Arsene Wenger is “disappointed” Mathieu Flamini did not share his vision for Arsenal’s future, but is convinced there are enough “winners” left in the squad to prove him right next season.
The 24-year-old France midfielder, who was out of contract in the summer, earlier this week completed his long-anticipated move to AC Milan.
Arsenal had been keen to keep Flamini, who forged a strong partnership with Cesc Fabregas at the heart of the team, but not at any cost.
The Emirates Stadium club are understood to have offered Flamini – a player whom 12 months ago looked on his way out of the club – a lucrative new deal, worth around £55,000 a week.
Because he was a free agent, Flamini was able to get himself a better package elsewhere and rumours continue over whether Inter Milan target Alexander Hleb or indeed Fabregas will be at Emirates Stadium either for the start of next season.
Wenger, though, insists Arsenal will not be held to ransom by anyone looking to force them to break the club’s strict wages cap – and would not want anyone to stay unless it was to share his determination for success.
“It is a problem [the salaries on offer] but we did not master this situation [with Flamini] because when a player is out of contract he can sign where he wants,” said Wenger, speaking at a forum for Arsenal’s shareholders.
“I must say I am disappointed that he did that – but legally he can do it.
“But I hope that 95% of the team, the core of the team, says ’come on, we have only just lost’.
“And it is just, because we were leading at Manchester United, we were leading at Chelsea and we were leading at Liverpool in the Champions League – and every time we just lost a little bit of focus and lost the game.
“Let’s come back and show we are winners. That is the real target of the team.”
Wenger believes the experiences of the last nine months, when his side led the Barclays Premier League for long spells only to fade away, will leave his youngsters stronger for the challenges ahead next season.
“We were close this year, but we did not win and what I expect from my team is that, if you are a winner, you say ’let’s come back next year and win’,” the Arsenal manager said.
“If our players are not capable of doing that and just want to walk out for bigger contracts, for me that would be the biggest disappointment.
“If you are a winner you say ’you beat me now in a game but give me a chance to come back and beat you’. That’s what I expect of a team.
“If they cannot do that then it means I was wrong completely in my whole judgement of this team.
“That would be the biggest disappointment for the club – not only to not win this year but to not be capable of coming back together.”