ARSENAL CIRCULAR 130
Judge at the end of the season, not now.
There are still 45 points at stake.
If, like me, you support the manager and want him to come through and win something significant this season – more than the FA Cup – you have to answer some awkward questions. That is how it is after a setback, in football as in life. If you are honest and straight you need to deal with failure as you do with success – no hiding place.
It was not our day. Chelsea played well. Hiddink has taken them out of their post Mourinho depression. They are now a unit with talent and commitment. We may be disappointed in ourselves and I will come to that but we cannot pretend that Chelsea are not on the way back. Prior to Per’s sending off they were finding space, playing triangles and giving us problems.
As to the sending off – I thought at the time that Willian’s pass was an absolute beauty – I had a good view across the pitch and he put the ball in just the right place with just the right pace. It challenged Per, and in fairness to him it would have challenged any defender. It was that good. Because it happened to Per and he rarely looks athletic it has stirred much anti-Per comment and much anti-Wenger comment.
There are two issues – was it a foul? and was it a sending off?
Clattenberg was sure about the foul and gave himself time to decide whether it was a sending off. In deciding it was a foul he decided that Per caught Costa. At the time (at the Emirates) the assumption was that it was a foul. Viewing it again I still think it is a foul. Per did enough to foul Costa. That said there is room for doubt. Costa stumbled and fell a step or two on from the foul and not at the foul and people are suggesting he dived. Costa does not have a happy reputation outside of Stamford Bridge and here again he went down in “agony”. The referee has no action replay. In two years he will and there will be better decisions but I am not going to criticise Clattenberg – not because I am pro-referees (which I am) – but because with what was going on and he was not far away he made an honest decision. Unfortunate? Maybe… but remember Per was under pressure because Willian played a great ball and Costa was well positioned to exploit Per’s vulnerability.
Next question: was it a sending off? Only one issue here. Could Koscielny have got back in time to challenge? Was it a one on one with the keeper? Alan Smith thought it was a red card. Smudger is straight and on the action replay it did look as if Koscielny was a step maybe two behind. So a foul and a red card. Sorry about that, but self-deception never gets you very far in life.
Now in my view, Wenger made a mess of the post match interview on this point. I accept he was trying to control his emotions following a big disappointment – but he was clumsy when he should have been clear. He should have said “there were two issues. Was it a foul? Was it a sending off? I need to see the action replays but I have doubts whether my player actually touched Costa so maybe it was not a foul. If I am wrong and it was a foul I still think Koscielny was well placed to make a challenge so it was not an obvious goal scoring opportunity.” Excellent – clear – honest and no sour grapes. Instead Wenger allows his answers to look as a certain accusation that Costa is a cheat. He said “He [Costa] got Mertesacker sent off”. Maybe he rolled around in agony, but if he was caught and made a meal of it, he was still caught. Wenger has been around long enough to know how to handle the post match interview – tense and emotional though it may be.
Now the reckoning. The knives are out. Tyburn is installing spectator seats at Marble Arch. The date of the hanging is to be announced. The animosity to Wenger is strong. It is reflected in today’s Sun when Steven Howard’s headline is:
“Bottled it…again. Arsene’s spineless Gunners will never win the title.”
Those of us who stand behind the manager have to ask ourselves the question: Are We Defending The Indefensible? Is it the case that we lack bottle and commitment? Are us Fancy Dans incapable of landing a punch? Are we going to fail again?
Those are the uncomfortable questions being asked and we know it. The answer is We Do Not Know.
There are still 15 matches to go and 45 points to play for. The time for a decision is at the end of the season when we will be either crowned champions or dismissed as pretenders. The questions are not going to go away. We have had the opportunity to buy and improve the squad if there are doubts about individual and collective abilities. This is Wenger’s team. Yes – there have been injuries, but we are only three points behind with 45 to play for. It is in our hands. No one else’s. If we fail, we fail and it will be Wenger’s failure. If we succeed it will be Wenger’s success. This is his team, his squad, his signings, his stadium. I make it clear I want him to succeed because I like what he stands for – except for some of his post match interviews – and I want success to come to vindicate the principles of football that he espouses.
But the reality is there. We cannot avoid it. We have made the transition from Highbury to Emirates despite being forced to sell many of our vera best players. We are now poised to be a top Club for many years to come, but we have to have success. A loss of nerve by the players; a failure to stand and take the strain and meet the pressure and come out on top will make it difficult to support Wenger.
He may sign players but more likely he will stick with his squad. He needs to peer into the whites of their eyes and ask if he sees winners or also-rans. Wenger and his players can come out on top and flummox their critics. Or they can go quietly and slip away into the shadows. Everyone has to put themselves on the line.
We will know by May.
Final point – and I return to the booing of Fabregas. It diminishes Arsenal. It is an embarrassment. Boo Adebayor and I will be alongside you. But Cesc?! He was wonderful for us. He wanted to return, but things had moved on. Booing him and doing it on national TV merely makes us look narrow minded, short sighted and massively ungracious.