What is going on?
The season is yet to finish, champions are yet to be decided and relegation places are yet to be filled and despite all of this the rumour-mill is not only in full flow, it’s bursting and Arsenal seem to be coping it’s force the most. I still try to dismiss the newspapers and television when they talk of a player exodus. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Unfortunately it doesn’t just seem to be the players, who are seeking a new challenge. Keith Edelman mysteriously left the club saying he wanted a new challenge, however other reports suggested that he was pushed out of the club. There have been other reports that Gary Lewin will leave as well. A man who has been part of the Arsenal staff for a long time. It might all just be a coincidence, but why is the club having such difficulty keeping its staff together.
Obviously a lot of these stories are exactly that: stories, with very little truth and a lot of conjecture. But the fact is that these rumours and departures are happening at the moment and with alarming regularity. The most widespread one at the moment involves Alex Hleb. His agent has stated that the deal is almost done and that Hleb will be an Inter player within a couple of weeks. The player himself has been reported as saying that he is disillusioned at Arsenal and is worried by what he perceives as a lack of ambition by the club. I presume he is talking about the small number of players that have arrived over the last two years, coupled with the dwindling numbers in the squad.
Arsene Wenger has again played down these rumours about Hleb, just like he did in the Flamini situation. But increasingly it seems that events are happening involving players that the manager does not seem to be in complete control of. I think there are two reasons for this:
1) The finances of the club are very well documented, in fact too much so in my opinion. The salary caps are very rigid at the club which they are infrequently prepared to break. Sol Campbell used to earn a lot of money at Arsenal, as did Vieira and most famously Thierry Henry, who earned £130,000 a week, following the move to the Emirates. It seems due to the cost of the stadium, we simply can’t offer players huge wages anymore, which might offer another explanation as to why Arsene never buys established stars – he simply can’t afford it.
2) Faith is being lost in the manager after three seasons without a trophy and an unwillingness to part with money. I personally hope this is not the case, but I’m starting to dread that it is. Flamini moved to Milan for one of two reasons. Either he wanted more money or he felt that the squad would not be sufficiently strengthened at Arsenal to mount a challenge for honours next year. It is very likely that Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, Man City and even Newcastle will spend a lot of money in the summer. Depending on the quality and success of these signings, Arsenal without recruiting could face challenges from not only the big three but Spurs and Man City. Hleb also has been reported as saying he is worried by a lack of ambition.
I don’t care if we have another summer of people writing Arsenal off. It happened last year and despite not winning anything, the team have given a very good account of themselves this season. But Arsene Wenger’s philosophies are beginning to go hand in hand with his stubbornness. If he continues to ignore most established players and continues to buy inexperienced foreign players who need time to adapt, then Arsenal could be in danger of falling behind the other clubs, who have more spending power. I don’t envisage that happening next season, but depending on who leaves this summer, certain parts of the team will have to be improved.
Another aspect of this equation is player greed. Flamini might have gone, because he will earn more at Milan, Hleb might follow suit. I am hoping that Adebayor is not really demanding £80,000 per week, and that his agent is speaking out of turn. Quite frankly Ade is not worth that. He has had one good season, in which he has been given a wonderful opportunity by Wenger to prove himself. I think it would be disgraceful from the player if he ignored all of this for money. Wenger can’t reward the players with huge contracts because of the strict wage structure at the club. His rewards are a chance to prove themselves, to establish themselves even if they are 18,19,20 years old. Perhaps this alone, without trophies and money doesn’t appease players anymore…