Arsene Wenger has voiced his disappointment at Mathieu Flamini's decision to quit Arsenal for AC Milan but insisted the midfielder's departure does not herald the start of a more significant exodous from the Emirates Stadium.
Flamini cashed in on his status as a free agent by walking out on the Gunners at the end of a season which had seen the 24-year-old establish himself as the 'water carrier' for Cesc Fabregas in the Arsenal midfield.
Arsenal were not prepared to breach their wages ceiling to match the terms on offer at Milan and Flamini, who is French of Italian origin, opted to move to the country of his parents.
Arsenal fans are now fretting over whether Alexander Hleb, a target for Internazionale, will also leave north London, as well as having to endure the recurring rumours about Spain's top clubs wanting to bring Fabregas home.
Wenger however is confident that optimism about the potential of his current squad should keep it largely together, despite the wilting of their league and Champions League campaigns in the last two months.
“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,” Wenger told Arsenal shareholders.
“I must say I am disappointed that he did that – but legally he can do it. But I hope that 95 percent 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 predicted that his squad will bounce back strongly next term.
“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'.
“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.”
Flamini's move to Milan has sparked suggestions that Gennaro Gattuso, a Champions League and World Cup winner in the same position, could be tempted by a move in the opposite direction.
Gattuso, who made his name in a spell at Glasgow Rangers, has often spoken of his desire to play in the Premier League.
Arsenal are also being linked with a potential summer move for Croatia midfielder Niko Kranjcar, who has had an outstanding season for Portsmouth and is set to be one of the stars of Euro 2008.
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