Half of Arsenal dressing room wanted to leave, says Wenger
Arsene Wenger has claimed "half the dressing room wanted to leave" Arsenal this summer and the hangover could be behind their poor start to the season.
Sunday's 2-1 win over Sunderland lifted Arsenal back into the top half of the table, but the Gunners are 12 points off the pace at the top of the table already and face a fight to reach the top four.
Their early season struggles were highlighted by the shocking 8-2 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford, coming on the back of a summer that saw key midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri sold despite Wenger's insistence he wanted them to stay.
"It was a very difficult summer because half the dressing room wanted to leave," Wenger said in comments made on French radio station RTL and reported by the Guardian. "You're preparing for a season where you don't know who's going to come in, the players who are staying are asking themselves what's going on at the club, you've got a pre-season tour of Asia.
"It was extraordinarily difficult. What saved us is that we're a club that are extremely solid and united. Other clubs would surely have gone to pieces in those circumstances.
"What people forget is that we lost three key players because we've also lost [Jack] Wilshere. Three who were important in our midfield. Nasri, Fabregas and Wilshere have all been lost and they were the basis of our midfield last season.
"We've had to reconstruct our midfield entirely because Wilshere won't be back until January. Still, we've disappointed this season so far, given what's expected of us, but I think we're on the up again. The problem is you can only climb the table slowly. We're not too far away in terms of points from fourth place. We're too far away from the top two."
Wenger admitted that simple economics meant that players wanted to leave Arsenal because there was more money on offer elsewhere.
"It's not that [players have to leave to win titles]," he said. "The problem isn't that. Frankly, if you compare what Manchester City have won in the past and what Arsenal have won, then you don't go to Manchester City to win titles. Players go to Manchester City because they pay much better than Arsenal.
"They are a force clearly, because they have exceptional financial clout, so it's not surprising what they've done."
Now the Frenchman is facing questions over the long-term future of Fabregas' replacement as captain, Robin van Persie, who insists he is committed to the club but is yet to agree a new deal with 18 months left on his existing contract.
"For me being professional means that right up until the last day you are at a club you give 100 per cent to that club," added Wenger.
"I'm not asking myself whether Van Persie is going to extend his contract in 18 months' time. For me what is important is that he plays well for us (against Marseille) on Wednesday. After that the next match. That's how I think.
"He's scored 28 goals in 34 games, so they're exceptional statistics. He's got a contract for another 18 months and he's a man who is attached to our club. I'm not especially thinking about losing him."