You can’t then pretend you are a big club, because a big club holds on to its best players and gives a message out to all the other big clubs that they can’t come in and take our players.”
Arsene Wenger, July 11th
August 15th: Cesc Fabregas signs for Barcelona
August 24th: Samir Nasri signs for Man City
It seems a long time ago now, but when Samir Nasri arrived at the club, it was as a replacement for the outgoing Aleksandr Hleb. After a largely indifferent few years, Hleb had one impressive campaign as a key component of Arsenal’s title charge in 2007/08. It would be his final season, as Hleb moved on at the first opportunity, joining Barcelona after threatening to invoke the ‘Webster’ ruling and buy out his contract.
Nasri’s departure certainly evokes memories of Hleb’s exit. Last season was comfortably the Frenchman’s best, and seems to have left him with both an inflated ego and idea of what he ought to be paid. After turning down a £90,000 p/week contract extension, Nasri left Arsenal with a clear choice: sell him now, or risk losing him for free in twelve months time.
For me, it’s a no-brainer. As Arsene pointed out, both “economically and psychologically”, the club only had one option. And, for economic and psychological reasons, Arsenal will be quietly delighted to have sold the player to City rather than United: his original suitors. It’s worth noting that whilst Hleb left for the mediterranean sun and footballing Mecca of Barcelona, Nasri is moving to Manchester. Whilst I’m sure he has doubts about Arsenal’s ambition, it’s clear that money has been the major motivating factor.
Hleb’s career has tumbled downhill since leaving: he has found himself unable to replicate his success at Arsenal elsewhere. He’s an unusual, idiosyncratic footballer, who needs a manager with the patience to indulge a player who, whilst technically brilliant, is prone to overelaboration and seems to be allergic to shooting.
Samir Nasri will have no such problems adapting. He’s a more effective but more straightforward footballer: quick, skilful, and a smart finisher. However, by the same token, he is also easier to replace. Whilst hugely talented, he lacks the intangible quality of ‘vision’ that marked out Cesc Fabregas, say, or even Hleb. As a goalscoring wide-attacker, the likes of Gervinho and Walcott are well-placed to try and fill the gap left by Nasri’s departure.
The bigger problem remains the creative void created by Fabregas’ move. Arsene’s plan, of course, was to use Nasri in that role. As outlined above, I’m not sure he would’ve been the right man for the job. Cesc was good for twenty assists per season. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I believe last season Nasri got one. Nasri can walk through an open door with plenty of style; Arsenal need someone who can unpick a lock.
Arsene may live to regret the statement of the top of this piece – but he doesn’t have to. If he spends the £50m or so he’s received for Nasri and Cesc on players of similar quality, then all is recoverable.
Five days. And counting.