Does Arsene know? Arsenal fans are losing trust in Le Professeur
Arsenal could easily have entered this season without Arsene Wenger as their manager. The saddest element is that many of the North London brethren who once revelled in the idea that "Arsene knows" would not have lamented his departure.
The exit would have been on Wenger's terms, the opportunity open to him to return to French football as either the technical director or manager of Paris Saint-Germain. There were several meetings with a club enriched by their new Qatari ownership, a vast budget to play with and an invitation to become PSG's driving force.
According to those involved in the negotiations, Wenger was sorely tempted by a door that still remains open to him. That the 61 year old chose to remain faithful to Arsenal, to continue his principle of never breaking a contract, was bold even for a man of his self-belief.
The club Wenger shaped into a seductive star of the Premier League era has slipped off their celestial axis. Deep-set issues (the manager's move toward youth recruitment and development as a solution to relative financial weakness) have turned Arsenal into a blue-chip feeder club in the eyes of their Champions League competitors and, more damagingly, their best players.
While Arsenal have remained both competitive and solvent through these hard times, the persistence of their challenge has worked against Wenger, rather than to his credit.
Always qualifying for the Champions League, and almost always coming close yet just missing out on silverware, has proved more frustrating to supporters than intermixing one off year with the self-assertion of an FA or League Cup success.
Further complicating Wenger's world is Stan Kroenke's takeover.
For as long as the American was held in a slow stand-off with Alisher Usmanov for the majority shareholding, Wenger was the de facto owner of Arsenal. There was no single individual with the real power to overturn his decisions.
When a director of football was sought to take on some of David Dein's duties, or a chief executive recruited to replace Keith Edelman, the Frenchman's opinion on the appointment were critical.
Now Wenger has a boss to answer to. If Kroenke emphasised his support for the manager as soon as he bought Arsenal, he is at liberty to overrule.
Tellingly, Wenger's insistence that Arsenal could not sell Samir Nasri and still be considered a big club has devolved towards the board's pragmatic stance that it is better to collect £22 million (Dh130.5m) for a player who's head is at Manchester City and will leave for nothing in a year's time.
Mentally, Cesc Fabregas has also gone. Arsenal's captain has agreed to take a €5 million (Dh26.5m) hit on his wages at Barcelona to subsidise his escape to the Camp Nou.
He expects to fly to Catalonia today once enervating negotiations are completed.
Ironically, Arsenal owed Barcelona a percentage of the fee as part of the compensation package for poaching him from La Masia eight years ago.
Nasri played for France last week as his international coach talked of his hope the player would move clubs, and both midfielders were left out of the squad for yesterday's Premier League opener at Newcastle United.
Wenger's rebuilding efforts have bemused most in the game. No centre-back has been bought to bolster a defence facing a rough ride of early fixtures, though Everton expect an improved bid of £17m for Phil Jagielka.
Instead, Wenger has bought Carl Jenkinson, a teenage full-back from Charlton Athletic, Joel Campbell, a teenage striker from Costa Rica, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a teenage winger from Southampton for a startling fee of £12m rising to 14m. With the Ivory Coast forward Gervinho the sole experienced acquisition, it is not easy to detect sensible strategy in Wenger's trading.
Despite the Frenchman's protestations that no deal will be done, Valencia expect to sell him Juan Mata soon.
That may be because Wenger is considering something far bolder, a volte-face that could change the entire mood of the club. Arsenal are contemplating using Nasri as part exchange for Carlos Tevez. The Argentine's wages would be more than double any other player at the club, but he wants out of City and is the Premier League's most consistent goalscorer.
Such a deal has yet to be proposed to City, who are extremely unlikely to countenance allowing Tevez to join a direct competitor. Neither would it meet the striker's desire to live in a Latin-language country.
That the idea is even being discussed in Wenger's camp, though, underlines the sense of crisis at Ashburton Grove.
Published: August 14, 2011 04:00 AM