Wenger talks, waters still muddy

Hello, a ton of interesting stuff this morning.

We’ll start with the positive and at long last the club confirmed the signing of Ivory Coast forward Gervinho. Well, mostly. At the press conference yesterday Wenger admitted the deal had been done and Gervinho was an Arsenal player. The club released a statement saying:

Arsenal Football Club announces that Ivory Coast international forward Gervinho will shortly join the Gunners, subject to a regulatory process.

That it’s still not 100% is fairly typical of this deal and the length of time it has taken but once the guy is fit and ready for the start of the season, that’s the main thing. I confess I know little about him, not being a regular viewer of French Football, but Gunnerblog has some more info on him and some links to profile pieces which should do more than fill you in. Go read.

Now, onto the two issues which still dominate the Arsenal landscape this summer. Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas. Arsene Wenger spoke at length about them yesterday and was fairly unequivocal when it came to the Frenchman. Speaking about the possibility of him leaving he said:

Samir’s situation is clear for me. He stays. We are in a [financial] position where we can say ‘No’ and we will, in the case of Samir.

Now, this is strange to me. For months I’ve been hearing that unless Nasri were to sign a new deal he would be shipped out – with the club absolutely unwilling to let the player run down his contract and leave on a free. We also know that there’s genuine interest from Man City and probably more than £20m on offer for him. To me it’s a no-brainer. If that kind of cash is being thrown around for a player who, most likely, will leave on a free next summer, then you have to take it and re-invest that money.

Now, I’m not using Alex Ferguson as evidence of anything, but speaking about United’s interest in the player he said he believed Nasri had agreed to join somebody else (Man City, obviously), and hinted that Wenger’s decision to keep the player might not sit well with the Arsenal board. Perhaps he’s mischief making but perhaps he’s long enough in the game to know that a club like Arsenal can’t really afford to take a £20+ hit on a player.

Is Wenger’s public position a challenge to the board who would be happier to take the money and look for the manager to spend it to replace Nasri? I do wonder. And if that were the case I’d be with the board. Nasri has dicked us around for months over his new contract, he won’t sign it, and the reality is this: lose Nasri now and we have £20m+ in our pocket to spend on a replacement. Lose Nasri next summer, we still have to replace him and we don’t have any of that money.

Wenger said:

Imagine the worst situation, that we lose Fábregas and Nasri; you cannot convince people that you are ambitious after that.

I take his point but imagine a situation where you sell Nasri to Man City and spend the money you’ve received on a really good player like Juan Mata – nobody questions your ambition. People would think that was good business. Clever business. In 12 months time, when Nasri has gone on a free and Arsenal have nothing in their pockets, well people will question that and rightly so. Letting him for go free would be foolish, no two ways about it.

I get that it’s a difficult situation, and on the face of it I completely understand why Wenger would be reluctant to sell, but unless he’s 100% cast-iron sure that Nasri will sign a new deal with us on our terms – and I’m pretty sure he won’t – then I don’t think we have any choice but to face up to the reality of this situation. That means selling him and then showing people that we still mean business by buying a quality replacement.

It shows players that they’re expendable, not as important as they think they are, and that we won’t be held to ransom. Nasri is not so important that Arsene has to make a point of principle out of him. He doesn’t want to sign a new deal with us, thank you, cheerio, goodbye, thanks for all the fish and NEXT.

As for Cesc the manager was less bullish, which again seems odd to me considering we have a much stronger position (financially and contractually) than we do with Nasri. He said:

I have heard people say that we do not want to keep Cesc. We are desperate to keep Cesc.

I think Cesc has always been torn between his love for Arsenal that I feel is really genuine and, as well and what you can understand, the desire to play for the biggest team, at the moment, in the world. I think both exist in his head.

None of that is news to any of us and it was nice to Wenger react to Rosell’s continued reluctance to pay what Cesc is worth. The manager is right, it’s disrespectful. He went on to say:

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.

Again, I can see where he’s coming from and it would be a massive achievement to lead this club to success, for all kinds of reasons. All the same, it’s not just down to Cesc, it’s down to the manager to build a team, with Cesc in it, that is capable of winning things. It’s not just down to Cesc’s leadership. I’ve said often that Arsene’s biggest mistake was not to invest properly around him. A player like Cesc doesn’t come along very often and I don’t think we’ve made the most of it.

Yet with a contract until 2015 and Barcelona unwilling to pay what he’s worth we have a strong hand. And as much as Cesc might want to go to Barcelona, I don’t doubt his affection for Arsenal, nor his professionalism. If he stays with us he’ll give it 100% the way he always has.

But there must be pressure on the manager to invest properly in the team. Already it seems we’re going down the old familiar road of letting experience go to replace it with youth. The manager’s assertion that no left back will be coming because we have Gibbs and the nigh-on hapless Traore (with Vermaelen also an option!) suggests lessons are not being learned. Or that they refuse to be learned.

Robin van Persie spoke about the potential impact of losing Cesc – “I think it will be hard” – and also spoke about investment in the side:

You need investment to keep up because, when you look around, Man City is buying loads of good players, Liverpool are doing it now, Man United have been doing it for years.

These days, proper players cost money. Sometimes you see players go for loads of money and you think, ‘Is he that good?’ It needs to be seen. Most of the time, they are. But the main thing is it’s not just a label, ‘multi-million pound signing’, it’s more about the quality.

Stark, really. He goes on to talk about his hunger for trophies and you don’t need to read between the lines to know that he wants to be in a team which is truly competitive. And I’ve got no problem with that. The problem I have is that this team isn’t competitive enough when it comes right down to it and unless the manager addresses that we could go through the same this time next year with Robin as we’re going through with Nasri now.

The frustrations of this summer are palpable but I’ve said all along that the club can ease them by doing good business. There’s still time to do that but the Nasri and Cesc situations need sorting and fast. Regardless of what he’s said everything feels as up in the air as it has all along, and until we can get absolute closure it’s going to impact the rest of our pre-season.

Arsenal, not just the manager, need to act decisively now. Not for the benefit of fans, or players, who want signings, but for the club as a whole and, most importantly, for the team which has to go out and try and win things next season.


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