it’s interesting to read this morning Arsene Wenger talking about the financial might of Man City, and then how those comments are interpreted across the media. Obviously we’ve taken quite a bit of City’s money over the last few seasons and that has led many to think that Arsenal are open and willing to sell any player to them provided the price is right. Just look at what must be the laziest of all transfer stories, linking van Persie with a XXX Million summer move to Manchester in the raggiest of rags this morning.
Speaking about the departures of Nasri and Fabregas this summer, Arsene said:
It was a big blow. To me and to the club. You know why? Because the financial difference between us and teams like Man City has become too big to hope to keep the players for eight, nine, 10 years. OK, we lost Thierry Henry, we lost Patrick Vieira, we lost players before but they had played for eight, nine years at the club.
It’s the first time that we lose players at an age where they start to produce, like Fábregas and Nasri. They were both born in 1987 and are 24 years old. That’s when you start to become a football player.
And as Amy Lawrence points out in her piece in the Guardian, it made the manager reassess and go down a different path. For some, perhaps for many, it was a path he should have at least started to venture down a couple of seasons earlier – it might even have prevented the loss of the players he considered such a blow. I’m sure that Arsene is no stranger to hindsight either. When he looks at players he let go this summer struggle elsewhere, even when given the first team football they claimed to want so badly, he must surely have some regrets that he kept faith in them for so long.
I understand why he did it, in a way. Having put so much work and development into them he was loath to let them go and blossom elsewhere. That really hasn’t happened though. From Denilson picking up red cards and falling out with the Sao Paulo fans within a month, to our friend Nicklas Bendtner ending up arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, none of them have proved anything other than he was right to let them leave.
Not even Samir Nasri. The saga was long and contrived this summer. Nasri and his people tried to engineer a move to Man United. When that didn’t work City were next and when that seemed to have fallen by the wayside it’s rumoured Nasri himself got in touch with newly rich PSG to try and escape his Arsenal ‘hell’. We all know where he ended up and so far, despite a couple of good games early on, his City career hasn’t quite gone how he would have liked. Had Frimpong’s t-shirt actually said ‘BENCH’ not even a spiky little twat like Nasri could have argued.
And this is what’s interesting to me: I think the protracted nature of what went on with Cesc, and the acceptance that he was going home, left people more indifferent to his departure than they should have been. Losing Cesc was the big blow this summer, Nasri was just a side issue in comparison. Look at how the former captain has done at Barcelona, scoring 10 times already this season despite an injury absence due to his pesky hamstrings. What might we have done with an Arteta in midfield alongside him instead of a Denilson; with a goalkeeper worthy of the club; with a defence boosted by experience and a couple of older heads throughout the squad to help the youngsters along?
There’s no point looking back, again Arsene’s hindsightometer must be ringing off the scale, but I come back to City and their spending power and the perception of it. For me, the loss of Nasri was overstated. It was more symbolic than anything else. Yes, we lost a player at 24 who has obvious quality and potential but one who had never, ever delivered on a consistent basis for us. A very fine purple patch for the first 5 months of last season was followed by a period in which he went 3 months without a goal and was more or less ever-present as the team collapsed.
£24m for that player? A blow to Arsene’s plans, most probably, but hardly a fatal one. And look at the other the players we sold them. Toure, Adebayor, Clichy, all of whom the club were happy to move on for one reason or another. I suspect that City could have found equivalent talent elsewhere in Europe but part of their buying strategy has been to attempt to weaken other teams and I’m utterly convinced that’s what they’ve tried to do with Arsenal (and to a lesser extent teams who would have been around them as they built – like Everton and Villa). In the very short term it probably worked with regard to Nasri (and possibly Toure) but in the longer term, perhaps they’ve done us a favour.
Arsene says he’s now happy with the squad he’s got, saying:
I am personally completely happy with the team I have. There is a good, good spirit there. The game on Sunday will show how far we can go. I’m sure this group will fight absolutely 100% to go as far as they can.
That fight and that spirit certainly seems to be prevalent in the squad these days. The return of Vermaelen, the addition of experience, the confidence that comes from winning games and, from the team’s point of view, proving people wrong are all parts of our progression. Yet there’s no resting on laurels and the focus remains. Speaking ahead of this game, Robin van Persie said:
We should have higher expectations every week, but for now because we have only played 15 games in the league we are not even halfway.
I don’t think it’s clever to be excited by fourth, fifth, sixth or whatever. This is not now, we still have to play many games. We need to make sure that we’re surprising people with our results.
Some papers this morning have dressed this up as van Persie hinting it will take more than a top four finish for him to stay, but for me it’s nothing of the sort. It’s a captain of a football club trying to ensure that his teammates realise that there’s still a long way to go this season and that we’ve got to approach every game with the same seriousness that has improved results since our difficult start to the season.
If he’s talking about finishing above fourth it’s because that’s what he wants for the team, not simply to set a marker for his own personal ambitions. Worrying as it might be on the face of it, van Persie’s contract is irrelevant when we go out on the pitch and to suggest he’s anything other than focused on what the team can achieve is a bit mischievous.
Man City’s wealth is immense. It is impossible for the majority of teams to compete with but what ought not to be forgotten is that comparing bank balances is not what football is about. You can only compare teams on the pitch and while their deep pockets will enable them to have the strongest squad on paper, the games are played on grass. It makes life more difficult for other teams, no question, but if we start accepting that they’re unbeatable (clearly they’re not), or that there’s only one way to compete (selling out the history and tradition of a wonderful club for quick but tainted millions/billions), then we’re going to be in a very sorry place indeed.
It’s incumbent on us to use our resources to the maximum, to make sure we have the very best squad and the very best team we can put together. Money in the bank won’t score us any goals and it’s up to the manager to do that as well as create an environment in which players are comfortable, happy, competitive and they’d find difficult to leave. From a professional point of view would there be a greater sense of achievement winning a title with Arsenal than with City? I don’t know, maybe just getting the medals is all that counts and not how, but I suspect there’d be a number in this Arsenal team who would rather enjoy it. Not least the captain.
Still, talk of titles is premature, I know that, but too often there’s linear view of football that permeates how people think. That one thing = another thing without so much as a moment of analysis or thought. We’ve got a good run going, a good team spirit and every chance of a decent result against City tomorrow. And that should be our focus, not on things we can’t control like City’s money, dastardly agents, or hysterical back pages which we all know have to be taken with a pinch/lorryload of salt.
Update: small reaction to the Champions League draw. Great. I love it. That’s what the Champions League is all about. A tough test against a great club. Bring it on.