Samir Nasri Bows Out
Arsenal supporters must be in despair. It's bad enough not winning any titles for six years. Now to see both of their most influential midfielders leave in a week is heartbreaking.
What on earth goes on in Arsene Wenger's mind? Has he thrown the towel in? Is he on the verge of leaving himself? What effect does all this have on team morale?
Last year they collapsed from a winning position for the EPL title, to barely scrape a Champions League place. They now face losing even that status as Manchester City has surged past them and Liverpool is on the ascend.
Will Samir Nasri's departure be the last straw—for team and supporters? Could they face relegation fears, as Liverpool did last season?
Whatever the outcome, it is already a hard road back. One point from two games; two key players gone; others unsettled; injuries and suspensions; and a very late time for last-minute signings and team stability.
Samir Nasri vs Manchester City
Manchester City has reportedly tracked Nasri for up to three months. But how did he become available?
On 26 February 2011, The Sun reported that he had signed a new five-year contract, increasing his wage from £60,000 to £100,000 a week.
Having joined Arsenal in June 2008, his previous contract still had 18 months to run at that stage. With everyone except Wenger expecting Cesc Fabregas to go, Nasri unsurprisingly held out for better terms. Once it became clear that he had been given a final ultimatum, City stepped up their interest.
Even six months ago and despite their apparent unlimited budget, City would not have been expected to sign Nasri or Aguero. With a third-place finish last season and an automatic Champions League place together with two good wins, they are now credible EPL winners.
And who could blame Nasri for trebling his pay packet? But how did Arsenal get into this mess? Is Wenger blind to the obvious? Did he really believe he could keep either Fabregas, despite an empty trophy cabinet? Once he had gone, Nasri would expect to become the top paid player or doubt their ambition.
The threat to run down his contract was almost certainly overruled at Board level. Playing him in the Udinese match could have savaged the transfer fee and was probably also overruled. By that time, Wenger would have to accept the inevitable.
So how do you replace Nasri and Fabregas? And what message does all this send to Arsenal supporters about the club's ambitions?
Arsene Wenger: Arsenal vs Liverpool
When the final whistle went against Liverpool, Arsenal fans booed—not for the first time. It happened last season. It's happened before.
In October 2008 on ITN, Arsene Wenger criticized fans for their lack of support.
At a shareholders' meeting in May 2009, The Times reported that he "reacted to the ferocity of some questions by criticizing a section of the club’s fans, particularly at home, for turning on the team at the end of a fourth season without a trophy. He said that he and the players should be judged in two years’ time, a prediction he has made in previous seasons."
Again, in April 2011, after a defeat by Bolton which all but ended their title hopes, after intense criticism from fans, pundits and the media, the Frenchman was quick to shoulder the blame for the collapse in the season. "If somebody is to blame, it's me. I pick the team. I choose the players."
That's all very well. He's an honourable man. Arsenal supporters respect him for this and have given him probably more leeway than other mangers might have got.
But you can't blame them for being disillusioned. Their two best players have now gone. The defence is still creaking. There are still no signings. If they go out of the Champions League to Udinese, many may worry if their season is over. The Board will never sack Wenger, but would he resign?
Mourinho has shamed Real Madrid, who have targeted the Arsenal manager in the past.
Cesc Fabregas, Barcelona
Last night, Cesc Fabregas scored for Barcelona against Napoli. He has joined "the best club in the world." He must feel like he has been reborn.
He has been extraordinarily loyal to Arsenal and an inspirational captain. He can hardly be blamed for Barcelona wanting him back for at least three years.
Of course, Arsenal was entitled to market value, which led to protracted wranglings until the fee and payments were agreed. This made it hard for Wenger to plan for the future. Had he really buried his head in the sand in disbelief that he would lose his best player, or was it all posturing?
Whatever the truth, the uncertainty over the Arsenal captain must have unsettled the players as well as the fans. No doubt Samir Nasri saw it as his golden opportunity to come in from the wing and probably sought adequate compensation as Fabregas' de facto replacement.
Now the latter has gone, the immediate question is "who can replace Cesc Fabregas?"
Wenger may big up the prospects of Jack Wilshere, both as midfield general and future captain, together with Aaron Ramsey. Both have a bright future. But, as Saturday's match against Liverpool showed, Frimpong is not the answer.
Arsenal needs a strong, experienced and creative player to fill Fabregas' boots. They have apparently been rebuffed by Lille in attempts to sign Eden Hazard (20) who, like Yann M'Vila (21), may be waiting for the Udinese outcome before considering a move. Juan Mata already turned down the Gunners in favour of Chelsea.
Some have touted Kaka who, in his pomp would have been a more than adequate replacement to inspire Arsenal fans. Real Madrid is apparently prepared to take a considerable loss to unload the injury prone Brazilian and his wage bill.
Few believe, however, that the existing squad is enough to fill the yawning gap now that both midfielders have gone.
Arsene Wenger, Carling Cup Final
The Carling Cup Final was pivotal. Arsenal lost in the 89th minute. Cesc Fabregas was not playing. Although they had a strong chance of winning the Premiership, the team's fortunes plummeted from that moment. They only won two of their last 11 matches, as Wenger seemed unable to turn things round.
When a player doesn't want to play for you any more, it can damage team morale. The players knew Fabregas was on the way out. The lack of a trophy compounded the problem.
Whatever the reasons why Nasri has now also gone: ambition; money; disillusion; his departure leaves both the team and manager in a difficult position.
Arsene Wenger brought glory years to Arsenal. With less resources than his counterparts at other clubs, he won the Double twice and went a whole season undefeated. David Dein described him as a "miracle worker."
He signed some of the finest players to grace the EPL, like Denis Bergkamp and Thierry Henri. His teams play uncompromising good football. They have been described as "everyone's second favourite."
Now Wenger is in trouble. He cannot deny that some of it is his own making. He has steadfastly refused to strengthen his defence despite claiming he has money to spend. His team has a deteriorating disciplinary record and already three players have been suspended this season.
Any team suffers injuries and the loss of Jack Wilshere compounds the problem of losing Fabregas and Nasri. Arsenal has gone six years without a trophy. The question is, if they lose to Udinese, crashing out of the Champions League, would the manager fall on his sword?
Sir Alex Ferguson calls this "squeaky bum time."
Arsenal had a tight win in the first leg against Udinese. The return leg will be a tougher proposition. While there is no doubt that the away goals rule could save them, it is by no means certain that they will score. With none in the Premier League and only the one in the first leg, the omens are not good.
Today is not a good day to lose Samir Nasri. Despite the lifting of the shadow of uncertainty, morale cannot be helped. In addition to Jack Wilshere, Laurent Koscielny, Nicklas Bendtner, Abou Diaby, Kieran Gibbs and Sebastien Squillaci are all absent.
Wenger may have a nominal squad of 36 outfield players, but half are young and untried in Europe and another six are injured. Others, like Arshavin, look woefully out of form.
Even if they survive tonight's match, unless Wenger makes further signings, their progress through the Group stages must be suspect.
And their form is already poor in the Premier League. Some even think they could be relegation candidates.
Samir Nasri, Charlie Adam
What do Blackpool and Arsenal have in common?
They have both lost star midfielders. They both played good football last season. Blackpool was relegated.
Should we think the unthinkable? What would happen if: Arsenal crashed out to Udinese; transfer targets refused to sign; and Arsene Wenger resigned?
The class of 2011/12 has been molded by Wenger. He has been a father figure. He has attracted a wealth of French-speaking players who still form the core of the squad.
At Arsenal's level, players move to fulfil ambition. With no Champions League to play for and no trophies for six years, their future could hang on a knife edge.
Of course they won't be relegated, whatever happens, but every crisis has a tipping point. Was it the Carling Cup Final; Cesc Fabregas' departure; Samir Nasri's; or is it still to come? Once the rot sets in, it is difficult to reverse. Arsene Wenger departing would leave almost as big a hole as Sir Alex Ferguson.
Phil Jagielka, Nicklas Bendtner
Other players may still go. Bendtner has clearly been unsettled for over a year. The departures will not increase his chances of getting a game.
But who, if anyone will come in?
For years, Wenger has said he has the money. Many people do believe, however, that the stadium debt is still a factor, despite the new owner's reassurances.
The manager also continues to preach the doctrine of youth. The fans have been pleading for him to sign a top defender since last season. Arsenal has been linked with Scott Dann, Phil Jagielka, Pert Mertesacker and Gary Cahill, among others, but nothing has happened.
They now have, apparently, up to £60 million extra to spend. Midfield targets such as Kaka, Hazard and M'Vila have been mentioned earlier. Surely Arsenal also needs another striker?
There are only six days of the transfer window left after tonight. Losing would make the task of attracting new players doubly difficult. You can't blame players for hedging their bets.
Even with the best possible outcome, it will take weeks to bed in any new players. Arsenal is almost at the bottom of the League and play Manchester United at the weekend. The prospects aren't good.
In the worst case scenario, however (out of the Champions League, no manager, no signings) Arsenal would truly be in the dumpster, if not already.