Arsenal’s transfer policy has been the subject of considerable scrutiny this season. While Wenger’s inability to spend big in the transfer market, with the Gunners’ record transfer fee at a measly £16million for Santi Cazorla, has been identified as a major factor in the club’s current malaise and overall depreciation of the first team squad, the French manager has also come under fire for letting some his key players leave and join up with divisional and continental rivals; a trend which started with Thierry Henry and Ashley Cole, and the latest case being Robin van Persie‘s £20million move to Manchester United.
Perhaps we have been too eager to criticise; Wenger’s arrogant and pompous demeanour, in addition to Arsenal’s decline has made him an easy target. The truth is, not every player whom the Frenchman has either pushed out of the club or left of their own accord has gone on to better their careers by turning their backs on the Emirates. In fact, there is a common trend regarding former Arsenal players that suggests the opposite is often true, that the grass is not greener on the other side, and perhaps staying put in hindsight would have been the better option.
The most recent example is Alex Song, whom was sold to Barcelona for £15million by Wenger last summer. No doubt, at the time, Arsenal fans were incredibly concerned that their most prominent midfielder and their talisman striker were moved on in the same transfer window for relatively miniscule amounts in the grand scheme of the transfer market, and furthermore, despite incredibly consistent performances from Mikel Arteta this season, it is clear the Gunners have missed the Cameroon international’s physical presence throughout their lukewarm Premier League campaign.
But over in La Liga, things haven’t gone so well for the midfield enforcer, despite being part of a squad that already have their hands on the domestic title, and furthermore are through to the semi-finals of the Champions League. Song has made just 15 competiti ve starts all year, and has found himself being deployed as a centre-back almost as much as in the middle of the park. It has lead to speculation that the 25 year old is desperately seeking an escape route from the Nou Camp, with a return to Arsenal being his desired preference.
Wenger has denied there is interest from his own end, but what is more important is that this is not the first case of an Arsenal player’s career to take a sour turn upon departing from the Emirates. Aleksander Hleb made the same move as Song, opting for a switch to Barcelona back in 2008.
At the time, the lack of protest on Wenger’s part seemed surprising, but with the Belarus winger turning out for the Catalans just 36 times in the space of four years, with unsuccessful spells at Stuttgart, Birmingham City and Wolfsburg in the process, hindsight has proved that the Arsenal boss made the right call in selling on a player at the same price he bought him at, getting two seasons of good performances along the way.
Hleb himself has even admitted he made a mistake, telling the Daily Mail in 2009; “I regret my move from London, but unfortunately nothing can be done about it now. For me, Wenger was like a father. I consider him one of the best managers in the world. For such a boss one wants to die on the pitch. Arsene managed to create a smashing team with a wonderful atmosphere inside of it.”
Perhaps the caste study of Alexandr Hleb is a tad extreme, considering his move to Spain appears to have been a flop of Fernando Torres-esque proportions. But even for a number of Wenger’s sales whom at the time were considered an abomination, it is a similar story. Emmanuel Adebayor has cemented his reputation at Manchester City and now Tottenham as player who quite simply isn’t worth the hassle; the Togo international brings one season of exceptional performances and a flurry of goals, followed by a period of unacceptable form, selfish behaviour and a distinct lack of loyalty. Furthermore, Samir Nasri may have lifted a Premier League title since his £25million move to City in 2011, but the French midfielder has now become the Citizens supporters’ favourite boo-boy, and he is expected to be shafted by Roberto Mancini in the summer.
The 60 plus trophies won by former Arsenal players in the same time period since the Gunners last lifted silver wear eight years ago has been well documented, with all the mainstream newspapers providing various trendy diagrams and charts in a bid to show the flaws of Wenger’s transfer policy – furthermore, it is startling that when searching ‘trophies w’ on Google, the immediate search result is ‘trophies won by ex-arsenal players’. But looking closer at the details, and it appears the story is almost entirely hyperbole.
Hleb’s apparent five accolades since his departure include a La Liga title, Copa Del Rey and Champions League trophy in which he played a cameo role in attaining, in addition to a League Cup win with Birmingham, despite only playing in one League Cup fixture and totalling just 20 appearances in total during his loan spell at St. Andrews, and a Belarusian Premier League title with Bate Borisov.
Similarly, Anthony Stokes’ SPL and Scottish Cup successes are hardly worth mentioning, and likewise concerning Emmanuel Eboue’s Turkish Super Lig and Super Kupa silverware Gilberto Silva’s achievements in Greek football, or Eduardo’s five Ukrainian League and Cup wins, whilst Jermaine Pennant’s lifting of the Community Shield shouldn’t be even considered as a legitimate trophy.
However, there are some calls that Wenger has got wrong. Whilst the Gunners have never really missed the presence of the likes of Jose Antonio Reyes, Sebastian Larrson, Eduardo, Emmanuel Eboue or even Lassana Diarra, letting Patrick Viera go aged just 29 proved to be a mistake, as did the sale of Ashley Cole and Kolo Toure – the club’s last two top quality defenders.
But whether you argue that it is the players’ comeuppance for their lack of loyalty, or if you think Wenger should have tried harder to keep his players at the club by offering them more competitive wages, there is an underlying concern that must be troubling Gunners fans. The fact remains that the general perspective from footballers, agents, and other teams is that Arsenal has become a selling club.
Alex Song is just one of a long list of players from the club’s recent history that have made a name for themselves in North London, only to move on when another major European power comes calling. Just as important as it is for Wenger to bring in some fresh blood in the summer to lift the quality of the first team, the Gunners boss must do more to keep his stars at the Emirates. They may go on to regret their departures, but there is no doubt that the transfers of Alex Song, Alexandr Hleb, Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor to name a few, have hurt the club in the long term, as much as it has hurt the players as individuals.