Difficult times for Arsenal, for Arsenal fans, for Wenger. Another bad performance and a pulverising result has focused attention on our failings. Wenger looked crushed and crumpled after the game. We all slept badly and woke up on Thursday morning with pain as we quickly recalled the scale of the defeat. And it came on the back of that very poor first half performance against Watford and the defeat by Chelsea.
In the grip of defeat the reaction is often strong – but for Arsenal fans we have seen it before. Despite having the funds Wenger has still not found a way to match Bayern Munich. We were second best at Stamford Bridge and were not dominant against a resourceful and resurgent Hull. The League is beyond our grasp and a 5-1 defeat makes a turn around in the second leg so unlikely.
Some fans have made final decisions. Wenger has to go. He has shown himself, they say, lacking in recent years. Whatever he possessed in the early years now, it seems, we cannot compete to be number one. Yes number two or three or number four but last year Leicester were way ahead of us and this year it looks – in mid February – as the same again.
So why do I not line up with vocal fans who have turned against Wenger. Why do I not demand his resignation today? Why do I say leave matters to the end of the season. There are a number of reasons.
I rank Wenger as a human being. He is one of the tops. I have always enjoyed his comments and his commitment and his loyalty. He has always seen through his contract. He stayed at Arsenal and got us into Europe year after year when he was working on a shoe string. He was courted by the best and the richest and said No. He wanted Arsenal to succeed. He wanted to help build a new stadium that would give us long term financial security. He relished the challenge of fighting against the odds and although some fans scorn his 20 year record in Europe, fellow managers admired him enormously. They knew how difficult it was to be either 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th and to be in that number year after year. They respected him – all the more so because he did it for many years when Arsenal was a selling club. We sold to balance the books. Our stars left. We were weaker as a squad and yet Arsene never faltered. We never flirted with relegation. We never fell into mid-table comfort. We never finished up outside the top four and all this time the asset balance sheet improved, the stadium was built and Arsenal had a bright future.
There is a downside as well. We were the bridesmaid but not the bride. We could never make it to number one. As supporters we want to be Champions but we weren’t. In part that was due to finances. If you sell your best players year after year it has a consequence. We could not supplement our squad with better players. We had to make do with what was available and notwithstanding Almunia and Senderos and Denilson and Bendtner and Eboue we stayed in the top four. The time to measure us from is not the Cup win over Man U on penalties but from the year we had funds to buy big and bring in Alexis and Ozil. But we have not reproduced the form of the early years – we have not been a winning side and this has hurt. We are missing leaders. We are too low key.
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During this period the resentment has grown. Some fans – incited by the freedom of social media – have focused their frustrations on Wenger and the protest has widened and deepened on the back pages, on the radio, on twitter, on TV. That makes the backdrop unattractive, unpleasant especially if you identify yourself as a Wenger man as I have long done. And there are fair and proper questions to ask such as – where are our leaders? How does a team take to the pitch “mentally unprepared” as against Watford? Are we too quiet with Ox, Iwobi and Ramsey? Can we carry two leading players that have never made a tackle – Ozil and Walcott? Was his success at Highbury due to the inherited culture of commitment and defence passed on by Keown and Adams and others? Ws he lucky that he inherited Bergkamp and chanced upon Anelka and Fabregas?
So what is best for Arsenal? – where do we go to next? First, we have to leave it until the end of the season. Second, is it change and a leap into the unknown? The appointment of today’s favourite or tomorrow’s favourite – the flavour of the month. Yes – that might work but finish the first season in 5th position and the intolerance will return. Or do we stay with the man we have? Is the man we have a man from the past and not a man for the future?
I do not think, as others do, that Wenger is a phoney or a fraud. I am not one of those people who sees his £8.5m salary as evidence of “pocketing the money” and cheating on the fans. Others may see him as a confidence trickster or worst but I trust more the judgment of people who know him than the people who have never met him but still shout the odds and roll out words of protest at matches and engage in so much vulgarity. I trust Martin Keown and even more Bob Wilson – both of whom describe Wenger in the same terms – “an honourable man”. They know him very well. I accept their words when they say that “Wenger will know when to go”
Of course if he stays he has much to do. Wenger will not want to fail – he will not want to disappoint the many fans that love and revere him. So leave Piers (phone hacker) Morgan and Arsenal TV and social media who have one goal Wenger Out. Stick with the man who is under considerable pressure but has considerable character and commitment and determination. He may fail but I, like so many many others, want him to succeed. So Arsene review your position at the end of the season. Ask your self searching questions. Can you come again? Can you get it right? Do you still have the inner strength and desire? Are you tomorrow’s man? You answer those questions with positives – then you stay. If you falter and hesitate then you know it is time to move on.
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