Jury is still out on the vision of Arsene Wenger

If the Arsenal coach was right or wrong about the logic behind his strategy in the summer transfer window, only time will tell, writes Duncan Castles
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, gesticulates during his side’s 0-0 draw against Sunderland.
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, gesticulates during his side’s 0-0 draw against Sunderland.

"A gamble" is how Arsene Wenger described this summer's transfer dealings. If the strategy cannot be assessed on a single fixture, yesterday's outcome had a certain grim logic to it.

At the end of the week in which Arsenal's manager finally allowed the Premier League's most prolific goalscorer last season to join Manchester United and agreed to sell his most potent midfield provider to Barcelona, Wenger's team went scoreless at home to Sunderland. As one leading scout put it last week, "Some statistics are deceptive, but not goals and assists. They are crystal clear."

Wenger has signed Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla to replenish the numbers he offloaded to his Champions League rivals. Only one of the three delivered on their debut.

Cazorla, who would have been an Arsenal player last summer had Wenger not stalled on a transfer from Villarreal as he battled to retain the previous generation of stars who craved new pastures, was excellent. A bundle of inventive energy, the Spain international almost scored with his first shot and continually threatened.

Podolski was never quite in tune, often failing to be in the right place in the penalty area or missing when he was. Giroud replaced the German for the final half-hour and spurned the best opportunity of all.

Cazorla's reverse pass set him up, 12 yards from the target with not a single Sunderland opponent near him. The France international's shot was firm, yet wide. Cazorla threw hands to head in dismay. Wenger threw his in the air then scowled in anger.

Despite a previous season spent telling supporters that he could tie Van Persie to a new contract once it had ended, Wenger had long known his captain was playing footsie with richer suitors. Actually, the striker had been slipping in and out of bed with multiple admirers.

First there was the provisional agreement of a contract worth an annual €13 million (Dh58.9m) with Manchester City. Nothing was signed - that would break Premier League rules - but Van Persie committed himself to moving to the champions elect if they could agree a fee with Arsenal; and make him their best paid player.

The futures of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli were to interfere with that plan. Tired of their ill discipline, City planned to sell both. Yet as the summer approached, Balotelli's desire to live with his Italian girlfriend departed and Tevez finally focused on delivering for his employers again.

Realising that Tevez could end up staying, Van Persie's advisers went back to City and said their client's wages would have to be brought in line with that of the Argentina international. The player, meanwhile, had Juventus sporting director Giuseppe Marotta round his house to discuss another contract.

Italy's biggest club were informed that Van Persie did not want to join City if Balotelli and Tevez stayed and began to believe they could complete a deal.

Sir Alex Ferguson, however, proved to have the best chat-up lines. Waiting until the night was late as they struggled to seduce younger talents Lucas Moura and Eden Hazard, United appealed to the romantic in Van Persie. It did not matter that their salary ceiling was £150,000 (Dh864,658) a week. Unlike Samir Nasri 12 months previously, the Dutchman would accept less money to be at Old Trafford.

If Van Persie's departure was forced upon Wenger, Alex Song's exit to Barcelona was elective. With three years remaining on his contract, the Cameroon international could have been retained for at least one more season. The manager's calculation was that the still rehabilitating Jack Wilshere, the-for-once-rehabilitated Abou Diaby, and the incoming Nuri Sahin will provide more than adequate replacement.

Only the season will tell whether Wenger's latest call was good. His "gambles" have certainly grown familiar.

sports@thenational.ae

Published: August 18, 2012 04:00 AM

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