We are at the crossroads. Either Wenger goes or Wenger stays. Get two Arsenal fans together and that is the sole topic of interest – To Go or To Stay.
The case for him going is strong. This season was ours. We had the squad; Wenger had spent on Cech, the much acclaimed final piece of the jigsaw and in front of him was experience and ability and confidence. The players were fit, the pre-season went well, it was summer, the weather was warm, the sun shining and the Emirates Cup had offered a glimpse of Iwobi and Adelaide. The home defeat by West Ham, however, in the first game of the season was a sign of things to come. We responded well but doubts nagged and our confidence – never strong – dogged us. Injuries followed; form faltered; doubts crept in. And yet in the New Year we were many pundits tip for the top but it was not to be. A draw at Stoke, then a defeat at home by Chelsea and another draw at Southampton saw us fall from first to fourth. We beat Bournemouth and Leicester but were badly undone by successive defeats at Old Trafford and then at home to Swansea. Far from looking at top position we are now worried about qualification for the Champions League. We were also beaten at home by Watford in the 6th Round.
The mood has changed. Steadfast anti-Wengerites have upped the vocals. Critics have become angry. Supporters of Wenger began to doubt and of course the rise and rise of THFC did much to magnify our shortcomings and weaknesses. In a row of terraced houses the house next door has refurbished it’s interior and exterior; its garden is full of blooming flowers; its family are happy and singing. You get the message?
And of course there is history – more bad history than good in recent years. The barren years that came after the 2005 FA Cup Win. Top four placings and always qualification for Champions League but the trophy cabinet was bare. Questions being asked about Wenger – familiar phrases came into every conversation “past his sell-by date…overtaken by younger coaches…unwilling to pay top money for top players…stubborn…blinkered…unaccountable…tolerating second rate players…tampering with the tradition of AFC by failing to produce a title winning squad”
And the injuries – more and more injuries with key players lost for two/three months and longer for Wilshere, Welbeck, Rosicky and Cazorla. If you were summing up in front of the jury and looking for a conviction the evidence was there. The Judge was already putting on his black cap.
There is a case for the defence – there is mitigation but it is harder to make the points on Wenger’s behalf because the critics are more vocal. A bit like the debate on Europe – UK Out is more bellicose than UK in. Wenger Out gets more air time than Wenger In.
But there is a case for Wenger. He has achieved much. He has done the Double twice. He has managed the change from Highbury to the Emirates and long term financial stability. He has kept us at or close to the top. We have never flirted with mid-table or worse. He has maintained a reputation for quality football. We play we do not kick. We pass we do not hoof. It is a considerable achievement – underrated by his critics – to have qualified for Champions League year after year especially when we were a selling Club – RVP, Nasri, Cesc, Toure, Clichy, Henry. All top players who were replaced by lesser talent but we still competed and always in the top four.
Wenger, too, has been loyal. He has voted with his feet and made his way every day to the Emirates when financial reward was merely average at the time he was being seduced by top European clubs with mouth watering offers. He stayed with AFC. He resisted overtures and entreaties and the better packages elsewhere. He could have walked out but he has never broken a contract.
Are we now in our moment of frustration going to turn on him and break his contract? That is how football is with some other clubs. Don’t worry about old fashioned ideas such as loyalty or integrity. Fear the supporters -terminate the contract. Pay him off, let’s go with someone else. “It’s all about money after all” – say the cynics. “Every man has his price so put a big fat cheque in his hand and the job is done. He is gone.”
But this is not an issue of money. We do not appease our consciences by adding a zero. He has never done it to us when we needed him. We should never do it to him because the Wenger Out Brigade are trying to pull down the walls.
So where do we go for replacements – how many are gilt edged certainties and they have to be gilt edged. No good employing a coach who gets us to 5th place. He has to win. Mourinho? Martinez? Would you have taken Ranieri last summer? Aren’t Barca faltering? Weren’t Real M talking about a change in coach? It is a leap – an uncertain leap but more than that it is wrong. Wenger has been loyal to AFC and we should be loyal to him. He must remain if he wants to remain. He is entitled to that.
There is another point. I tweet and I get the negatives thrown at me and get called all kinds of bad names because I won’t bow to the baying critics. But I also get the positives. So many tweets from fans who know the record is not right but recall his dignity, his character; his commitment throughout his time at AFC. They do not want to be party to a hatchet job. They want him to remain – they are the silent majority. They won’t boycott the Emirates
There is one last point – we may be the bridesmaid and not the bride. We have fallen short a few times but as I said we were most people’s tip for the title on 1 January. Messi said we were the best team they had played against this season. We know there are signings that are needed and we also have some Iwaki’s coming through. It is not naive to suggest that if we are where we are today we will be better off with additions especially in front of goal.
So detaching myself from the mob atmosphere – recognising the arguments for and against I summarise matters with two conclusions. I have faith in Wenger as a coach and I have faith that AFC will do things the right way and act with integrity, good practice.
If we are different and I hope we are then the way we conduct ourselves must be with probity and good practice. And I do not rule out a title win next season. I actually continue to believe in the finest manager we have ever had.
I am tweeting daily @arsenal circular.
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