The Arsenal midfield gets busy without Fabregas
Juan Mata is now a Chelsea target. Jadson disappeared down a black hole. Eden Hazard is the choice of the chattering class but there is no traction in the circles who make these things happen. Meanwhile, Nasri is on the cusp of leaving for City which further weakens the midfield.
The Udinese match was the first serious test of a post Fabregas era and the midfield came out looking at best competent. At its worst it was a pushover for lengthy periods of time. Certainly adjectives like “attacking” and “flowing” aren’t exactly what came to mind. Udinese’s ability to switch from defense to attack in 0-60 was in direct contrast to Arsenal’s approach which was one gear, ponderous, and lacking in ideas. A more brutal summation would be one minute of magic, 90 minutes of trying to keep the ball out of goal. The heroics were provided by the defense in a positive turnaround for a much maligned group.
Jack Wilshere’s return will no doubt be a boost but at this stage of development he is nowhere near the quality of Fabregas. The conventional wisdom accepts that Wenger has no choice but to find a suitable replacement and with Nasri leaving this becomes an imperative. But what makes one believe that this thinking resonates with him?
Wenger after the Newcastle match was asked that question and his answer was a reiteration of past statements.
“What I want to say is we are not frightened to spend money but we have to be convinced that the player is better than what we have. Just spending money is not a target that is defendable.”
His concept of “better” has proven rather contrarian. Everyone acknowledges Sergio Aguero could be the best thing in the EPL this season and in the years to come. His debut was equally convincing. Wenger might not see it that way because £35m is not exactly an investment in his book. He can point to Fabregas as a countervail to that argument. His tutelage of a virtual unknown developed a peer in today’s game. There is enough inhouse talent in Wilshere or Benik Afobe to follow through on that success while it achieves the practical goal of home grown representation.
There is further evidence that he does not expect to be active in the transfer market because he expects present squad members to step up. The quality of opposition gives him a glimmer of hope the present configuration might not require any major tinkering.
“We focus on the players we have and we believe we have enough strength. I saw all the games over the weekend and I don’t see why we should be suddenly afraid of anybody in England.”
Wenger is also working hard to redefine success. If twenty years of finishing fourth was what he would take raised the inevitable “No, he didn’t just say that” reaction, there it was again in the more fleshed out “We have built a team and a stadium in such a short space of time, we have a strong financial situation and we always survive at the top level.”
There is this great desire on Wenger’s part to level the playing field. Strip aside those highly moneyed players and the grim levels of unsustainable debt and one gets a clearer picture of who comes out ahead. At this point he’s wearing two hats coaching Arsenal while he transforms himself into the saviour of the game. Why doesn’t he just resign and join UEFA as Platini’s trusted lieutenant? The answer maybe his belief that he’s more effective as a reformist while in the trenches. UEFA cannot ask for a more effective pugilist to counteract criticisms of operating from an academic ivory tower and Wenger has shown no signs of pulling back on the punches.
It’s a great frustration on Wenger’s part that fans love the accessories more while spurning the “love me for who I am” spartan mantra that he’s putting out regularly. There are so many questions he raises, the most existential one, “Who exactly is a fan?” He seems to be willing to impose his will which sets him up for a clash with the board if they start complaining of the bottomline. Don’t underestimate the financial clout of the bandwagon jumpers. They’re the ones buying the luxury boxes and the pies.
This is not an endorsement of his views as much as it reflects an attempt at understanding where he seems to come from in his reluctance to replace Fabregas. Wenger is trying to immunize himself after losing his best players by creating an alternate reality. The fallout is on view in the two matches so far. Arsenal is in grave danger of bowdlerizing its attacking and free flowing style into night of the living dead zombie football.