Arsenal: Wenger's Top 5 Priorities for the Week Ahead
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Arsene Wenger has legions of loyal fans. I don't count myself among them.
I am a worshipper.
Ever since the erudite Frenchman set foot in N5, London, in September 1996, I have followed every move, hung on every word and been awestruck by every masterstroke. In his first few years, he turned the club upside down, was nothing short of a pioneer and brought about a revolution in English club football. He did things his way. He swam against the tide. Above all, he won trophies!!
And when I look back, it was winning that applied the final seal of credibility to his every act. It was winning that added gloss to the signing of Nicolas Anelka. It was winning that ensured acceptability of the release of Ian Wright (legend!!) and the sale of Overmars and Petit. It was winning that ensured easy forgiveness for the signings of Francis Jeffers, Richard Wright and Kaba Diawara.
But now that winning is a distant memory, every poor decision is magnified, scrutinized and dissected. They are written and re-written about. We don't need reminding that it's been 6 years since we won anything. And the manner of last season's capitulation made it all the worse. So near, yet so far.
Take a look at our pre-season dealings. In the 'winning' era, the signings of Jenkinson and Gervinho for a combined £11 million would have been the toast of north London. Jenkinson looks like a proper defender, and Gervinho's impact has been nothing less than spectacular. But the focus has been on Cesc and Nasri (which is understandable), and more so on the fact that no one else has been signed. Is our squad that weak?? Mind you, this is the same group of players that beat Barcelona a few months ago without its best defender. But such is the air of negativity that surrounds Arsenal today that the focus will definitely remain transfixed on the club's failings.
Last week, Thierry Henry suggested that Wenger should remain Manager for life. I can't say I disagree. But the way public perception is today, I fear for his future. I wonder what might happen if our attendances dip after we have a less than decent start to the season. Or if we fail to qualify for the Champions' League proper. Or if we sell Cesc and/or Nasri and don't replace them adequately.
A week separates us from the commencement of proper football. What can Arsene Wenger do in the next 7 days to lift the dark clouds of negativity that seem to envelope every aspect of Arsenal Football Club like a melancholy shroud?
Here are five humbly offered suggestions...
1. Tell Barcelona That Time Is UP!!
Bye bye Sandro
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Is there any Arsenal fan out there who isn't as sick of Barcelona as I am?? Is there any true Gooner who doesn't wish they go bankrupt on Monday morning and get wiped off the face of the planet for ever?? Is there anyone who doesn't want to feed Pique, Puyol, Busquets, Alves and Xavi to a pack of hungry wolves??
The Fabregas saga has gone on for far too long. And although I have been (and still am) a huge fan of his, I blame Cesc. He wants to go back to Barcelona. I understand (somewhat!!). He knows he has a price. He knows that his price isn't £35 million (also known as a 'Carroll'). His price is closer to £60 million (a 'Zlatan'). The fact that Arsenal are willing to sell him for two-thirds of that has always amazed me. It's probably the Club's way of saying 'thank you'. Which is, to an extent, fair enough.
But if Barca are unwilling to cough up even that much, and if their president makes idiotic comments to suggest that Cesc's price should be lower than last year due to "wear and tear", then it is Cesc's responsibility to tell them to get serious and pay Arsenal the discounted price they are asking for. Or else they should forget about him, for the time being at least. Neither the Club nor the fans need to be dragged through this endless saga for a minute longer. And Cesc, as captain, needs to get his act together.
But coming back to Arsene Wenger, he can't wait for the player to take charge of the situation. At least not now!! He needs to do what's best for the Club. He needs to explain the situation to Cesc in no uncertain terms. He needs to be decisive like Sir Alex was with Beckham and Ronaldo (when he sold them) and with Rooney (when he didn't). This issue cannot be stretched until the start of the season. There's a crucial double leg tie against Udinese coming up. The ramifications (not just financial) of losing that tie are enormous. And the repercussions of ending August with 2 points out of 9 in the league will be severe and decisively fatal.
The time to wait and watch is long gone. Now is the time to give Barcelona an ultimatum. If the check's in the mail by 5 pm on 8th August 2011, he's yours. Or else, adios....
2. Sell Samir Nasri
Off you go
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No one should hold the Club to ransom; especially if their only real body of work is half a season of excellent football. Instead of recognizing how much he's come on at Arsenal and putting pen to paper, Nasri's being a mercenary. If someone is crazy enough to pay £22 million for him, sell him, I say. Not to United, but to City, where he can degenerate into mediocrity like the mighty Adebayor (he won't score).
This will send out a strong message to other wannabe prima donnas, that no single person is bigger than the Club. If you ask me, he should have been sold in June when he was adamant that he wouldn't sign a new contract, especially when we knew about the amount that was on offer.
£22 million for a player entering his final year?? And you're dithering, Arsene?
Sell him, I repeat!!
3. Make a Big Signing
Not a hazardous signing
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I have never been a fan of the galactico model of running a football club. In fact, I am a massive fan of Wenger's way. Pluck a relatively unknown (or stagnating) player out of nowhere (or the youth team) and turn him into a superstar. How I love that. Vieira, Anelka, Henry, Pires, Ljungberg, Gilberto, RvP, Cesc, Sagna and Wilshere, to name just ten.
But going back to my earlier point on winning, fans have patience when the team is doing well. Players keep the faith when the team is doing well. Right now, needless to say, the team is not doing well.
What we need today is a spark. And that spark will not come from Afobe and Frimpong, with due respect to both. The Boss needs to make a somewhat marquee signing that will shake the fans out of their depression, that will generate a buzz around London Colney and the Emirates, and that will make the first team squad sit up, take notice and say "wow"!! The mood of the entire camp will change, and the fans will be onside again.
The prime suspects as of now are Juan Mata of Valencia and Eden Hazard (pictured) of Lille. But I would go beyond that. Did someone say "Ribery"?? The board says that we've got money to spend. And if the right player is available, Arsene should go out and buy him. I don't think we should spend more than £30 million, but that's serious money by anyone's standards (almost a 'Carroll')!!
Shock us, Mr Wenger...
4. Buy a Top Defender
Green with envy
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First and foremost, ignore the ugly mug in the foreground. Arsenal are done with buying over-the-hill defenders from United. I hope!!
I'm talking about the two guys at the back: Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka. We need to sign a central defender. We need to add presence at the back. We need to find an excuse to sell, loan or retire Squillaci.
My preference is for Jagielka, but I'll be quite happy to see Cahill too. £17 million or not. We need a central defender. We need one now. Not in January, when there may be nothing to play for. However, I will add that this is not something that needs to be done today. This one can be deferred till the end of the transfer window, but no later. As long as we have TV5, LK6 and JD20 fit, we're reasonably well covered. For now.
Loosen the purse strings, Arsene.
5. Make a Strong and Honest Statement
Say it like it is, Arsene
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There was a time when the press, Arsenal's fans and even opposing fans hung on to every word Arsene Wenger uttered. His ideas on how football should be played and players were to be prepared were revolutionary. His belief in youth and his attacking philosophy won plaudits from the harshest pundits. But, and forgive the repetitive theme, all was rosy because the team was winning. As the tide turned, what was once a laudable principle became an unrealistic philosophy and meaningless rhetoric.
And as his biggest admirer, even I will admit that parts of his interviews are now beginning to sound hollow. Yes, we were very close last season, but we then executed what was the mother of all collapses. Yes, we are a young squad, but a majority of them have played over 250 games at the highest level. No, we do not defend well as a team. Thomas Vermaelen is not like a new signing!! Yes, we have laudable principles, but principles mean nothing to most fans. Results are what counts. You don't get trophies for finishing in the top 4 or for qualifying for the Champions League main draw for a gazillion straight years (however admirable those feats may be).
So in these troubled times, Arsene Wenger needs to grab the situation by the collar, and show some courage, humility and intent. If I were his speech writer (fortunately for him, I'm not) here's what I would suggest:
"Dear Arsenal fans, we are sorry for last season. We could not achieve what we set out to achieve, and what you would have liked us to achieve. We were very close, matters were in our hands, and yet we failed. That magnified the sense of disappointment for us, and we're sure, for you as well. We are not proud that we have gone six seasons without a trophy.
"We defended poorly in open play as a team, defended poorly at set pieces, lost our heads at crucial moments and dropped points as a result. We were not clinical in front of goal in matches that counted. There is no excuse for any of that. However, that is all in the past. This season will be different. There has been a fair amount of churn in our squad, some by choice and others by circumstance. But we have added 3 top quality players and 2 highly promising youngsters, and believe that we have all the tools that we need to mount serious challenges across all competitions. I cannot tell you that we will win it all, but I can say with complete confidence that we will give it our all. We will strain every sinew for this fantastic Club, and will ensure that you, as fans are proud of this team. All I ask is that you stand by us."
Mr Wenger, we're with you....