It is three years to the month that Arsène Wenger pulled off his last notable transfer coup when he persuaded Aaron Ramsey to choose Arsenal over Manchester United when it had looked like the then 17-year-old was a cert for Old Trafford. Ramsey was invited to fly out to Switzerland to meet Wenger who was then working as a pundit covering the France team at Euro 2008.
Ferguson had relied upon his assistant Mike Phelan to sell Old Trafford to Ramsey who was also sent on a stadium tour open to members of the public, which was not quite the gold-plated reception that a nervous teenager anxious to meet his prospective famous manager had hoped for. He met Wenger, got his assurances in person and agreed to sign for Arsenal there and then.
Three years on and Ferguson is not taking any chances this time. The transfers of Phil Jones, the 19-year-old from Blackburn Rovers, and Ashley Young, the emerging star of the England team, now on his way from Aston Villa, have both been negotiated by United within 17 days of the end of the season. It is widely regarded as Liverpool who have lost out in both deals but where were Arsenal?
Arsenal met with Jones but failed to convince him, just as they did with Chris Smalling before he joined United 18 months' earlier. Jordan Henderson has gone to Liverpool. Signing the best young players – the likes of Theo Walcott and Ramsey – was once Arsenal's answer to their big-spending rivals, but now everyone else is doing that, what exactly is the policy that they intend to pursue?
As is his custom, Wenger was watching France play Poland in Warsaw last night, although not as a co-commentator on French television, and is to go on holiday today. The club's head of youth development, Liam Brady, promised yesterday that the club would be active in the transfer market this summer and it is not implausible that Wenger might be about to pull a stroke that will fire the imagination at the Emirates.
But as ever yesterday, it was more about who will go. The perennial Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona story is spinning again. The Spanish newspapers are already anticipating that Fabregas will spend his summer in Ibiza with Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. "He [Fabregas] is a great player and he's a player for Barcelona because he already knows the language we speak on the pitch," Pique said yesterday. "He is a great friend of mine and of course I want him to end up wearing the Barcelona shirt."
We have heard it all before but if Barcelona offered £45m-£50m Arsenal would let him go. They are working on the basis that if Darren Bent is worth £24m then an offer of, say, £30m for Fabregas would simply not be entertained. Wenger is opposed to deals that involve players coming in the other direction – to the extent that even if he wanted a Barcelona player he would do that transaction separately to any deal for Fabregas. It is about making the player joining Arsenal feel that he is not a simple footnote to a transfer, but a valued individual himself.
Wenger has sold his last two star-name captains at just the right time and, while Fabregas is still young at 24, injuries have meant that last season he was eclipsed by Jack Wilshere. The 19-year-old Englishman is ready to be the new stellar presence in the side and the club obviously think so, too. You can see that by the prominence he is afforded in all their marketing for next season.
The real scandal at Arsenal, however, is how Samir Nasri and Gaël Clichy have been allowed to drift into the last year of their contracts without anyone at the Emirates being able to shore up two of the most valuable assets in the squad.
This newspaper's revelations that representatives connected to Nasri have already made contact with United show just how close Arsenal now are to losing the player. Whether they sell him this summer at a reduced price or lose him for nothing in 12 months' time, it is an unsatisfactory scenario either way. In the event of a major offer for Nasri failing to materialise, Wenger is understood to be in favour of keeping the player in the hope that he will sign a new deal next season. It sounds like wishful thinking.
Had Nasri been a United or Tottenham player the club would have offered him the stark choice last summer of either signing a new deal or being sold immediately. Somehow, Arsenal took their eye off the ball and they have now surely lost him for good. Nasri was close to signing before the first leg of the last-16 Champions League knockout round tie against Barcelona in February. The deal was all but agreed between the club and his agent but at the last minute Nasri decided to hold off and Arsenal have been unable to bring him back to the table since then.
As for Clichy, the consensus is that he can go, with Liverpool the key English club interested and failing that, an offer from Italy is expected. The player will not give the club another season – he wants to go now – so they will sell him providing they get the valuation they want of around £7m to £8m.
As with most professional footballers, the money on offer is important. But the growing anxiety among the likes of Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Nasri and Walcott – who is entering the last two years of his deal – is whether they will ever be in a position to win something with Arsenal. And when that anxiety is heightened by the departure of high-profile team-mates, it stirs up even more unease.
The signing of 19-year-old Carl Jenkinson from Charlton Athletic for around £1m in compensation is intriguing but not quite the deal that might kickstart a summer of optimism. The likes of Mamadou Sakho (Paris St-Germain), Eden Hazard and Gervinho (both Lille) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Southampton) remain possibilities. At least, unlike Chelsea, Arsenal have a manager in place to make the big strategic decisions but they have made a slow start to the summer and after last season that is not something that they can afford.Reuse content