Another transfer window slams shut with the weaknesses in Arsenal’s squad seemingly apparent to all except Arsène Wenger. So just what IS the Frenchman thinking, asks Mark Halfpenny
There are two sides to every story and the Cesc Fabregas transfer saga is no exception. Firstly there is the positive side: our captain (and best player) is staying, for the time being anyway, and that's great news as we would be so much weaker without him. It's also very satisfying that, for once, one of the two major Spanish clubs was told to get stuffed – in the nicest possible way of course.
Also on the positive side is a player being made to honour the highly lucrative contract he willingly signed a few years before. This was surely a victory for the supporters that invest so much time and money in their clubs.
Or was it? Only time will tell on that score and that's where the other, negative, side of the story comes in. Even though Cesc is staying, I have grave concerns about the whole situation as we can't ignore the fact that he wanted to leave. I believe there are two main reasons for Cesc wanting out: the desire to return home and, more damningly, that he has run out of patience with a club that keeps promising the earth but then fails to deliver. His statement in August made this plain: “I cannot deny that joining a club like Barcelona was not an attractive move for me. This was the club where I learnt my football, it is my home town where my friends and family are and a club where I have always dreamed of playing”.
IN ARSÈNE WE RUST?
Another transfer window slams shut with the weaknesses in Arsenal’s squad seemingly apparent to all except Arsène Wenger. So just what IS the Frenchman thinking, asks Mark
Barca are not everyone's cup of tea (in fact I think they're a pain in the arse) but no-one can deny that they are the best in the world at winning major trophies while playing entertaining football. And that is what makes the last seven words of Cesc's statement so worrying - “where I have always dreamed of playing”. Those words make it quite plain that we will be going through the whole sorry saga again in either January or more likely, next summer. In fact, everything that Cesc has said since he broke his silence indicates a man that is staying because he has to, not because he wants to.
6 Let’s not forget that Barcelona are £370 million in debt, thus preventing them from raising a sufficient fee. Had they been able to do so, I'm sure the deal would have gone ahead - after all our board and manager seem more interested in collecting cash than collecting trophies. And talking of trophies, Barca's recent record is also in their favour – four league titles, two Champions Leagues and a Copa del Rey since we last won something. They are not afraid to spend sizeable amounts on securing the best players, to ensure that once they've reached the pinnacle they are able to stay there - something that we seem to have forgotten since 2005.
And that leads me nicely on to part two – Arsène's master plan since 2005. Cesc has been an integral part of Arsène's plan to forge a young team capable of winning the big trophies, without spending large amounts on established players. On the face of it, this is an admirable, not to mention very sensible thing to do when all around, clubs are drowning in debt. On top of that, Cesc
To me Arsène is bereft of ideas; it just looks as if he's rearranging the deckchairs on The Titanic maybe it is time for Arsène to alter the master plan, before more of our best players decide they want to move on.
Hopeful signs emerged as last season ended, when Lee Dixon said: “Arsene has given the youngsters a period of time but I've heard signs from him that it hasn't worked. So he`s going to do things differently this summer”. Lee was one of many saying this, but fast forward to September, the transfer window has shut and, yet again, we appear weaker than we were last season. The shortcomings in our squad have been known about for years and Arsène's failure to address them is bordering on negligence. Four centre halves have departed but only two have been drafted in, neither of whom have played in the Premier League before. There have been no defensive midfield signings and (God I want to scream at this) no new goalkeeper. How does that put us in a stronger position to challenge for honours? And how does that give Cesc any incentive to stay?
is the sort of once in a generation player that you can build a team around.
However, 99% of the population have been telling Arsène since the collapse of 2008, that, while it's a good idea, he doesn't have the right personnel or the right balance around Cesc for his master plan to work. Subsequent successive collapses in the latter stages of each season, in the Premier and Champions League, have highlighted that too few players possess sufficient talent or desire to be the very best. We haven't got enough experienced, ruthless winners to guide and protect the inexperienced players when things don't go to plan.
Too many of the current squad look disinterested or unable to adapt during matches, never better demonstrated than in the awful 3-2 defeat against Wigan. I don't know if Cesc was at the DW Stadium that day but what must he have thought? We always seem to buckle when pressure is applied in the right places and now every other team knows where the right places are. So,
To make matters worse, Arsène himself said in June: “Manuel Almunia is a talented goalkeeper. In training, he is superb, the only problem is that he gets nervous on big matches, thereby making silly mistakes. After the World Cup, we will be making an announcement on goalkeeping”. Words almost fail me at this point. In one statement, the manager has questioned and then openly undermined the confidence of his first choice goalkeeper, before spending all summer trying (and failing!) to replace him with a 37-year old journeyman. To me Arsène is bereft of ideas; it just looks as if he's re-arranging the deckchairs on The Titanic. I understand why Arsène embarked upon his master plan; sustainability is surely better than the financial tightrope being walked by so many clubs. However, when you've got a diamond like Cesc Fabregas, you do all you can to help it shine. What you don't do is surround it with crap, take it for granted and just hope everything works out in the end. Every season Arsène trots out that tired old cliché “judge me in May”. Well Arsène, our judgement may not be important to you but your captain judged you last May and he didn't like what he saw. Unless things improve massively, he'll be judging you again next May – 707 miles away in Catalonia!