Now Nasri might stay to help fight

 

Emirates Stadum

A week after Manchester City expected to complete the signing of Samir Nasri, the Frenchman remains an Arsenal player with the prospect of him staying on rising by the day. Midway though this match, Canal+ reported that negotiations between his representatives and City's had broken down. Afterwards, Arsène Wenger was asked if this was the case.

"I don't know," replied the Arsenal manager. Wenger added: "I have already said I try to keep Nasri and I have never changed my mind. He loves the club and he wants to stay here. If we decided to sell him, we would have to live with that."

That may have been a coded message upstairs, for the decision to permit Nasri to negotiate with City is understood to have been taken by a board reluctant to turn down £23m for a player who is out of contract in June. That makes financial logic, but not, with the departure of Cesc Fabregas, football sense. Nasri may not be the roll-up-your-sleeves type of leader Arsenal need but, with his quick thinking and fast feet, he could fill the cavernous hole Fabregas has left in attacking central midfield.

One astute observer wrote yesterday that Fabregas has been the best midfielder in the Premier League's 20 seasons, that he played chess against opponents who played draughts. Nasri is not in that class, but a player who was once heralded as the "new Zidane" in his native land must surely be tempted by the prospect of playing the No 10 role for Arsenal this season. With Manchester City's attacking riches, that role may not be available at Eastlands. Nasri is understood to have told close friends that he does not want to move to City despite the offer of a salary of around a quarter of a million pounds a week.

Yesterday, Nasri was given reasons both to stay and leave. Arsenal's support had criticised him at Newcastle last week but yesterday they got behind him. At the end, having booed the result, they and Nasri exchanged applause.

Any warm glow Nasri may experience from this is likely to be overwhelmed by the cold reality that, if he stays at Arsenal, it could be a year of marking time as his contract runs down. Talk of Arsenal being in crisis is hyperbolic. Around 85 other League clubs would readily swap positions. The club is on a sound financial footing with an astute manager and a flourishing youth system. However, it does appear to be in a state of flux with a squad that lacks depth and leadership.

By the end of the month, the height of ambition could be the Europa League.

When the teams were announced, Nasri's name drew a mix of boos and cheers, but by the fourth minute he was warmly applauded as he went to take a corner. He was later clapped even when a long pass failed to reach Robin van Persie. Then, nine minutes before the break, his name was sung after he collected the ball in own half, drove past Lucas Leiva and Daniel Agger, then shot just wide. In the second period, as Liverpool's control grew, he was less prominent and, like his team-mates, his head appeared to go down after Liverpool took the lead. Twice he let Raul Meireles run off him and the second time was crucial as the Portuguese squared for Luis Suarez to seal Liverpool's win.

The question now is whether, if Nasri is still at Arsenal, Wenger will pick him at Udinese. With their Champions' League prospects perilously placed, Arsenal need him, but it will render him ineligible for anyone else in Europe and slash his value. Wenger said: "I picked him today, which surprised everyone. I don't know if I will pick him on Wednesday."

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