Leaving and staying?
When Arsenal takes to the field this weekend in a series of preseason games, a few factors will be on display, too. We will, for example, see a ruck of players, a number of whom we will not see again when the season itself begins.
These are the players who make up the collective number of the club's personnel, but who are either factors for the future or are part and parcel of the system only as business materials.
That is, inasmuch as we love to laud Arsenal's geniality toward young players, the fact remains that most will never make it to the top rank of the team's hierarchy, but will be sold as part of the club’s player trading.
This reminds us of a number of players released about a month ago, names that included the following: George Brislen-Hall, Gavin Hoyte, Sean McDermott and Rhys Murphy. Some scholars were let go as well, apparently on the recognition that they may never make it to the Arsenal standard.
This is normal.
Not every player who attends the famous La Masia academy makes it to the top of Barcelona hierarchy. This, we may find, happens at rival Premier League clubs as well.
One name should jump out at the reader from the list of released players: Gavin Hoyte, because we've seen him make a few appearances for the first team.
And again, the reader would recall that Armand Traoré was released (sold to QPR) after featuring for Arsenal early last season, and this came on the back of a series of loan spells.
Members of Arsenal's squad. Courtesy of Arsenal.com.
This admits the point in hand.
Whereas loan moves are a way to allow players to gain first-team experience at smaller clubs—in lieu of sufficient opportunities to feature for Arsenal's first 11 were they to remain with the team—they are also a writing on the wall of sorts for players.
First, it means—rank wise—you are not even the second fiddle for your specialized position. As a second fiddle, you'd stay as backup to the first choice for that position. This pretty much sums up your prospects at the moment and tells you in clear word what the managers think of you.
Second, your stock goes down drastically, when after a loan move, you have to go on another one.
This means you haven't grown to sufficient enough a level for the club to want to keep you. If you were a better option than what is available for the manager, it doesn’t seem that he’d let another person enjoy the fruit of that talent—he'd likely use it himself and immediately.
It is in this light that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is unlikely to go on loan despite his youth. When, therefore, a player finds himself making the round of loan moves, it should be clear that he will eventually be sold, as was the case of Traore. (Alex Flynn and Kevin Whitcher have noticed this sequence. See ch. 4 of their Arsènal.)
The popular sentiment about loan moves is naturally the antithesis of its negative aspect. Namely, that loan moves do improve the chances of a sufficient enough number of players. For example, Alex Song, Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong (Frimpong was making remarkable improvement at Wolverhampton Wanderers before he sustained his season-ending injury).
More squad members. Courtesy of Arsenal.com.
Then there are other players, such as Ryo Miyaichi and Joe Campbell, whose loan moves are brought about by other bottlenecks aside from their talent as players.
But besides this, it is arguable that such gifted players are more likely to grow and develop in a larger and more dangerous sea than what the reserve option offers at Arsenal. Then again, wouldn’t their talent favor retaining them rather than sending them away to another team?
(Although, of course, the restricted number to the seasonal squad means restricted opportunity for the pool of players available to the manager.)
There is one factor that must be considered: Loan moves seem in a way to destroy the very rationale that undergirds Arsenal academy and their playing philosophy. Namely, that players on loan are not likely to gain the same kind of training that can be had under Arsenal's coaches.
There isn't certainly going to be the same emphasis on passing at a club like Stoke City, for example. If you send a Barcelona player on loan to Real Madrid, to take another example, it isn’t clear that he’d gain the same education he’d have at his parent club.
This may explain why a few Arsenal players have gone to Bolton Wanderers, who, at their best, do play some attractive football. Wolves was a good option for Frimpong for that same reason, who, under Mick McCarthy, had a bias for attacking football. They did, of course, frustrate Arsenal last season with some dogged defensive display.
With the foregoing in mind, we would wonder as the preseason progresses what the fate of the following players will be eventually: Joel Campbell, Benik Afobe, Chuks Aneke, Daniel Boateng, Craig Eastmond, Sead Hajrovic, Damian Martinez, Sanchez Watt, Nico Yennaris.
Campbell is likely to remain on loan, but what about Ryo Miyaichi? Is there a place for him in the first team this season? He seems a sufficiently enough talented player to me. What about Frimpong, who will miss the preseason. Is he to go on loan again?
The other set of players is the infamous bunch fans refer to as "deadwood." The list includes Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela, Denilson and Andre Arshavin. This is the other set of loan players—first-team material who underperform.
Already Denilson has secured another year on loan at São Paulo FC, Carlos Vela has completed a move to Real Sociedad. If Bendtner finds a proper suitor, he'll move this season. Same as Andre Arshavin.
The point in this case is that this isn't merely a process to enhance the chances of a player. Be that as it may, there's also the solution to what in time develops to be an unpleasant situation to both parties—player and club— where the player doesn't sparkle enough to become very useful to the club's need and so is relegated to the bench, with the result that lack of playing time only acerbates the situation.
Then there's the other side of the coin where the club continues to pay the redundant player. In this situation a loan is the perfect situation since the club ceases to pay the player's salary in the meantime.
Sébastien Squillaci and Samir Nasri represent two extremes of Arsenal's situation. Getty Images.
This leads us to a third set of players, numbered among the deadwoods, whose situation is not resolved by a loan move, either for the want of opportunity for one or because the club must retain fringe players as necessary members of a season-long squad.
Contractual situation often becomes an obstacle in resolving their situation, which is why Manuel Almunia only left after his contract expired. It is thought that Sébastien Squillaci and Arsenal will negotiate for an amicable resolution to his situation at Arsenal.
The present point allows me touch on an issue that is neglected by critics of Arsenal’s contractual situations.
It is fashionable for disaffected fans and the careless press members to ask quite flippantly why Arsenal allow players’ contracts to run into their final year.
When you give a player a four-year contract as is usually the practice, you become financially obligated to the player as he is obligated to you.
Nor can you cop out in the event of an injury. You have to continue paying the player. This is why the van Persie disaffection is a little difficult to swallow, since he has spent most of his career at Arsenal injured, though conveniently (even if justifiably) pocketing his salary.
Now at the first sign of productivity he wants to be gone. You say we shouldn't complain? You may as well stop us from being human.
A four-year contract holds the risk of loss of form such as has happened in the case of the so-called deadwoods. In this event, as in the case of injury, you can't stop paying the player.
And the expediency of making sure that you win every game of the season (at least you try to) means you do not have the luxury of playing players who aren't at the top of their game—not if you can help it.
It then becomes a Catch-22 of sorts, where, without the opportunity to play, the chance of recovery of form becomes slim, and without recovery of form, the opportunity to play becomes very shallow.
Without opportunity to play, clubs are not interested in buying these so-called deadwood, for if they were so good, would they become bench-warmers at their clubs?
Therefore, when fans just scream, "sell them," they display lack of appreciation for the situation. You can't just sell them. Somebody has to want them, and few do, which is why these players continue to hang around. In the meantime, the club continues to shoulder the burden of their salaries.
But perchance these players weren't protected by a long contract, you'd just let them go. So, of course, you'd like to offer a player a long contract, and Arsenal do, but the problem is that this backfires quite often: think Squillaci.
The other aspect of this is that you cannot always renegotiate contracts after they've run just halfway through. This is untenable. It is why I reject the criticism that is so carelessly labeled at Arsenal.
In the case of van Persie, for example, last season was his only really productive one out of his current four-year cycle. The first two went the way of the last four, plagued by injury. The last one of the current four is where the problem lies.
Furthermore, and to return to my original train of thought, we will see a group of so-so players at the preseason whose fate will be an interesting thing to watch in the coming days: Marouane Chamakh, Park Chu-Young, Johan Djorou, Nicklas Bendtner.
We would preferably like to see these players sold, but, as I observe above, this is easier said than done. Plus, we must remember that fringe players are a necessary part of a squad. Much as we may dislike Djorou, the objective person must see that he contributed immensely to Arsenal’s campaign last season.
Arsene Wenger, then, will be looking to select his 25-man squad for next season during the preseason games, the bulk of which will consist of the next set of players—the steady performers.
Names like Theo Walcott, Bacary Sagna (who will miss preseason), Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere (who also will miss preseason), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ryo Miyaichi (hopefully), Francis Coquelin, Tomas Rosicky, Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Alex Song, Wojciech Szczęsny, Laurent Koscielny, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, Gervinho, Kieran Gibbs, Andre Santos will be expected to return.
Robin van Persie: Signing to any other Premier League club is anathema to me. Getty Images.
And now we come to Robin van Persie, a player with his own unique situation.
It is my opinion that Arsenal shouldn't let him go, much as the £20 million or so could come in handy from his sale.
How are you ever to stop this sort of thing from happening if every player continues to have his way?
In this case, any player who displays a modicum of form will simply unsettle things by demanding to go where the ostensible trophies are. This then reduces Arsenal’s chances of winning anything themselves, with the result that the cycle perpetuates itself.
Yesterday it was Samir Nasri (and before him Emmanuel Adebayor), today it is Robin van Persie. Whose turn is it going to be tomorrow?
Arsenal must put their foot down despite the risk of financial loss; else this is a slippery slope that could go on indefinitely. The Financial Fair Play may not stop it as long as clubs can afford to pay higher wages, which is the precise factor behind this situation that is now becoming habitual.
Arsenal could lose £20 million, but again, they might not. To secure a move next season, albeit to anywhere he fancies, van Persie would have to recreate his form of last season, without which no top club will look at him.
(He could, in any event, go to any middling club of his choosing after this, but I don't see how this would be an improvement on Arsenal.)
The need to recreate his form in view of a lucrative free move next season means that—in the event that he succeeds in doing so—we would see a repeat of what he did last season, and how wouldn't that be beneficial to Arsenal?
In the very least this would constitute an improved team over last year’s when one factors in the fact that last season's disastrous start is unlikely to repeat itself this season and the fact that the addition of Lukas Podolski and Giroud means more firepower than was available last season.
The argument that if van Persie is forced to stay his productivity is sure to fall will not only harm the club should this turn out to be so, but the player himself, whose hope for a lucrative move is incumbent on his form.
The point for me here is that in making him fulfill the terms of his contract, Arsenal will achieve two things:
They’d send a clear message to the club's rivals that no longer will Arsenal lie down and take it lightly when a club waves a wad of cash at its players. It will also be a message to the players themselves.
Secondly, they would have declined to allow their rivals to strengthen their own squads at the expense of the club that sowed the seeds of the talent they covet. It is why selling van Persie to either of the Manchester clubs or any of the Premier League clubs is anathema to me.
If he must be sold, then it must be to a club outside England where van Persie's negative impact will not affect Arsenal immediately, even if the club could face him in a Champions League game with another club from another league.
Van Persie should be made to say.
Then again, by the time the reader reads this, events of the situation could have overtaken this assertion, nor am I deluded that those who matter would care about what I have to say, even if by any chance they were to see this article, an unlikely event.
Lukas Podolski. Getty Images.
At the preseason, there will be the other group of players, which I call the "New Era," including, for now, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Thomas Eisfeld. What I think of these players is directly related to the van Persie situation. I will pick up this thread in the next part of the series.
There is furthermore the business aspect of the preseason, which is why Arsenal is travelling to Asia, and would have travelled to Nigeria as well had some unstated events not scuppered that trip.
In the meantime, Arsenal.com reports that:
Tomas Rosicky, Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker and new signing Lukas Podolski will be travelling to Lagos with Club officials for a flying visit the weekend after next. The players will take part in Club events and other activities organised by the Club’s partners, Malta Guinness and Airtel.
This seems to be a make-up for the postponed trip to Nigeria, a situation that doesn't release Arsenal from her sponsorship obligation with her partners in this region who are paying Arsenal for this partnership, the proceeds of which are part of the new emphasis on commercial revenue.
I will talk about the New Era, FFP and Alisher Usmanov in the next part. Thanks for your lively comments on the first two parts of the series. I do appreciate your support.