Saturday, November 8, 2008
Mounting Pressure from Fans and Media Forces Wenger to Come out Fighting
In the build up to the crucial clash with Manchester United, Arsene Wenger was forced to come out fighting against mounting pressure from Arsenal fans and media organisations.
And in one of the biggest surprises of this or any other season, Arsenal fans seem to have lost confidence in their mercurial managers philosophies and methods, as their team has slumped to three defeats in their first 11 games of the season...
Media organisations have been quick to place blame at Wenger's door as Arsenal's title aspirations are all but gone after drawing to arch-rivals Tottenham at home after leading 4-2 with a minute to play, and after the nature of their defeat to newly promoted Stoke at the Britannia Stadium last week.
Add in a scoreless draw at home to Fenerbahce in the Champions League mid-week, where Arsenal fans chose to voice their displeasure in booing the team off the pitch and for the first time in his tenure as manger Wenger is under pressure.
And with Arsenal Director and former player Bob Wilson saying he believes that Wenger will walk away if the pressure doesn't relax, you have most of the ingredients that forced a statement from The Professor.
With the media sensing blood as Arsenal's under strength team face an on-form United (Arsenal v Man Utd Preview) Wenger was forced to head "the posse off at the pass" in preparation for a media assault on him should Arsenal not win against United.
When asked whether he would contemplate resignation, Wenger gave a good-natured reply instead of the terse one the reporter was expecting "No, I love it here. In my decisions always what's first is the interest of the club, not what the media think. I am proud of the decisions I've made."
The questions then moved on to Arsenal's lack of experience and of their three game run without a win. But Wenger issued another well thought out response as he talked about his current side. "I personally believe in my team, I'm proud of what they do. Our results are not as good as we want them to be."
"Every single team has more experience than we have [but] I don't believe strength is linked with experience. It is linked with desire, with talent, with intelligence. You can be intelligent at 18 or 20 but stupid by 30" he said as he gave his reasons for why he has failed to replace Flamini and Hleb in the engine room of central midfield.
After placating the media with his well thought out answers he added "I am approaching the game on Saturday more with hope than expectation at the moment."
Wengers expert answers sated the media on Friday, how they will be received by fans is another.
In his time at Arsenal, he has revolutionised not only the club but also the way football is approached on and off the pitch in England. Initially when he took over Arsenal were an aging team with some fantastic flair players like Bergkamp in the side, but they were still regarded as a "direct" team.
Wenger not only changed the style of football at the club but he extended the careers of players like Tony Adams and Martin Keown as his off-field education paid huge dividends as players finally saw themselves as athletes instead of footballers.
And over the next 12 seasons he would lead Arsenal to the league three times and finish as runner up five times. They have never featured outside the top four and have always played with panache and flair.
Currently Arsenal are trophy-less since 2005 and Arsenal fans are growing more and more frustrated as they slip further behind Manchester United and Chelsea. Their cause is further weakened by Liverpool's recent resurgence as definite title contenders this season as fans realise that 4th place might be the best that they will finish.
Add this to Wengers apparent failure to replace Flamini and Hleb in midfield as Arsenal's fragile under-belly gets exposed to the physical approach of the game, and the Gooners are becoming restless.
But they should realise that Arsenal were never going to win the league this season. And Wenger has known this from the start. Instead of replacing last season's key players as they left he has replaced them with youth as he strives to give them the experience they need to challenge for the league in a season or two.
Arsenal are that far ahead of the rest of the league that Wenger has no fears of finishing outside the top four positions. And if the fans give their manager the time he craves and deserves, they will be challenging for honours sooner rather than later.