Wenger's ability to attract and nurture young talent is one of the most encouraging stories of the Premier League. No other manager has placed such an emphasis or given such opportunities to youth players. In stark contrast to the 'financial doping' of Chelsea and Manchester City, Arsenal's ability to compete at the top of the English game has provided the Premier League with one of its few moral victories. Arsenal under Wenger have worked tirelessly to emulate Barcelona with their emphasis on attacking football and youth development. This approach has paid off with the club attracting Fabregas, Ramsey, Walcott and Nasri on this footballing vision and the belief that it will deliver success.
However the failure of Wenger to deliver on success threatens the long term viability of his project for Arsenal. Wenger's policy in the transfer market while financially, and dare we say it morally, laudable has turned from a cause into an obsession. Witness the beginning of this season where Wenger would not pay the £4 million pound asking price for Mark Schwarzer Fulham were demanding. Arsenal have struggled to find a proper replacement for a pre-insanity Jens Lehmann, and Wenger's parsimony over the issue has directly cost them on the pitch.
This failure to properly invest was exposed in the Carling Cup final when miscommunication between Szczesny and Koscielny allowed the opportunity to collect the first piece of silverware since 2005 to slip through their fingers. While Wenger transfer policy has uncovered gems, his distaste for big money signings is undermining Arsenal's ability to get value in the market. Contrast the signings of Rio Ferdinand and Sebastien Squillaci, with Rio costing £30 million in contrast to the £6 million paid for Squillaci. While Ferdinand demanded an enormous fee, he has been ever present in Utd's defence as part of a hugely successful team. Whilst Wenger paid little comparatively for Squillaci the money has been largely wasted.
The trials and tribulations of Arsenal's transfer policy is well documented so I want to focus on the fates of two young players in Phil Jones and Samir Nasri and how their recent decisions cast real aspersions on the long term viability of Wenger's project.
Arsenal's inability to compete for Jones, even though Wenger was willing to offer a bigger salary, stands in stark contrast to only a few years ago when Wenger beat off competition from Manchester Utd to sign Aaron Ramsey.
Phil Jones is the kind of player Wenger has previously been able to attract to Arsenal. A young, raw talent who Wenger was willing to show faith in with first team football. Jones would have rapidly become a starter at Arsenal, most likely partnering Vermaelen ahead of Koscielny, Djourou or Squillaci gaining direct experience of the Champions League as well as playing in an established top Premier League side. Playing along side Vermaelen, the former captain of Ajax would have provided valuable experience in cultivating what already seems like a substantive raw talent.
Instead Jones has opted to be 4th of 5th choice centre back at Manchester Utd. While the desire to remain in the North East with his family has played a role, Jone's choice to be a Utd reserve rather than an Arsenal first team player speaks volumes to how much Arsenal has slipped in relation to the other top teams. Jones wants to go to Utd and is happy to wait for his chance to break into the team, and he views this as a better bet than first team football at Arsenal. For a team and a manager whose modus operandi has been the attraction of young talent, this is a significant rebuke. Arsenal's inability to compete for Jones, even though Wenger was willing to offer a bigger salary, stands in stark contrast to only a few years ago when Wenger beat off competition from Manchester Utd to sign Aaron Ramsey. Players, even younger ones are looking at Arsenal's failure to compete for trophies and a baffling lack of desire by Wenger to reinforce the squad and are being put off. If Arsenal cannot continue to attract young talent to the team they're building, this undermines the Wenger dream, to build a young team which can compete at the highest level.
Arsenal need to keep Nasri, not just because losing their player of the season to their title rivals would be a significant setback but also for the message it sends.
While Jones’ reticence to join Arsenal can be partially be explained by his desire to stay in the North East, Samir Nasri's potential desire to join him there is of deeper concern to Arsenal. Nasri is the quintessential Wenger signing. Young, talented and with the hunger to play at the highest level. Building on an initial promising two seasons, Nasri has broken through to become Arsenal's key player this season. Telling many of his best performances have come when Fabregas hasn't played, with Nasri relishing the central creative role he has been able to make his own. With Fabregas' long term future in doubt, Nasri can become the heart of the team, the man whom Wenger can fashion his project around. Despite the faith that Wenger has shown in him, Nasri has dropped recent hints that his future Arsenal is not for certain, and that he might consider a move to Manchester Utd in order to further his career. If Wenger cannot sell the idea of Arsenal's future to Nasri, this offers further proof that the trophy drought is undermining his player's faith in his project.
Arsenal need to keep Nasri, not just because losing their player of the season to their title rivals would be a significant setback but also for the message it sends, that fundamentally Arsenal are a stepping stone club for players with Nasri's abilities and talents. While Wenger's Arsenal have long been an evolving project, the team needs some stability, which a long term commitment from Nasri can provide, if Fabregas moves back to Barcelona. With Manchester City now a real player in the competition for Champions League spots and Liverpool now spending under NSV, Wenger might not be able to afford the long term perspective if they cannot regularly qualify for the Champions League with the money and prestige it brings in. Wenger has to make Arsenal competitive domestically or he'll struggle to keep on attracting the young talents who have made his side such a joy to watch.
Click here for more Arsenal Stories
Click here for more Football and Sport stories
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook