Wenger has historically shown himself to be a man who caves in. A man who blinks first. Arsenal tickets are one of the most popular in the country which highlights their reputation as one of England's biggest clubs, but why is it they they struggle to keep hold of their star assets when the club needs them most. We take a look at the same story that has blighted the Gunners in the transfer market, a demon which they seem unable to shake off.
Alexis Sanchez joined the long list of casualties to be reluctantly jettisoned from the Emirates Stadium as the merry-go-round of world-class talent continues to head for a early exit to seek pastures new to one of their rivals in the Premier League. It has become a sorry sight in recent season’s which Arsenal fans have become accustomed to and continually become disgruntled as the club look to rebuild once more. We have seen it with Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Ashley Cole to name a few, all of whom become disgruntled and allowed to leave for a rival club.
Alisher Usmanov, Arsenal shareholder told L’Equipe in 2013: "The greatest achievement of Arsène Wenger is to have created two teams: the one that now plays for our rivals and the one that is trying to be among the best in the Premier League." Is he right? Are Arsenal a selling club?
Lets not forget we are talking about a club who have won a record 13 FA Cups, three of which have been in the last five years. Thirteen League titles and two League Cups with a chance of making it three next month in the Carabao Cup Final - A chance to add to the illustrious history which has culminated in 45 honours and counting. However, the UEFA Champions League has eluded them in recent history, the one which so many want to win and with no league success since 2003/04 you can see why players are wanting to move on.
It has been a case of deja-vu for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. Five years ago, Samir Nasri found himself in a similar position to that of Sanchez and Ozil with his contract running out with interest from other clubs high. Nasri went on to sign for Manchester City that summer in a £24 million deal.
Wenger reluctantly cashed in given the midfielder would have been a free agent the following season. Nasri claimed Arsenal lacked ambition and justified his move by winning the Premier League title in his debut season at the Etihad. Nasri enjoyed his moment and later bragged: "I hope they are watching me now collecting my winner's medal. I believe they have not won a trophy for many years now. I now hope the Arsenal fans can get on with their lives and forget me, they should celebrate their third-place achievement and I will focus on winning titles."
Arsenal fans might have been able to stomach Sanchez leaving for Manchester City. Afterall, Pep Guardiola’s side are in a league of their own running away with the title with something of a English domination under the Spaniard close on the horizon. History is threatening to repeat itself once more with Arsenal as it has done so often in the past. The prospect of losing Sanchez to Manchester United however is another damning slap in the face for Wenger as he prepares to lose his star player to a team competing against them in the top four race.
The same applied to Robin Van Persie in March 2012. Wenger was just as forthright about another contract rebel in the shape of their Dutch superstar, Van Persie. The Gunners’ boss heartened Arsenal fans by insisting his star striker, who had had a year and a bit left on his lucrative contract, would not be leaving amid interest from Manchester United. In July of that year Van Persie made it clear that he would not be signing a new deal and a month later he ended up at Old Trafford.
The Dutchman made it clear he wanted to leave club in summer because of their lack of ambition and completed his £24m switch to United, bringing an end to his eight-year spell at Arsenal with just two FA Cup winners medals to his name. The fact was, however, Wenger’s tough talking meant nothing. He’s soft in the market. His players get their heads turned far to easily and we can guarantee that Sanchez will not be the last.
A certain Mesut Ozil could be next in the firing line. The trouble is, the power remains with the players with absurd contracts and wages enough to turn anyone’s head. Whether it is the money motivation or simply what they perceive as their best chance of silverware, loyalty plays no role in the dog-eat-dog world of Premier League football which often incenses fans who stick with their club through thick and thin.
Arsenal are in severe danger of being left behind eating the dust of those left by the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and even Tottenham. The warning signs were there last season when they missed out on Champions League football, the first time Wenger has failed to nail a top four finish. They appear to have a similar battle this term which will be made all the more harder without Sanchez. The harsh reality though is that no amount of individual brilliance could mask Arsenal's shortcomings elsewhere. Last season, Wenger's side did not finish within ten points of the Premier League champions during Sanchez's time at the club. They did not go beyond the last sixteen of the Champions League either. A similar notion could be reflected with Liverpool and Philippe Coutinho, but the simple idea that Liverpool would sell to a rival Premier League club would cause ructions. Simply unthinkable.
Yet at Arsenal it is a common occurrence, which only makes Wenger’s job that much tougher with a majority of fans. In hindsight, Sanchez's stay at the Emirates will go down as a wasted opportunity for a great club. A case of what might have been. Sanchez was a stellar signing and so too was Mesut Ozil, but Arsenal have failed to build a squad to match. Arsenal become more and more dependent on the fantastic Chilean, who in turn cut an increasingly exasperated figure in North London. The Gunners are going stale under Wenger and they need a fresh face at the top to help turn it around. The Frenchman is almost too aloof to walk away from his post but despite over two decades of service, he threatens to damage the club in the long term if he does not walk away in the summer. Some may go as far as saying that Arsenal are losing their so called ‘pulling power’ in the transfer market with Wenger at the helm.
The reality is that Arsenal cannot attract that sort of calibre player of their rivals anymore . Any player good enough to shine in the Premier League will join Manchester City or Liverpool for the lure of their managers, Manchester United for their trophies and history, or Tottenham for the chance to join an exciting project with hungry, young players. Arsenal offer nothing at this moment and find themselves going around in the same circles each and every season.
Gael Clichy was another fantastic servant to Arsenal but was left to run his contract down and later joined Manchester City on a free transfer. He won the Premier League once more in his first season under Roberto Mancini at the Etihad Stadium.
French defender William Gallas became public enemy number one with Arsenal fans when he switched allegiances and joined Spurs in 2010. Gallas said: "In the street, Arsenal’s fans asked me why I left. The coach thought I was a finished player. I proved he was wrong."
Likewise, Kolo Toure will always be well regarded among the Arsenal faithful but he also left to join Manchester City for £14m in 2009 to win trophies again after seeing the well run dry at the Emirates after seven years with the club. He said: "I am at City because this football club wants to be on the top and, if you want to get to the top, then you need to have players who are capable of getting you there. The only thing you can bring players in with is money or, if you are like Arsenal, you wait for your youngsters to come in, but that can take a while."
The list goes on. Bacary Sagna also wapped the red of Arsenal for the blue of Manchester City, as did Emmanuel Adebayor after he sulked for a season before finally getting his wish and joined City for £25m in 2009.
If we go further back, Ashley Cole left for Chelsea in 2006 in a £5m-plus-William Gallas swap deal after turning down a contract worth £55k a week. He went on to win eight trophies with the west London club in a trophy laden spell, including two Premier League titles and the Champions League trophy. He asserted his reputation as one of the best left-backs in world football and beamed: "Now no one can say anything to me. This is the reason I came here."
Over a decade on from Cole’s transfer and not much seems to have changed for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. This month could be make or break for the Wenger reign with a tough run of fixtures to coincide with a transfer window which requires big-name reinforcements. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has arrived as part of the Sanchez deal, but filling the Sanchez-shaped hole in the team could be a task harder said than done. Things could get worse before they get better for Arsenal with the future of Wenger sure to face more testing times in the near future.