As Fabregas nudges towards passport control, and Samir Nasri readies himself for the drive up the M6 to Eastlands, Arsene Wenger is facing open revolt from gunners fans as his philosophy and methods appear to crumble around him. After six barren years without a trophy, ‘the professor’ as he’s often characterised by the press, seems to be falling back on old answers to new questions with yet more left-field signings rather than a search for the tried-and-tested Premier League veterans some quarters call out for.
The departure of senior squad members has often hit Arsenal hard, where a philosophy of promoting from within hasn’t always covered the gaps. In my mind Arsenal haven’t been the same since the 2008 exits of Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini who each brought incisive, penetration going forward and a steadying platform in midfield respectively. Hleb especially brought width and accessible service from the flanks to a team short in stature, delivering line-breaking lateral through balls rather than floating over crosses, the likes of which are easily snuffed out by aerially adept opponents on a regular basis. Arshavin has become increasingly ineffective and inconsistent as a wide provider so hopefully Gervinho’s summer arrival from French champions Lile will bring about a renewed usability and intelligence to Arsenal’s wing play. With the other new acquisition out wide being Southampton’s latest ‘wonderkid’, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal fans will be hoping their newest recruit from the south coast can develop a football brain to accompany his talents rather than regressing into a mindless speed merchant, sprinting head long into dead ends like his predecessor, Theo Walcott. Joel Campbell will hopefully act as suitable cover when the cutting edge of Robin Van Persie is once again laid off by predictable injury.
Replacing Fabregas and Nasri needn’t be a tale of tragedy and woe however, as the answers really could lie on Arsene Wenger’s doormat in shapes of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsay. Whilst the Welshman was initially earmarked as the deeper operator of the two, Ramsay’s displays as an attacking raider behind the frontlines suggest he could be the player to take up Nasri’s vacant position whilst Wilshere’s solid composure in possession and appetite for the tackle makes him the perfect midfield general to replace Fabregas. These aren’t like-for-like swap-ins of course but both youngsters look almost unlimited in their potential and offering them the responsibility of becoming key players could be the making of them and their team.
There is a financial silver lining to this whole fiasco too of course. A purported £65m, a figured enhanced with the income from Gael Clichy’s signing, buys a lot of player even in these times of inflated market forces. Suspicions arise however that the clubs transfer budget will see little of these funds. Indeed, Arsenal could do with spending in one area in particular: defence. Whilst their back four’s form improved last season, there was still a lack of confidence, leadership and responsibility without the superb Thomas Vermaelen. Silly mistakes such as in the Carling Cup final are symptomatic of an Arsenal back line that forever seems twitchy and fragile regardless any statistical reassurances. The reported courting of Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill look like tailor made solutions to these problems but a new left back also needs to be recruited. Another young signing, Carl Jenkinson from Charlton, will add cover on the defensive flanks but in a team already lacking in experience and direction at the rear, a more robust edition is a necessity, but isn’t that always the case with Arsene Wenger’s side?
In an interview with The Times in October 2010, Fabregas lamented at the lack of current leaders and role models in the Arsenal squad. Whilst he may be their captain he spoke as if he felt his own footballing education was in-complete. Without his former ‘invincible’ mentors and betters, he had been forced to become something of an unfinished teacher-in-progress to the team’s youngsters by circumstance, when in reality he felt more like a tutor-less prefect. If this is the case then a similar fate may await Ramsay and Wilshere as they become more central to the team. As the experience passed down from each generation of young gunners to the next is increasingly cut down by early exits by senior players and an ever-evaporating pool of experience, it seems as if Wenger’s project may falter due to the law of diminishing returns. Perhaps though, with a crop of British players finally beginning to show through with the technical skill and calm intelligence demanded of the Wenger model, such a expertise leak will soon be plugged. Its unlikely Wilshere and Ramsay would pine for the likes of Barcelona in the same manner as Cesc, or have their heads turned by the oily riches of City quite as easily due to their upbringing within the club. Only time will tell and that is perhaps Arsene’s greatest problem. With patience wearing thin he must deliver at least Champions League spot and trophy, regardless of its stature; the Carling Cup would do! Indeed, the league’s second tier knock out competition may seem irrelevant to some, but in the past it has inspired a winning mentality into transitioning squads at Manchester United and Chelsea that fuelled them to far more reputable heights.
Any scorn fired at Wenger must be viewed in context. The Frenchman has built Arsenal into the club they are today, delivering a state-of-the-art stadium and mouthwatering playing style that has won them fans, prestige and business all over the world. Dismissing the Premier League’s second longest serving manager now when his project may be close to ultimate fruition could pervert the progress already won.