So, Emmanuel Adebayor has been sold to Manchester City and it is hard not to enjoy the delicious appropriateness of one the greediest players to ever (dis)grace an Arsenal jersey joining the merry band of mercenaries heading off to Eastlands to take part in the so-called project being put together there.
It would seem to be a match made in heaven and it is one that will not lose Arsenal supporters any sleep. Nor will they shed any tears for a player who so shamelessly held the club to ransom 12 months ago in order to engineer an enormous pay-rise for himself but then contributed very little of note when it came to delivering on his end of the bargain during last season. His desparture looks to be a great deal all round. Arsenal are millions of pounds better off and have cut loose a player who had become a dead weight both on and off the pitch.
Since his arrival in January 2006 we have seen the best and the worst of the Togolese international. After a somewhat shaky start he knuckled under, worked hard and produced a 30-goal season in 2007/08. With hindsight, and looking at his career statistics, that season was very much a flash in the pan. But, rather than building on that success, he used it to lever more money out of the club during the summer break. It was something that left a bad taste in the mouth of many supporters and some wanted him gone back then rather than see the club give in to his demands. He was booed during the pre-season tournament at Ashburton Grove and the nauseating spectacle of him kissing the badge after converting a penalty against Real Madrid only served to alienate him further from hardcore supporters.
During the 2008/09 season his goals-to-games ratio was half what it had been the previous year and his general demeanour smacked of a man who, having got the money he wanted, felt he could rest on his laurels. That is probably too polite a way to put it. He actually looked like he didn’t care. He strolled through matches exerting minimal effort and when chances did come his way they were often squandered. He did score a decent goal away at Villareal in the Champions League but it is hard to recall anything else he did during the whole season. More fresh in the memory is his sauntering about for extended periods during matches and a catalogue of missed opportunities.
He finally burned his bridges with the fans towards the end of the season when during an ill-advised interview with the BBC he accused the supporters of not getting behind him. In that moment, he lost the faith of the few who still believed in him and his position at the club began to look untenable. I mean, how could he possibly run out in front of the Arsenal crowd this coming August having said the things he had said and playing the way he had played over the past season? The answer is that he probably could have done quite easily because we are talking about a player who has no sense of shame or responsibility, who is beyond delusional about his own level of ability and who personifies the absolute worst aspects of the greed and ego that is so often attributed to modern-day footballers.
It is hard to remember so many fans being happy to see a player leave Arsenal. Usually the emotions range from disappointment to a mutual respect and love tempered with an acknowledgement that it is time to move on. Even when Ashley Cole left the over-riding feeling was more indignation and annoyance towards the player and Chelsea Football Club rather than happiness that he was gone. It is a measure of how unpopular Adebayor has become that fans are prepared to overlook what he could bring to the team (when he could be bothered) in favour of getting rid of someone they perceive to be an under-performing money-grabber who was also a disruptive influence in the dressing room. He won’t be missed.
More interesting is what Arsene Wenger is going to do with the funds from the sale - reported to be £25m. The knee-jerk reaction would be to go out and buy another striker but on closer inspection this seems to be an unlikely outcome. Even with Adebayor out of the picture, Wenger still has multiple attacking options in the form of Van Persie, Eduardo, Arshavin, Bendtner, Vela and Walcott. All of these players are full internationals so it would be hard to imagine the manager trying to accommodate yet another international-class striker. Of those players, much depends on whether Van Persie and Eduardo can stay fit. Arshavin is a proven top-class performer but Vela and Walcott still have development to make. The key man in that list would appear to be Nicklas Bendtner.
The Dane had to weather criticism from certain sections of Arsenal support last year but, despite some peaks and troughs in his form, finished with a creditable goal-tally considering his age and the number of starts he got. His work-rate improved markedly throughout the season and there is no doubt that his effort and productivity on the pitch far out-stripped that of Adebayor’s. Certainly, a lot of his excellent approach and assist play was scandalously under-valued by some fans. Next season is going to be a massive one for the Dane though and he will need to take another step up if he is truly to establish himself as a key man in the Arsenal attack. He has the confidence and the raw talent but he now needs to augment this with consistency and some far more clinical finishing in front of goal.
Once City’s millions hit the Arsenal bank account, it is far more likely that Wenger will invest in a combative central midfield player and that is the one area where there is an obvious deficiency in the current squad. The FA Youth Cup showed that we have some excellent prospects coming through in this sort of role in the form of Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong but this will probably be a season too early for them to make a real impact. These two are likely to feature on the fringe of the squad over the coming year but it is clear that the centre of midfield needs someone of experience to come in right away and not in a year’s time. Were Wenger to make such a signing, for the first time in a couple of years, the squad would seem to finally have a bit of balance about it.
With Tomas Vermaelen added to the defence, Jack Wilshere stepping up to the first-team squad and the long-awaited return of Tomas Rosicky, the addition of a quality defensive midfielder could well give everyone good cause to be looking forward to the new season with a degree of optimism. With cash to spend now definitely in the bank, whether there are to be any further new signings all rests with one man – Arsene Wenger.