x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Progressive Arsenal plagued by doubts

Amid prosperous times on the field, there remain doubts about the futures of Robin Van Persie and Arsene Wenger.

Even in times of fortune there is a sense of transition about Arsenal.

The 2-1 win away at Norwich City was their fifth straight victory in the Premier League, a result that took them back to the fringes of the Champions League chase and their strongest sequence of results in over 18 months.

Yet it came question marked: "what next?" It is now the query of any Arsenal player of stature. Most notably Robin van Persie, whose spectacular calendar annum of goals now counts 31, but who has resolved not to discuss adding any time to an expiring contract until well into 2012.

It is also a question put to Arsenal's manager, who no longer evades the possibility of personal exit. "We'll look at things at the end of this season," said Arsene Wenger in an interview with L'Equipe. "What's hard is the feeling something is finishing. For me, we're now talking short term, it's obvious."

While Wenger is formally contracted to Arsenal until June 2014, his deal is thought to contain a break clause at the end of the current campaign. Offered his choice of role at Paris Saint-Germain this summer past, the Frenchman met on more than one occasion with the club's Qatari owners before electing to fight again in north London.

That was no straightforward decision. Wenger knew Cesc Fabregas was about to be sold to Barcelona, that Gael Clichy was on his way to Manchester City, and - despite his vocal opposition - that his board was ready to move on Samir Nasri, too.

"For the first time I lost young players who were reaching maturity. I suffered," admits Wenger in the interview.

"It's painful to lose key men you have invested a lot in."

And difficult to "reconstruct the squad in a climate where we were lacking confidence". Signs of which were still evident here as the most experienced of those final-week recruits - Per Mertesacker - conceded a goal Norwich City would not have expected two seasons ago when they were escaping League One.

Marc Tierney's long, lofted clearance was allowed to bounce not once, but twice, by the Germany central defender, who then permitted Steve Morison to force broad shoulders ahead of his own before stumbling to the turf. Morison ran on, touching past Wojciech Szczesny for the opening goal.

If that stood square against the run of play, there was no guarantee of Arsenal's recovery. Paul Lambert's technique of recruiting from the lower divisions while coaching like a Champions League veteran has produced a side that seldom succumbs simply. Arsenal continued to create chances aplenty, but only their captain had the precision to finish. Van Persie's first came when Gervinho failed to connect when stood in front of goal. The second clinically exploited a rare error of judgement from Russell Martin.

Too many of Arsenal futures are clouded. Best make the most of their presents.

sports@thenational.ae


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