Signs that Wenger's sums may not add up

"Arsene Knows". The banner declaring this simple tenet has been part of the decor at Highbury, then the Emirates Stadium, for the best part of a decade. Now, though, the question is being pondered: Does he? The departure of Mathieu Flamini, the possibility that Alexander Hleb will follow him and the refusal to countenance serious spending on a par with the rest of the "Big Four" has left Arsenal fans feeling like heretics. What if "Le Professeur" has got his calculations wrong?

Wenger yesterday admitted the club, which implicitly means himself since the departure of vice-chairman David Dein last year, got it wrong with Flamini, who has joined Milan with a reported £4m signing-on fee. The Arsenal manager refused to break his wage cap for the midfielder, who is believed to have turned down £55,000-a-week to remain in London.

The salaries offered by other clubs are, Wenger conceded to a forum for Arsenal shareholders, "a problem". He added: "We did not master this situation. I am disappointed that he [left] but legally he can do it. When a player is out of contract he can sign where he wants."

Leaving aside the fact that this criticism is a bit rich coming from the man who lured Flamini away from Marseilles four year ago without paying a fee, it does not, on the surface, reflect well on Arsenal's player-management. Manchester United make it a policy to secure players 18 months in advance of their contract expiring. So, however, do Arsenal – for under 30-year-olds, at least. Cesc Fabregas, for instance, has been signed up until 2012.

The reason Flamini's contract was left to run down is that he did not, a year ago, seem a crucial part of the team. Indeed, he was told last summer he could leave. He stayed because Birmingham City were the only club to come in for him. Then Gilberto Silva's delayed start to the Premier League season following the Copa America gave Flamini a chance in the first team and he shone.

By the time his worth was obvious, it was too late, other clubs were interested, ones with a more flexible wage policy than Arsenal. Wenger has said the Gunners must respect their tight wage structure or "go bust" and certainly no player at the club earns anything remotely close to the six-figure weekly salaries of Michael Ballack, Andrei Shevchenko, Frank Lampard and John Terry at Chelsea.

Now Hleb is being lined up by Internazionale, and Real Madrid are again casting covetous glances at Fabregas. The Spaniard is expected to stay, for the time being, but Hleb, being 27, is tempted. It has been suggested the Belarusian could invoke the Fifa rule which allows players to leave a club after three years of a long-term contract, provided they do not move to a club in the same country. Wenger claimed to be unconcerned. "What people say about the buy-out clause, it is not as simple as it looks," he said. "It is much more difficult and the [buying] clubs are reluctant to do that. We want to keep Hleb, we want him to be part of our team next year. It is as simple as that. We have lost one player, we do not want to lose more."

They already have. Jens Lehmann has been allowed to leave and Gilberto and Philippe Senderos have been linked with transfers. Wenger, having said his ambition for the summer was to keep his squad together and add one, now two, players, could be facing something of a rebuilding job.

He will not, however, splash the cash. This may be because there is not as much of it available as was first claimed. The "war chest" could be up to £50m, or maybe just £10m. No one at Arsenal seems sure. Even were it the latter, however, Wenger is more likely to give Denilson, Nicklas Bendtner and other youngsters a chance than challenge Liverpool for Gareth Barry's signature.

They, and he, will be given the time. Although, as Jose Mourinho is fond of pointing out, few other managers of clubs of Arsenal's stature would be permitted three trophyless seasons, Wenger is granted extra leeway because of the elegant brilliance of the football his team plays. Only Manchester United, who can spend £17m on a promising squad player like Nani, have been able to produce winning, attractive, football. Wenger's Arsenal can currently manage only the second part of the equation. Even so, few expected them to lead the League as long as they did this season; what might be expected next season, when the colts are a year older?

Wenger, as usual, expects a lot. He said: "I hope that 95 per cent of the team, the core of the team, says 'come on, we have only just lost'. We were close this year, but we did not win and what I expect from my team is that, if you are a winner, you say 'let's come back next year and win'. If our players are not capable of doing that and just want to walk out for bigger contracts, for me, that would be the biggest disappointment."

Do they fit the bill, Arsène? Two players who may interest Arsenal

'The big defender'

At 19, Micah Richards is one of the best young players in the Premier League and an Arsenal fan. He has also recently signed a long-term contract at Manchester City.

'The creative player'

Portsmouth's Croatian Niko Kranjcar would seem to be Wenger's type of player: skilful, clever, mobile and, at 23, with his best years still in front of him.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried