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Wenger used to solve Arsenal’s problems

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By Martin Samuel

London – If Arsene Wenger genuinely had £70million to spend, do you know who his striker would be? Robin van Persie. Still. Van Persie would never have left Arsenal if, in his talks with Wenger, he had been convinced that lavish funds were available and would be spent on the team. If Wenger could have given Van Persie any form of guarantee that £70m was coming his way, he might not have been so eager to sign for Manchester United.

The figure of £70m is the latest jam tomorrow bulletin from Arsenal’s money men, following the sealing of a shirt deal worth £150m with Emirates. This windfall is Wenger’s to spend, apparently, except he never does.

He never seemed to spend the £30m that was his in the Highbury days, either, or the £55m it was claimed sat in Arsenal’s transfer kitty last summer. He has £40m reserved for improvements in January also. Whether that is part of the £70m or in addition to it, nobody is quite sure.

The funny thing is, no matter what is said to be available at Arsenal, Wenger’s outlay always seems commensurate with how much he brings in, as if the two are related. He sells his best player, he buys two or three inferiors. This is not an uncommon policy, indeed, a number of Premier League clubs have adopted it.

Most of them, though, reside in the bottom half of the table: where Arsenal may soon join them.

They are 10th now, two points above Liverpool, and their next home game is against the awkward squad of West Bromwich Albion. Most years, an Arsenal win would be considered a certainty, but that was thought of a home fixture with Swansea City, too.

If only everything at Arsenal was as predictable as the forecasts of long-term wealth and success.

Arsenal would have known last summer that the shirt deal was up for renewal. Van Persie wanted a better contract, but he also wanted a sign that Arsenal would compete in the transfer market; like £70m dropping into his manager’s lap, for instance.

It seems strange, then, that he left unconvinced and disillusioned. A lot of Arsenal players have trod that path. Personal finances were also an issue, true, but equally the direction the club was taking. Wenger used to solve Arsenal’s problems: now he solves those of his rivals.

Manchester United are first, Arsenal are 10th. It is not so crazy to speculate that those positions might be reversed had Van Persie stayed.

Think about it. United have gone behind to the first goal of the game in 10 Premier League matches and in seven have come back to win. Of those seven, five have featured crucial goals from Van Persie, including the equaliser against Fulham, a hat-trick against Southampton and the winner against Liverpool. Imagine United without him this season. Wayne Rooney scored twice against Reading on Saturday but, on the eve of the game, Sir Alex Ferguson was bemoaning his strike rate. Even after the 4-3 win, Javier Hernandez had still outscored Rooney in the Premier League.

Now consider Arsenal with Van Persie’s 10 league goals this season added to their total. Supplement a single goal from Van Persie to the draws with Sunderland, Stoke City, Manchester City, Fulham, Aston Villa and Everton; add an equaliser to the one-goal defeats by Chelsea, Norwich City and Manchester United.

That is a difference of 15 points, or the current spread between Manchester United (top, 36 points) and Arsenal (10th, 21). Obviously, this is not an exact science but the general point seems reasonably watertight: Arsenal’s loss has been United’s gain.

Maybe Van Persie was told of the £70m at the end of the rainbow; the problem is that Arsenal’s players have heard it all before. For seven barren years they have been fed talk of some mythical golden day, when the club will reap the benefits of careful husbandry, glory restored.

In two years, Arsenal will be able to compete with the best in the world, promises chief executive Ivan Gazidis. Yet the best of this current team might not wish to wait that long, and then what? Having already lost such vital players as Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas, take Jack Wilshere or Thomas Vermaelen away and £70m would be needed just to restore the squad, rather than enhance an existing world class group.

Also, it is hard, coming fourth. It is a risky business. Set out to win the league and, falling short, the Champions League still beckons. Yet increasingly Arsenal have revised their aims so that any place in the top four constitutes success. Fourth place, however, has no safety net. Fail, and enter the Europa League; or worse.

The good news? No team, beyond the Manchester clubs, have made a charge yet. Chelsea have not won for seven Premier League games, yet remain third. Few believe West Brom or Everton are capable of maintaining early dalliances with elite positions.

Tottenham Hotspur have won three on the turn, but preceded that with four consecutive league defeats. Arsenal are five points off fourth place with over half the season remaining.

It is not unthinkable that they could be part of the elite quartet when the season ends.

Yet, one day, they will miss that mark. Football’s history says that reality must catch up with a selling club eventually and that is what Arsenal have become in recent years.

An exclusive, top of the range, elite clientele, bespoke selling club, true. But a selling club nonetheless.

What they certainly do not look like is a club with anything between £40m and £70m to spend; for if they were, they wouldn’t be 10th. – Daily Mail

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