Arsene Wenger yesterday said he was confident Cesc Fabregas would stay at Arsenal for "a few more years", but in almost the same breath admitted the Wayne Rooney situation showed how fragile clubs are, and how football was "exposed" by its contract regulations.
Wenger was speaking at the club's annual general meeting at the Emirates Stadium, where he told shareholders who questioned him, notably about the club's goalkeeping position, to "trust me". The meeting also heard a rousing speech by the chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, who declared, "The game is increasingly looking to Arsenal as the model of what a football club should be." Arsenal, he said, "do not have to rely on anyone else for our future. There is no outside investment. We have earned our independence. Shareholders do not take a dividend, allowing us to invest everything into the club. We are well-placed to compete at the highest level as Uefa's Fair Play rules take effect."
It is by convincing him Arsenal can be in contention for the top prizes, in the short- and medium-term, that Wenger hopes he can keep Fabregas at the club. The manager said, to loud cheers, "I convinced him to stay at this club [in the summer]. He deeply loves the club. If he did not he would have gone. Barcelona is an attraction as he is from there but I believe he wants to win things at this club. I am confident we will keep him for a few more years."
Wenger's recollection does not entirely square with that recently revealed by Fabregas, who intimated he did want to go back to Catalonia, but it was "impossible". Xavi's on-going Achilles injury only increases the likelihood that Barcelona will be back for Fabregas next season having bid €35m this summer. However, Fabregas is under contract to 2014, two years longer than Rooney, which is the crucial difference.
Wenger explained: "The [Rooney] case shows how fragile is the position of every club at the moment with player contracts. The system is exposed by this case. Always, when a player signs for four years, you have to extend it after two or he can leave for nothing. This is inflationary because a player never extends for less money, always more. Clubs are fragile everywhere. Players want their needs to be met."
Wenger added that one of those needs was winning trophies, an area in which Arsenal have signally failed to deliver in the last five years. That, he insisted, would change. In a departure from recent seasons he intimated the Carling Cup was a serious target and said he would be fielding a strong team in the fourth round at Newcastle United on Wednesday.
He added: "I see a real opportunity to have great achievements this season – we have the sprit, talent, hunger and desire. I do not say there are no weaknesses, we are conscious of that, but we work very hard."
The general mood of the floor was that goalkeeping, and defending, was the weakness. Wenger said he was aware that the team were less secure and had considered playing two holding midfielders but "if you restrict players you limit their talent. If we do not attack you will soon say you are bored, that you spend a lot of money and want to be entertained. I believe at a big club the philosophy should be to win, and to win with style. You cannot survive a long time with a negative philosophy". In Madrid the ears of Jose Mourinho, who has never stayed in a job for more than three years, may have been burning.
Wenger refused to speak about individual positions, but it was in response to a question about buying a goalkeeper that he said, on transfer policy: "It is impossible to talk about who I may have tried to buy in a specific position. It basically says to a player, 'you are not good enough.'
"I believe we have done well in the transfer market with Sébastien Squillaci, Laurent Koscielny and Marouane Chamakh. We have a special way of playing and a player we have educated integrates more quickly, but we have resources to bring in a player or two in January if needed." The chairman, Denis Hill-Wood, confirmed cash was available but added, "We are not silly, we're not paying £50m for a player."
Wenger, who recently signed a contract extension to 2014, added: "Trust me. This is the club of my heart, the club of my life. As long as I can contribute to this club being successful I will do it." Exit, stage left, to applause.Reuse content