business publicly.
It’s my opinion that Arsene has been deeply hurt by Fabregas and Nasri. I think he allowed himself to genuinely believe he would get another season out of the former and a long-term contract out of the latter. I further feel that his statements to the press this summer have been a reflection of that belief. So many people have questioned why Wenger has been reluctant to admit the truth. They want to know why he hasn’t admitted that they were both leaving and forced the deals through earlier in the summer. But I believe his reason for waiting this long, and being so outspoken about both players staying, is because he really thought that would happen. No one likes admitting they were wrong, especially on issues that are emotionally charged. And I think we’re seeing that from Arsene Wenger at the moment.
But the fact remains that Arsene did get these crucial decisions wrong. It’s hard to avoid that conclusion. It’s easy to sit here and say we should’ve just sold Cesc and Nasri. I realize that the deals are probably infinitely more complicated than I’m insinuating. But had the manager accepted the inevitability of their departures early in the summer, I personally believe the deals would’ve been done sooner. That means replacements could’ve been brought in sooner and we would’ve had a much more settled team as the season starts. At the very least, had Arsene just admitted today that Cesc and Nasri are leaving, and that replacements are on the way, perhaps attention could’ve finally returned to proper football and we could all begin to move on.
Unfortunately, the feeling that Cesc and Nasri’s situations have been mishandled and misrepresented, has obscured more impressive business by the club. Some fans might be tired of seeing a parade of promising youngsters arrive at the Emirates, but given today’s prices for established players, it’s still the best way for the club to add quality. And plenty of quality has been added.
Carl Jenkinson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and now Joel Campbell have all come to Arsenal full of promise. Additionally, Ryo Miyachi has been approved for a work permit. When you look at these players, you see dynamic talent that will begin to be integrated into the side this season. It’s not hard to imagine that each player could be valued far out of our price range within the next few seasons. And considering that two of the players are English, it should help us keep them at the club.
What Arsene has done is ensure Arsenal’s continuity of success. As fans, we can look two or three seasons down the road and see a future that is potentially brighter than the present. Wenger might be losing players he developed over the past few years, but that doesn’t mean the model is broken. That model kept us competitive when we moved from Highbury to the Emirates. It kept us near the top while other clubs were buying success in the transfer market at astronomical prices. Ultimately, Wenger’s model is still the best and most practical approach for Arsenal in the long term.
But Arsene also brought in an exciting player for fans to cheer this season. According to the manager, Gervinho saved the club from “dizzying prices.” His record at Lille and his preseason form suggest that he might be worth far more than we paid. The Ivorian adds pace to an attack that has become ponderous at times, and his dribbling skills should put the fear into opposing right-backs all season long.
And there’s no reason to believe the buying is done. Despite Wenger’s legendary love for a bargain, the history shows that he usually tries to replace players. Although his new signings are often less expensive than their outgoing counterparts, that doesn’t mean they haven’t been successful. When Cesc and Nasri are sold, there is every reason to believe he will spend some of the proceeds from those sales. In a press conference earlier this summer he even acknowledged that if both players were sold, he would have to buy a replacement.
That doesn’t mean Wenger has gotten this summer right. He arguably let his emotions guide his decision-making regarding crucial transfer business. He’s yet to sort out the problems in defense. The season starts in a matter of hours and disruptive questions still hang over the squad. But the fact remains that there’s time to sort it out. Not in time for the start of the season, but certainly in time to save the season.
Waking up this morning and reading the quotes from Wenger’s press conference, I was furious. As I said, it is hard to defend his complete lack of transparency on critical issues this late in the summer. But then I got on my computer and watched the press conference. I saw the glint in his eye. I saw the emotion and fatigue on his face. I listened for the nuance in his answers. I heard him refuse to heap praise on himself, or even allow his own performance to be the topic for discussion. (Are you listening Twitchy?) I listened to a man who’s passion for Arsenal Football Club is beyond question.
I may not agree with everything Wenger has done this summer, and I certainly believe that his sentimentality for his players has betrayed his judgment, but I can’t help feeling affection for our manager. The man lives and breathes Arsenal football. He thinks about it with a depth and sophistication that is particularly refreshing considering the profusion of brainless tripe served daily by managers throughout the game.
People question Wenger’s decision-making but I believe that his motives are beyond reproach. It would be in Arsenal’s best interest for Nasri to sign a long term contract. It would be in Arsenal’s best interest for Cesc Fabregas to stay at the club. Arsene may have been wrong to believe those things could happen, but he only wanted what was best for Arsenal.
Today the team revisits the sight of arguably their worst league result from last season. It’s a fitting place to start the new season. While I’d like to say that we have a settled squad, and that I know exactly what to expect from them, that would be a lie. There are many questions surrounding this team and they can only truly be answered by results on the pitch. It’s hard to lay the summer to rest when so many summer issues remain unresolved. But we have to put those issues aside for the time being and support the players that still wear the Arsenal shirt.
There should be a very good Arsenal team on the pitch at St. James’ Park. One that probably features Robin Van Persie, Gervinho, Theo, Rosicky, Ramsey, Song, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Sagna, Gibbs and Szczseny. Maybe one or two will be different from the eleven I named, but there’s plenty of talent in there. Some people will point to that squad and question whether it’s good enough to win a title. But the reality is that it doesn’t have to be. It just needs to be good enough to beat Newcastle United. I believe it is, and I believe it will. We can’t win 38 games today. We can only win one. I’m sure the away fans will be in great voice as they always are, and do their part to lift our boys to victory.
We’ve had a tough, frustrating, emotional summer. But with so much talk surrounding players who don’t want to be at Arsenal, the ones that are still there must be eager to show what they’re worth. I’m sure they can’t wait to have the attention back on them where it belongs. And I can’t wait to cheer them on. Arsenal are back! And it couldn’t come soon enough.
COME ON YOU GUNNERS!