It’s a game which is almost as popular as Arsene’s ‘Nearly Signed XI’. Wenger’s list is so long that he could field a different line-up every season. Of course, the genuine ones who we tried to sign rather than a cheeky cheap bid is considerably shorter.
This version of the game, however, is designed to drive you mad. Serge Gnabry is the cheerleader for ‘the ones that got away’ even if his tale is less straightforward than it seems.
That he didn’t feature under Pulis damns the Welshman as much as the player. It also points to Arsenal being less exacting in their standards when it came to loan deals. The media back in the day reported criticism of Gnabry’s attitude at West Brom; what provoked the seeming rebellion was never mentioned.
Anyway, Gnabry departed when his path to the first team was blocked by more experienced pros. This is where the criticism of Wenger falls. In his position, few of us would have promoted a young player ahead of the likes of Theo Walcott.
The season Gnabry departed Walcott had his best return for four seasons; 19 goals in 37 games. OK, he didn’t deliver at any point after that but he was at that point.
Should Arsene need to be braver? With all the grief swirling, would any manager take the risk of a young talented player? Perhaps they would and let’s not forget, Wenger had previous when it came to naively believing young players were content with his paternalistic environment.
That Gnabry within a year pointed to another Cesc and Barcelona situation. Arsenal, as a club, were always fighting a losing battle. If he hadn’t gone that summer for peanuts, he was going not long after for not much more.
A Young Man’s Game
It’s a situation the club is actively seeking to avoid in the future. The cheap side of it, not the losing promising youngsters. The philosophy is one Per Mertesacker bought into.
He needed to learn a lot but at that time we had Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott in front of him, so he wouldn’t have played, so he needs to go somewhere else.
But, for us, it’s then how can we create value out of these players who are part of our academy because, as I said, only a small percentage end up in the first-team at Arsenal.Per Mertesacker on Serge Gnabry
This summer saw a number of players for whom some had great hopes. For Xavier Amaechi, “we get a fee and we get add-ons” while Krystian Bielik brought us £10m.
If players are as good as people believe, someone else will always profit. Angers, for instance, pocketed £20m for the Jeff, giving us another £3-4m on top of the £2.5m we received in the first place. Lyon may get a bigger fee if he delivers on his promise.
He didn’t make the grade at Arsenal for whatever reason. Primarily, you have to think there were 300,000 weekly reasons for that. Maybe not but it seems likely.
Mertesacker is in awe of Mesut Ozil as well as frustrated. His compatriot is “a genius in terms of what he can produce with the ball…he has got that magical sense.”
Ozil, he said, “is not the kind of guy who approaches people and says, ‘You need to do this, that and that’.”
Therein is the rub. His salary in the squad brings a certain standing and a level of expectation. He isn’t meeting them. Or our version of them.
Listen To What The Man Said
The real view of Ozil came in a later comment. “But he delivered magic moments for us, moments when you thought he could go to another level.”
He could go to another level. Could. Might. Nothing is definite; there are unspoken questions in his answer, questions about a teammate. About whether he can deliver. You must remember this is a player Mertesacker knows well, from club and country squads. He’s seen the warts and all.
The frustration revealed itself earlier. “He’s a different character and sometimes I struggled with that. Sometimes I was really p**sed with him for days and weeks.”
You’re not the only one, Per. Ozil is fit again and ready for action but will Unai start him at Watford? I’m not convinced. He might be; we were lacking in attacking creativity in the North London Derby so a rejig at Watford is on the cards. A recall for Dani Ceballos? Ozil in from the start?
One thing is certain, Ozil is no longer the player around whom the side is built. Even Arsene was moving away from that in my view. Certainly, he knew Mesut was not the player to save him and nor is he Unai’s saviour either.
In an unusual pang of conscience, Mertesacker admitted feeling “almost responsible” for Wenger getting the sack. The players, he said, were “responsible for the lack of success” which burnt bridges with the fanbase.
“That connection got lost, definitely,” Papa Per declared. Wenger had to go because “we’re not delivering what everyone wants.”
That’s the nature of football at every level and one he is aware applies to himself. The academy must deliver; Alex Iwobi was an exception in raising £40m (potentially) but there must be plenty more Bieliks or Gnabrys.
A tall order for the BFG.