at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
London – It did not take long for doubt to feast on the minds of those who thought good riddance to Robin van Persie in the belief that £24million for a 29-year-old determined to leave was sound business.
Confirmation that Alex Song was off to Barcelona deepened the gloom, as did the hint that Arsene Wenger’s spirit had been flattened by a turbulent week capped by a goalless draw against Sunderland.
The Arsenal manager accused his team of lacking creativity, perhaps a consequence of tightening up the defence, he said, and demanded more from new strikers Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.
Like a bad dream, Wenger finds himself at the tail-end of another slippery serpent in a never-ending game of snakes and ladders. Can he summon the energy to fashion new stars in the hope that, next time, they might repay his efforts with loyalty?
“We make the players here,” said the manager. “All who have left were made here or made a name here or came here very young.
“Fabregas, Clichy, Adebayor, Henry, Nasri, all of them. Song came at 17. He had a lot to do, but he did it. That is what we face today. I don’t think it is linked at all with winning something or not. Every case is individual.
“Part of our club is to influence people’s lives in a positive way. You would prefer to influence it in a positive way for yourself but it doesn’t always happen.’
Much of the remodelling will focus on Santi Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski, who made their first Premier League appearances against Sunderland. Cazorla, in the hole behind the centre forward, impressed. His touch, vision and balance are delightful, and although his influence faded, he was responsible for the best chance, threading a pass to Giroud who sliced wide nine minutes from time.
“It felt good,” said Cazorla. “There’s a faster rhythm, a higher tempo. In Spain, games are more cautious, more tactical. Here, there is more to-ing and fro-ing, but I like it.
“It’s overstated, the idea that smaller, technical players can’t do well here. We have powerful players in Spain, too. Being tall isn’t what makes you a good footballer and I don’t think that’s the defining factor in English football.”
Having wasted the best chance to take three points, Giroud was aware of inevitable comparisons with Van Persie and asked for patience.
“People are clever enough to know Robin took a lot of space here,” said Giroud. “His last season was wonderful but before that he took time to settle. I’m just asking people to be a little patient with me. I know Arsenal are a great club and need a striker ready and efficient quickly. It is up to me to succeed.” On the miss, Giroud added: “The coach told me I had more time. If I had been on my left foot I would probably have taken more time.
“It was on the right foot. I’ll have to work on my right foot. It could have been the dream start but I am not worried. I will have plenty of chances here and I will score.”
Podolski, having started at centre forward rather than in his familiar position on the left, had a disappointing debut. “I see him as a centre forward,” said Wenger. “But he has some work to do to change his game, make runs in behind and to protect the ball and move around the box.
“When you come from a wide position it’s not easy straight away. I’m positive he will get there because he’s a fantastic finisher.”
The Germany striker was happy with his opening day, though, and said: “It was fun wearing the shirt. All those big names, the crowd chanting my name. I enjoyed it.
“It’s difficult playing against such a compact side. We should have scored an early goal, that would have made things easier.”
There is much for Wenger to study. He is on the brink of signing midfielder Nuri Sahin on loan from Real Madrid but the pain of Van Persie’s exit will linger.
“It’s a major, major loss,” said Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill. “Anyone would suffer if they lost a world-class player like that. I’m sure he would have preferred him to go abroad – out of sight, out of mind – but he decides to go to Manchester United and that’s as bad as it gets.
“But you always feel that, when the season settles down, Arsenal have the quality.” – Daily Mail