Even the best run clubs make bad decisions, and as Gunners fan Andrew Wilkins tells us, Arsenal are no exception. Could letting a player go too early be their worst decisions ever?
Compared to most of the other clubs mentioned on here, Arsenal haven’t made many bad decisions. So I settled for a decision that at the time seemed small but in hindsight set us back some years.
The Arsenal team of 07/08 is widely considered by Gooners to be one of the most, if not the most, talented Arsenal side to have never won the title. Wenger was at his bold and brilliant best in pre-season, selling club captain and legend Thierry Henry and replacing him with relative unknown Eduardo. He also let another icon go in Freddie Ljungberg and signed Bacary Sagna, who is quite possibly the best right back I have seen play for the club.
It was during this period though that Arsene Wenger made what I believe to be a catastrophic error and it was to do with the captaincy. Not so much who he gave the captaincy to (although it was a mistake in hindsight) but the way he went about it. Gilberto Silva, one of the players of the season from 06/07, and stand in captain for the much injured Thierry Henry was everyone’s favourite to be the captain. No one expected that ex-Chelsea and notoriously temperamental William Gallas who himself had come off of the back of an injury plagued first season at Arsenal would get the armband. The thinking behind the decision was fine, Arsene no doubt saw it as an opportunity to shake things up and Gallas at the time was a top class central defender and one of the first names on the teamsheet. Not that anyone knew this at the time, but Gilberto would barely get a sniff that season due to the form of much maligned Mathieu Flamini (in fact, the Brazilian would only start 12 League games).
As I alluded to earlier, it was the way that Arsene Wenger went about giving William Gallas the captaincy which I consider a mistake. Quite simply, the manager didn’t tell Gilberto that he was making Gallas captain, leaving Gilberto to find out on Arsenal.com. It was even more shocking when you consider that Wenger said this just before he made the decision. “The captain last year was Gilberto and there is no reason to take it away from him,”
It lead to an uncharacteristically furious reaction from Gilberto which led to Wenger having to hold a face to face meeting with him to clear the air, explaining that he couldn’t tell Gilberto as he was away on international duty.
The damage was already done though, with rumours of Gilberto refusing to play in defence in at League Cup game at Sheffield United (he ended up playing in midfield) and with Gilberto later claiming that the Arsenal manager’s treatment had made him feel “totally useless”.
Initially the decision looked like an inspired one. Flamini was in the form of his life and his partnership with Cesc Fabregas seemed to be getting the best out of the Spaniard. Gallas was relishing in his role as captain, scoring some vital goals and defending heroically. Arsenal were playing perhaps some of the best football the club has played. The late August deadline day acquisition of Lassana Diarra meant that we had plenty of depth in central midfield. Gilberto had gone from Arsenal captain to forgotten man in months. One of the Invincibles had become invisible.
So why was it such a bad decision? Well as we all know, the Gallas experiment failed in spectacular fashion, with him being stripped of the captaincy in the autumn of 2008. Mathieu Flamini’s performances earned him a profitable free transfer to AC Milan and Lassana Diarra only lasted six months before he got itchy feet and moved to Portsmouth. Losing two players in that position seemingly opened the door for Gilberto to regain his place, but the damage caused in the summer had been done and he was allowed to leave without a fight to Panathinaikos for an undisclosed fee.
So from having Flamini, Gilberto and Diarra among our central midfielders options we went into 08/09 with only Fabregas, Diaby (a guy whose injury problems have been well documented), Denilson (untried and ultimately a flop) and Song (a relative success, but wasn’t ready yet) as our main midfield options. We went from title challengers to competing with Aston Villa for 4th place in less than a year. It’s dangerous to think ‘what if’, particularly in the unpredictable world of football, but I often think that if the Gilberto situation had been handled better we may have managed to build on the talented but yet unfulfilled Arsenal side on 2007/08.
Follow Andrew on twitter @hesfivefootfour