Fabregas saga threatens Arsenal's plans
The long-running Cesc Fabregas transfer saga is threatening to affect Arsenal's pursuit of the Valencia winger Juan Mata with the Spain international now likely to cost more because of a clause in his contract triggered over the weekend.
Mata is understood to have a release clause of €21m (£18.4m) in his contract that ran out at the end of July, which means that Valencia can now reject offers of that sum or more. The Spanish club are eager for Manchester City to show their hand; having expressed an interest this summer, City would be capable of pushing the price far beyond what Arsène Wenger considers sensible.
Although Arsenal's interest in the player is still strong and the deal is not over, the delay in finalising an agreement for Mata shows just how much the protracted negotiations with Barcelona are hampering Arsenal's transfer policy this summer. Tottenham Hotspur are thought to have met Mata's release fee but the player himself turned down a move there.
The negotiations are expected to develop this week with a renewed attempt from Barcelona to get Fabregas for around £35m, possibly on the back of a new schedule of payments and slightly reduced wage demands from the player himself, who is expected to ask for the eye-watering €6m net (£5.2m) that the club's top earners command.
Pep Guardiola last night confirmed Barcelona are to sell Jeffren Suarez to Sporting Lisbon for €4m, a move that was interpreted in Spain as raising funds for Fabregas's signing.
All Wenger has promised to do, as he said on Friday, is stand firm to obtain the best possible deal for his club, and that means denying Barcelona any hope they can get the player for less than Arsenal's £40m valuation. He was unequivocal again on Sunday and knows if he shows any sign of weakness, Barcelona will believe they can do a deal for less.
There is no suggestion that Fabregas will be on Friday's flight to Lisbon for the friendly with Benfica the following day and Wenger hinted on Friday that the player's unsuitability to play is as much about his state of mind as his hamstring. It is far from ideal to have the captain hanging about the place waiting to leave but Wenger seems to have accepted it as a necessary evil if he is to get his price from Barcelona.
In the meantime, however, the issue continues to dominate the agenda around Arsenal, even if those on the inside say otherwise. "I don't pay attention to it. I don't think the players in the dressing room do. It doesn't affect us," Wojciech Szczesny said after Sunday's 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls. "He is the captain. He is still the captain, and I hope he will remain at the club."
The boos from Arsenal fans that greeted the final whistle of Sunday's game were born of another missed opportunity and a summer's frustration. Since the end of the season they have sold Gaël Clichy to City for £7m and stand to lose Samir Nasri to the same club for nothing next summer, having inexplicably allowed both to go into the final year of their contracts.
If there is a lesson to be learned from this summer's events then it is that Wenger has to get Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott tied down to new deals before Christmas or risk facing the same uncertainty next year when both players are 12 months from becoming free agents. The longer they go without signing, the more they hold the advantage over the club.
While Clichy's transfer to City is perhaps not such a great blow to Wenger as it would have been two years ago, Nasri basically holds all the cards in his dealings with the club. His putative £200,000-a-week deal with City may have to wait until next summer, when he can add to that a hefty extra payment for coming as a Bosman signing, but either way he holds the whip hand.
If Arsenal are drifting out of contention for the league by December then it would be natural for Van Persie to entertain doubts about his future, especially if Fabregas goes to Barcelona this summer. The club cannot afford to have two more high-profile players sit out their contracts.
On the positive side for Arsenal, Wenger is understood to have high hopes for Ryo Miyaichi, the 18-year-old Japanese midfielder who is still waiting for his work permit. Equally Emmanuel Frimpong and Kyle Bartley, whose unfortunate own goal gave Red Bulls their equaliser, are now in the first-team reckoning judging by pre-season. There appears no immediate decision likely over moves for Mata or Everton's Phil Jagielka.
Jack Wilshere's observation that "if we had a few more faces we could really push on" shows Wenger's next generation recognise there needs to be new blood – or another indifferent season will make it even harder to keep the good players Arsenal have.