Threat of exodus casts doubt on Wenger masterplan Dominic Fifield The Guardian, Wednesday May 7 2008 Arsenal's season had flirted with glory for so long it seems perverse that Arsène Wenger must consider the summer ahead with a growing sense of frustration rather than any satisfaction. His team had carried all before them at times, the combination of the scintillating and the exhilarating threatening to yield a Premier League title and the European Cup. A lack of depth to his squad undermined those aspirations at the last. Now the fear nags that this set-up is to be stripped when it needs to be strengthened in the weeks to come. Already, infuriatingly, the talk is of this side being dismantled. The departure of Mathieu Flamini, arguably Arsenal's most improved and consistently impressive player this season, to Milan provided further deflation just as the last puff was leaving this team's pursuit of Manchester United and Chelsea. Jens Lehmann and even Gilberto Silva had been expected to move on, but the French midfielder had been offered fine terms to remain at the Emirates Stadium. Those proposals still fell well short of the £65,000-a-week deal to be had at San Siro. Alexander Hleb, courted unashamedly by Internazionale, also appears destined for transfer, denying Wenger two key components of the side he had hoped would continue their development and win the club's first silverware since 2005 next time around. There have been suggestions emanating from France that William Gallas, soon to lose the captaincy, may yet join the exodus, while Real Madrid were back courting Cesc Fábregas again over the weekend. "Cesc is Spanish, and one of my first objectives is to make Real Madrid more Spanish," the Real president, Ramón Calderón, was quoted as saying. Fábregas is contracted until 2014 in north London and revels under Wenger's tutelage. Yet his closest friends at the club were Hleb and Flamini. Arsenal's supporters may not have anticipated such a demoralising denouement to what should be considered a hugely encouraging campaign, but Wenger might have seen this coming. Back in December, the Frenchman had obliquely reproached Lassana Diarra as his compatriot bemoaned a lack of opportunity barely six months after departing the bench at Chelsea. "You tell me one club in the world of our size who gives a chance to the young players like we do," said the manager. "At our club, young players are in paradise." Diarra left utopia in search of first-team football. Flamini appears to have been enticed away by higher wages and what he perceives to be a more immediate promise of trophies. Wenger might disagree with that, and would be disheartened to lose such a key performer, but he has experience of a side of huge promise unravelling despite his best efforts. Back in 1992, his Monaco side's campaign which had threatened so much ended in crippling anticlimax. Marseille, the dominant domestic force, had been pursued in the French championship only to squeeze out the Monegasques at the last for a second successive year. Monaco's appearance in the Cup Winners' Cup final against Werder Bremen was overshadowed by a tragedy at Marseille's Coupe de France semi-final against Bastia on the eve of the game. Some 17 people died when a temporary stand collapsed at the Furiani stadium. The Coupe de France final, for which Monaco had qualified, was never played; Otto Rehhagel's Germans won the European showpiece against Wenger's numbed players 2-0. Monaco were tagged as nearly men, the memory of the league title secured in Wenger's first season at the club, back in 1988, long forgotten. What should have been considered a successful season ended without a trophy and, in the summer of 1992, one of the most talented teams to grace French domestic football began to break up in search of silverware elsewhere. "We had the best players in France," said Jean Petit, Wenger's assistant at the Stade Louis II. "With such a squad, with such players, we wanted to keep the structure in place for subsequent years. It was so frustrating that we didn't manage to do that." George Weah was sold to Paris St-Germain and Gérald Passi to St-Etienne. Wenger would not win another trophy with them. "For me, the disintegration of that squad started in May 1992 [with the loss to Werder]," said Claude Puel, a midfielder under Wenger at Monaco and currently the coach of Lille. "A fortnight from the end of the league, we were tied with Marseille and we had reached the finals of the Coupe de France and the Cup Winners' Cup, but we ended up fading horribly." Wenger had wheeled and dealed as best he could at his first club, Nancy, but he had built his first great sides at Monaco. He has constructed teams of wonderful quality during his 12 years in London, yet there had been real thrill in his voice whenever the Frenchman discussed the current crop over the course of this season. This was a team he had nurtured towards fruition while Chelsea distorted the transfer market and spent so lavishly to eclipse him. It was a side who might dominate as they learned, yet the concern now is that their development may have been checked. The Arsenal manager has insisted, once it was clear that his squad was not strong enough to compete to the end on two fronts that his philosophy will not change. Recruitment would be in youth to be shaped, rather than in experienced, expensive players ready to hold down first-team places. That ideology may have to be re-assessed. Wenger had hoped to tweak his squad in the summer, not overhaul it. Yet, as key players suggest their futures lie elsewhere, the number of reinforcements required increases. Frustration may prompt a rethink.