Thursday, 21 April 2016

Arsène Wenger stands firm but Arsenal are standing still and close to meltdown




 


Arsène Wenger had had enough. The Arsenal manager, as usual, had wanted to look ahead to the next game – in this case, West Bromwich Albion’s visit to the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night – yet the issue at hand was the continuing autopsy into his club’s Premier League season, with all the gory and familiar trimmings.
“I would like to remind you that if we win against West Brom, we are third in the league and, if you look at the history of the club, over 140 years, and the consistency of the club, you will see that it’s not a shame,” Wenger said. “Even if we are not happy with it.”
It has long been the title or bust for Wenger to vindicate the second half of his near 20-year tenure in north London but this season the feeling has been more acute, owing to the travails of Chelsea, the Manchester clubs and Liverpool. What has most surely made things even more frustrating for the Arsenal fanbase is Tottenham Hotspur, and how they have purred through the gears, and the contenders, to launch a compelling assault on the big prize.
Tottenham have never finished above Wenger’s Arsenal and how they will revel in doing so, if they can maintain their current form. But just imagine if the neighbourhood supremacy also brought with it the title.
Everyone has seemingly had enough at Arsenal – apart from Wenger – not least, the percentage of supporters who have concluded that the time has come for a change. They can see no other way to break the monotony and the same old cycle of finding the same ways to fall just short than to get rid of Wenger. To them, consistent top-four finishes have had their day. The sprinting to stand still is draining.
Wenger, of course, is not for going anywhere and a little scene, which has been acted out many times at his press conferences, was on show again on Wednesday morning.
The question concerned whether he might leave his post in the summer, 12 months before the end of his contract. “I do not want to come back on that, I respect always my contract,” Wenger replied. So, there is no chance of you leaving – no matter what? “I’ve just answered your question.”
Wenger almost always handles close-to-the-bone questions with poise and dignity but this one narks him, and it narked him here. Which is perfectly understandable. “Hey mate, are you going to leave your job because you’re no good at it and nobody likes you?” Exactly.
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Stan Kroenke likes Wenger and he will not sack him. Put yourself in the majority shareholder’s position. In Wenger, he has a manager who always has the club in the places that matter, financially, and whose team always look to play attractive football. It all adds up to brand appeal in east Asia, to where the club’s website trumpets how “Everything Is Awesome!” – to borrow the earworm ditty from the Lego Movie.
The distance to the top is much shorter than that to the bottom, and there are obvious risks associated with a change, particularly when it involves the removal of a manager whose DNA is in every pore of the club. Why upset the applecart? Supporter discontent? That does not keep Kroenke awake at night.
Wenger has talked previously of how “we live in a society of news” and, by that, he means “new things”. With Arsenal right now, it is the same olds, and Wenger addressed plenty of them before the West Brom game. There was the fight for a Champions League finish, and the related question of how important it might be to finish third rather than fourth, in order to avoid a play-off.
There was the bit about star players that are coming up to the two-year contractual red zone; Wenger said the club was talking to Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez, whose deals expire in the summer of 2018. And there was the gripe about visiting teams that mass players behind the ball.
“Our opponents wait for us in the final third with 10 men,” Wenger said, with a nod towards Crystal Palace’s tactics in the 1-1 draw at the Emirates last Sunday. “We had very little option. Usually, in this kind of game, it’s important to score the first goal [which Arsenal did], but still they did not come out.”
It was put to Wenger that visiting teams had been massing players behind the ball for a long time. “Some teams come now to the Emirates and play very, very deep, and are quick on the break as well,” Wenger said. “The physical power and potential of teams has improved in the Premier League and it makes it more difficult. The teams last longer. They do not die in the final 20 any more.”
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Wenger mentioned that the quality of his team’s game was good, and that they needed to add “the small margins that make us efficient again”; he stood up for his decisions, as ever, and he referenced “the values at the club that we have to respect until the end”.
Above all, there were the fans, who are largely split between mutiny and apathy but united by a desire for the season to end as quickly as possible. There have been many returns from season-ticket holders for the West Brom game, and it will be interesting to see whether there are empty seats. The mood of those in attendance will be equally telling. There have been times this season when the anxiety from the stands has appeared to affect the players.
“Maybe, maybe,” Wenger said. “But we have to deal with that. I don’t think that when you’re on the pitch, it stops you from finishing or scoring. It’s a modern world. What can I do about it? I’ve no power to change the emotions of our fans, other than making them happy with the results we have.
“There is an environment that has been created which is negative at the moment. We have to transform that and live with that. We want our fans to be happy, I want you to be happy, I want everybody in the world to be happy and, if I had the power to do it, believe me, I would do it. But I cannot.”
Arsène Wenger had had enough. The Arsenal manager, as usual, had wanted to look ahead to the next game – in this case, West Bromwich Albion’s visit to the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night – yet the issue at hand was the continuing autopsy into his club’s Premier League season, with all the gory and familiar trimmings.
“I would like to remind you that if we win against West Brom, we are third in the league and, if you look at the history of the club, over 140 years, and the consistency of the club, you will see that it’s not a shame,” Wenger said. “Even if we are not happy with it.”
It has long been the title or bust for Wenger to vindicate the second half of his near 20-year tenure in north London but this season the feeling has been more acute, owing to the travails of Chelsea, the Manchester clubs and Liverpool. What has most surely made things even more frustrating for the Arsenal fanbase is Tottenham Hotspur, and how they have purred through the gears, and the contenders, to launch a compelling assault on the big prize.
Tottenham have never finished above Wenger’s Arsenal and how they will revel in doing so, if they can maintain their current form. But just imagine if the neighbourhood supremacy also brought with it the title.
Everyone has seemingly had enough at Arsenal – apart from Wenger – not least, the percentage of supporters who have concluded that the time has come for a change. They can see no other way to break the monotony and the same old cycle of finding the same ways to fall just short than to get rid of Wenger. To them, consistent top-four finishes have had their day. The sprinting to stand still is draining.
Wenger, of course, is not for going anywhere and a little scene, which has been acted out many times at his press conferences, was on show again on Wednesday morning.
The question concerned whether he might leave his post in the summer, 12 months before the end of his contract. “I do not want to come back on that, I respect always my contract,” Wenger replied. So, there is no chance of you leaving – no matter what? “I’ve just answered your question.”
Wenger almost always handles close-to-the-bone questions with poise and dignity but this one narks him, and it narked him here. Which is perfectly understandable. “Hey mate, are you going to leave your job because you’re no good at it and nobody likes you?” Exactly.
Advertisement
Stan Kroenke likes Wenger and he will not sack him. Put yourself in the majority shareholder’s position. In Wenger, he has a manager who always has the club in the places that matter, financially, and whose team always look to play attractive football. It all adds up to brand appeal in east Asia, to where the club’s website trumpets how “Everything Is Awesome!” – to borrow the earworm ditty from the Lego Movie.
The distance to the top is much shorter than that to the bottom, and there are obvious risks associated with a change, particularly when it involves the removal of a manager whose DNA is in every pore of the club. Why upset the applecart? Supporter discontent? That does not keep Kroenke awake at night.
Wenger has talked previously of how “we live in a society of news” and, by that, he means “new things”. With Arsenal right now, it is the same olds, and Wenger addressed plenty of them before the West Brom game. There was the fight for a Champions League finish, and the related question of how important it might be to finish third rather than fourth, in order to avoid a play-off.
There was the bit about star players that are coming up to the two-year contractual red zone; Wenger said the club was talking to Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez, whose deals expire in the summer of 2018. And there was the gripe about visiting teams that mass players behind the ball.
“Our opponents wait for us in the final third with 10 men,” Wenger said, with a nod towards Crystal Palace’s tactics in the 1-1 draw at the Emirates last Sunday. “We had very little option. Usually, in this kind of game, it’s important to score the first goal [which Arsenal did], but still they did not come out.”
It was put to Wenger that visiting teams had been massing players behind the ball for a long time. “Some teams come now to the Emirates and play very, very deep, and are quick on the break as well,” Wenger said. “The physical power and potential of teams has improved in the Premier League and it makes it more difficult. The teams last longer. They do not die in the final 20 any more.”
Advertisement
Wenger mentioned that the quality of his team’s game was good, and that they needed to add “the small margins that make us efficient again”; he stood up for his decisions, as ever, and he referenced “the values at the club that we have to respect until the end”.
Above all, there were the fans, who are largely split between mutiny and apathy but united by a desire for the season to end as quickly as possible. There have been many returns from season-ticket holders for the West Brom game, and it will be interesting to see whether there are empty seats. The mood of those in attendance will be equally telling. There have been times this season when the anxiety from the stands has appeared to affect the players.
“Maybe, maybe,” Wenger said. “But we have to deal with that. I don’t think that when you’re on the pitch, it stops you from finishing or scoring. It’s a modern world. What can I do about it? I’ve no power to change the emotions of our fans, other than making them happy with the results we have.
“There is an environment that has been created which is negative at the moment. We have to transform that and live with that. We want our fans to be happy, I want you to be happy, I want everybody in the world to be happy and, if I had the power to do it, believe me, I would do it. But I cannot.”





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