Reflections on Milan and Wenger Addresses “Cesc-gate”

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So, just a few thoughts on the Milan match…

Nasri continues to shine in the middle of the park. So far this summer we’ve seen him create and score goals, play high and deep, and generally show consistent creativity. He looks a much different, much better player than when he arrived two summers ago. At the moment, if there need be such a thing, he looks every bit the heir-apparent to Cesc.

Koscielny put in the most reassuring performance of the day. He showed intelligence with good positioning and timing, something necessary to overcome his sleight frame. I still don’t know if he’s first XI material right now, but he seems able to do at least do a job for us.

Also, I just don’t understand how some people have said Vela should be sold. Ever since his introduction in the Carling Cup, it’s been obvious, to me at least, that Vela has as much potential as any other young player at the club. In fact, with a full La Liga season wide left, he’s probably more developed than our other young players. He’s always a threat when he’s on the ball and he is a player who can create goals and make something out of nothing as we saw in his move today.

I also have to single out Wilshere and Frimpong. I could say the same thing about Wilshere’s performances this summer as Nasri’s. Arsene said in the press conference afterward that Wilshere stands to play some games this season. Frimpong was maybe the victim of overzealous officiating but showed he has the motor and tried to show he has the aggressiveness to be a suitable backup for Song.

Finaly, in what has been our most extended look at Chamakh, I have to say I was impressed. He seems more a fit with the side than I had previously thought. His drag-back, back heel  to Arshavin was brilliant and his goal was extremely well-taken.

All in all, I think we put on a good display for the first 75 minutes. After that, subs changed around the formation, finding Djourou at defensive midfield, and Milan finally put together some real pressure. The defending on the free-kick is less upsetting than familiar, which makes it downright disturbing.  Still, for me, there was more to be positive about on the pitch than negative.

In the press conference following the match, Arsene once again was forced to address questions about “Cesc-gate.” In what were his most forceful statements yet, Arsene said that only Cesc could clear the air and stop the inquest upon his return on Thursday. He then said that Barca had “given up for some time.”

That statement makes me wonder whether he means that they had given up some time ago or for some time. The latter doesn’t seem too unlikely considering Wenger keeps speaking about the five years Cesc has remaining on his contract. When asked if he believed Barcelona “had a case to answer for” due to their conduct this summer, the Boss said, “Yes.” It is obvious that Wenger is resolute in keeping Cesc even beyond this season and that he is disgusted with the behavior of Barca’s players in the media especially Carlos Puyol, whom he singled out during the press conference.

Arsene’s Biggest Mistake

Those who know me know that I am an unqualified supporter of Arsene Wenger. However, that does not mean that I am beyond questioning his choices both on the pitch and in the transfer market. From this golden perch known as hindsight, we can all see that one decision in late May/early June of 2008 has had a profound and likely lasting effect on the fortunes of Arsenal Football Club. It was then that Arsene, seemingly with the financial ability to choose only one option, made perhaps his biggest mistake as Arsenal manager by deciding to renegotiate Adebayor’s contract for a pay rise rather than give Flamini the deal that he felt he deserved.

It would be a bit much to completely excoriate Arsene or the Board’s decision because at the time it was, admittedly, a very difficult choice. This was before all the Spanish shenanigans so excellently re-chronicled on Arseblog this morning. It was also following a season in which Adebayor had scored 30 goals in 48 appearances. And many people, including me, felt that, between the two, it would be much easier to replace a defensive midfielder than a 30-goal scorer. Oh, how we, and Arsene, were wrong.

The prime consideration for the Board at the time was the wage structure at the club. Flamini was reportedly seeking £70,000 a week and Arsenal were willing to give him a new contract at £50,000. He apparently came up with this self-valuation by calculating the probable cost of replacing him, which he pegged at £20m. There was also the somewhat less convincing argument that Flamini felt sorely underappreciated. Considering that he had been ready to walk out on the club the summer before his emergence and that he had only finally come good in his fourth year at the club, this seemed a little over the top.

It seemed to me at the time that Flamini was just as upset about not being offered a deal back in November or December as he was about the proposed salary. At the time, he was playing a big role on the pitch but he had only been a regular in the starting XI for a few months. The rumours of proposed moves to Juventus and AC Milan began a few weeks before the winter transfer window opened and that speculation hung over the club for the rest of the season. By the end of May, I still thought that Flamini would eventually accept the near 100% pay rise offered, but, of course, he did not.

Back when Adebayor was poor.

Back when Adebayor was poor.

Meanwhile, Adebayor got his second contract in as many summers. We will probably never know for certain whether Arsene always expected to plug Song or Denilson into Flamini’s vacated spot or if he truly believed he would be able to find and secure a replacement. But, as rumour after rumour came and went and Arsenal offers were rebuffed by clubs and players, the man the Boss had chosen over Flamini was well on his descent before eventually crashing and burning.

The rumours surrounding Adebayor and a move to Barcelona or AC Milan continued even after he signed the new contract and the player’s total lack of understanding for the media and the supporters only made it worse. Adebayor lost the supporters last summer and he never won them back. The Football Focus interview now seems to be the final nail in the coffin he had building for the last 12-14 months. Now, today he is in The Times blaming Arsenal supporters for his departure:

“The way the fans behaved towards me was not nice at all. I can’t understand why they were after me. I did my best for them and I was very happy there. I scored 30 goals in a season – it’s not my fault that Milan, Barcelona or Real Madrid wanted to sign me. In any summer, Barcelona try to sign Cesc Fabregas. But the fans never turned on him.”

It just shows how little understanding he has of the relationship between supporters and their club and its players. Whenever the Barcelona rumours pop up lately, a statement from Cesc comes up on Arsenal.com within a day or so declaring his loyalty and allegiance to the club. The thing that Adebayor doesn’t understand is that Cesc doesn’t even have to do that much. But he goes out of his way to assure the supporters and that’s why he will be loved long after he eventually goes back to Spain. but Adebayor couldn’t even do the minimal, which would have been to keep his mouth shut. Instead, he makes those ridiculous “Beyonce” quotes and has his picture taken in Spain for an interview wherein he seems ignorant or oblivious to the fact that he is being played by the Catalan media. Adebayor apparently can’t understand why, after suffering a stressful summer in which Flamini and Hleb left, Arsenal fans were upset with his conduct and his “I-was-on-vacation” excuses for not addressing the rumours.

One can only imagine how different last season may have turned out had Arsenal taken the money for Adebayor last summer and used it to give Flamini his new and well-deserved deal. Unlike Flamini, Alexander Hleb is disliked by many Arsenal supporters because not only did he leave after Flamini, but, once at Barcelona, was regularly talking in the press about Arsenal and how he had called Cesc about coming to Barcelona. The rumour from a few weeks ago about Barcelona offering us Hleb back along with Gudjohnsen for Cesc is absolutely laughable. Hleb and Adebayor could never come back after what he’s done. However, considering his behavior following his departure, I would gladly welcome Flamini back home.

The “Superior Level” of Phillipe Senderos

As the Austrian tour continues and the preseason apex, the Emirates Cup, quickly approaches, at least one man’s future with the Arsenal is still very much in doubt. Phillipe Senderos joined Arsenal as an eighteen year-old from Swiss club, Servette, in the summer of 2003 for an undisclosed fee rumoured to be around £2.5m. He made sporadic appearances through the 2004-05 campaign before becoming a semi-regular in the club’s final year at Highbury due to Sol Campbell’s recurring injury problems. It was with Senderos, paired with Toure, at the back that got Arsenal to the Champions League Final in Paris in May 2006 on the back of an amazing defensive run. In the first two group matches, Arsenal conceded in back-to-back 2-1 wins home to FC Thun and away to Ajax. They would go on to finish the group stage and survive three knockout rounds against Real Madrid, Juventus, and Villareal without conceding again, and Big Phil was at the heart of it all until an injury forced him to miss both the second leg at Villareal and the Final. Heading into the 2006-07 season, it looked like it was time for Senderos to solidify his place in the starting XI, but the subsequent Ashley Cole-situation saw William Gallas join the club. Injuries, including a shoulder problem from the World Cup, plagued him throughout much of the 2006-07 campaign, and, when William Gallas was made captain in the summer of 2007, Senderos believed he had seen the writing on the wall.

After apparently being considered as a possibility for the captaincy in 2006, Senderos was back to the Carling Cup. However, in early 2008, Senderos was back in the starting lineup as Toure was away for the ACN and Arsenal put together a solid run through January and early February cementing their lead at the top of the table. He’s always been prone to making errors, having earned the nickname “Blunderos” amongst a certain section of the support. That is not so much out of the ordinary for a young centre-half. But his gaffes against Liverpool in the Champions League Quarterfinal seemed to leave an especially bad taste as the final nail in the coffin on a team that had begun collapsing long before Liverpool. In the summer of 2008, with his displeasure at the situation well known, Milan came knocking for the Swiss international. Sort of. With the return and semi-emergence of his international partner, Johann Djourou, Senderos happily agreed to a year-long loan deal to Milan with an eye to an eventual £6m move. But Senderos never really impressed at Milan and, after dealing with injuries early on, saw only 15 appearances. Despite making known his desire to remain at the San Siro, he was allowed to return to Arsenal this summer.

I must admit that in the beginning I did not begrudge his desire to move in a bid to play regularly. I have always assumed that the errors would dissipate with age and experience. We had already seen him perform successfully at the highest level in the Champions League. So when Milan came in, especially for a loan rather than a transfer, I could understand his desire for the move. Yet, I will be honest and say that his comments upon his arrival in Milan left a more bitter taste in my mouth than any of his past mistakes on the pitch. Here they are:

I am really happy to play in a team like Milan. For me, this is a dream come true. In the past I have achieved some success….Today I can say I have reached a superior level by coming to this club.

Senderos at Milan

Senderos at Milan

Now, you may say, “What’s so wrong with that?” Or “You have to say things like that when you join a new club.” But that is a load of crap. Having already saw the ill-advised exits of Flamini for AC Milan and Hleb for Barcelona that summer, it was Senderos’s words more than the actual move that disturbed, because, not only did it add salt to the wounds created by Flamini and Hleb’s departures, but, it also encapsulated the way footballers seem to think about certain clubs. If you look at reality, he was joining a club that was preparing for the UEFA Cup and hadn’t been a factor in the Serie A title race for some time and was leaving a club who had led the Premier League for most of the season, had knocked Milan out of the Champions League, and was coming into their prime rather than watching it in the rear-view mirror. How does just joining a UEFA Cup bound club, no matter who they are, make a player think he has “reached a superior level” just by joining the club. On loan, no less? It is a hold that history seems to have over the present. Clubs like Madrid and Milan were highly successful in the 80s and 90s, when modern footballers were growing up watching the game. To them, it seems recent results matter much less than those from 15-20 years ago. Senderos’s comments are also meant to throw a reassuring bone to the Milan supporters

I know, this is nothing new and we see it all the time in football. But the lack of respect for Arsenal as a club amongst players continues to nag at me. We have one of the greatest stadiums in the world, possibly the greatest manager in the world, and in the last ten years we have set numerous domestic records in England. The problem, for me, so much is not an inability to draw big names to the Emirates, since we have shown we can draw big talents. The real problem is players that leave thinking the pitch is greener and the level superior at Milan or Madrid or Barcelona. We all know how that usually works out.

I had always doubted whether Big Phil would be able to return to the Emirates following those comments. But, I realized that most Arsenal supporters probably didn’t pay much mind to those comments as we had far more pressing concerns at the time. As it stands now, the Austrian tour and preseason camp are basically a football purgatory for Senderos as he considers his next move. When asked about his future, the Boss said, “It’s open. At the moment he is looking for solutions. He has many opportunities but he has to decide on his future.” A Cultured Left Foot seems to think that this “sends a clear signal that he is not considered a part of the manager’s long-term plans.” But, to me, it seems more that Wenger has resigned himself to that fact that Senderos is not willing to stay and fight for a place in the team. Rumours have linked Senderos with moves to Hertha Berlin as well as Bordeaux in a swap deal for Arsenal stalker, Marouane Chamakh.