Belfast Telegraph

Sam Wallace: Who will force Arsene Wenger to splash Arsenal's cash?

At another press conference today, Arsène Wenger will attempt to convince a sceptical world that whatever fears they hold for Arsenal's future are unfounded and that, with faith and a strong nerve, better times are just around the corner.

He will do so against the backdrop of Cesc Fabregas's impending arrival in Barcelona, Samir Nasri's departure to Manchester City and the looming danger of facing Udinese in the Champions League play-off first leg tomorrow without a suspended Robin van Persie and an injured Jack Wilshere. Like the troubled prelate he so often resembles, Wenger is facing the ultimate test of his beliefs, although he shows no signs of buckling.

It is easy to mock Wenger in these trying times for Arsenal. Easy to forget that he has discovered and developed young talent that has gone on to conquer the greatest heights in world football and kept his club solvent and competitive while they have moved to a new stadium that has secured their long-term future in a volatile game. Not even his biggest critics at Arsenal can want this to end badly.

Yesterday, Joey Barton's intervention in the narrative of English football saved Wenger from the increasingly intensive examination of his team's credentials but it will start again this week, especially if they stumble tomorrow against Udinese at the Emirates. In that exquisitely defiant response to his inquisitors on Friday, Wenger fell back to an old defence that his team have qualified for theChampions League every year since 1997. Should he lose that record over the next nine days,the climate will be even morehostile.

The next two weeks are the final chance for Wenger to strengthen his squad until January. Someone at the club needs to take a deep breath, knock on Wenger's office door and tell him that if he has to pay over and above his valuation of Phil Jagielka or Gary Cahill, or resurrect a deal for Juan Mata, then really Arsène, that is OK. The consequences of saving a few million here and failing to reinforce the team could turn out to be a very false economy.

Next summer, Arsenal could find themselves with Van Persie, Theo Walcott, Alex Song and Andrei Arshavin all with one year left on their contracts. That is the Nasri situation four times over, and next year Arsenal may not have the luxury of City's readiness to pay so much for a player with one year left on his contract. It goes without saying that if any one of those four looks to be running down his deal with a view to afree transfer then some toughdecisions will have to be made in January.

It is the nature of all successful managers that the longer they go on at a club, the fewer people there are who are prepared to challenge them or to take the pressure off their shoulders. This summer at Arsenal is the first time since Wenger took the Arsenal job in 1996 that one of either David Dein or the late Danny Fiszman have not been on the board. Clearly Wenger's recalcitrance in terms of transfers pre-dates Fiszman's death in April but the point holds: is there anyone at the club who is in a position to give Wenger a robust opinion?

The obvious choice would be Stan Kroenke, the majority shareholder, who has been named in some quarters as the driving force behind the decision to sell Nasri now to City for the generous £20m-plus rather than take the financially catastrophic approach of hanging on to him for another season and losing him for nothing.

Otherwise Kroenke looks decidedly hands-off. Given that Wenger was in on the appointment process for the club's chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, it begs the question whether he has anything like the seniority required to make that call.

The next two weeks are crucial. Last summer, Wenger was close to signing Pepe Reina from Liverpool but baulked at the price. Likewise he has had chances in the past to sign Xabi Alonso. He could have got Chris Samba in January when it was obvious that Thomas Vermaelen was badly injured and Arsenal were alive in all fourcompetitions. The common theme is that there does not seem to be anyone in the background to allay his reservations about finances and chivvy him into doing thedeal.

The curiosity is that there are occasions when Wenger is prepared to out-spend his rivals, most notably the £12m signing of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Manchester United were asked to be kept informed of negotiations around the 17-year-old but eventually decided the price was too high for a teenager with only League One experience. Had he been a 24-year-old with Champions League experience, it would not be hard to guess which club would have paid more.

Even the great managers require managing themselves. Sir Alex Ferguson has had his differences with the United board, most notably in the pre-Glazer years when he was told, in 2004, that his son Jason had to restrict some of his dealings with the club. It did not prove fatal for the relationship. Seven years on, both United and their manager are still going strong.

There is much about Wenger to admire, and his legacy in English football is not in question. But he also needs to know that he does not have to bear all the club's financial concerns alone and that a little more freedom with Arsenal's cash reserves this month would not represent a betrayal of the values he holds. Indeed, if it guarantees a place in the Champions League then it will have been money well spent.

Finding the right words to tell him to relax and part with the money – that is the hard bit.

Rugby is the gentleman's game? Come off it, my Lord

Astonishing stuff on Saturday from Lord Digby Jones, late of the CBI, who sought to wag his finger at football in a newspaper column and tell us that the game could learn from rugby union, where all the chaps involved are polite to the referee, play hard for a fraction of the wages in football and jolly well shake hands at the end of the game.

His Lordship has backed some duds in the past (see his defence of the NatWest Three, who later pleaded guilty) but this one is a real corker. For instance, it is rather rich that someone who has a directorship with Barclays Capital would, as Jones did, seek to draw attention to the disparity in earnings between players in the two sports.

Jones also happens to be on the board at Leicester, the club for whom Manu Tuilagi plays. That's the same Tuilagi brother who almost knocked Chris Ashton's head off last season with three brutal punches. Strangely enough, there is no mention of that, or other rugby "issues", such as the Harlequins bloodgate scandal, from Jones.

Joey proves his own worst enemy again

As Joey Barton's guru Friedrich Nietzsche would no doubt repeat were he around today: "In times of peace, the warlike man attacks himself." When Barton lunged for Gervinho on Saturday and then subsequently threw himself to the ground after the Arsenal striker's weak slap, you had to wonder at Barton's ability to turn a good situation into bad.

There are many of us who would like nothing more than for the man who once described himself as "a complete bell-end at times" to prove that he had become football's ultimate story of redemption. If we are really serious about rehabilitating people, rather than simply punishing them, then that has to be a good thing.

The problem with Barton, now 28, is that for those who hope he can break the cycle the player himself just keeps falling into the same traps.

Belfast Telegraph


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