Wenger and Arsenal in dire need of a derby boost
Arsenal v Tottenham:Arsene Wenger would welcome a shot in the arm for his Arsenal team right now. Anxiety stalks the club ahead of the pressure-cooker derby against Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates Stadium and no one seems more central to the emotion than the long-standing manager.
The respect for what Wenger has accomplished at Arsenal is enduring among the fans, even if it feels as though it will only be properly cemented upon his departure from the position that he has held since September 1996. But it is no longer sacrilegious to question whether he remains the right man for the job and a section of the support has begun to do so.
It is not just the seven years without silverware; rather, fundamental questions about the club’s targets and future direction. Can perennial Champions League qualification in itself be enough? The top teams appear further away than ever and, if third- or fourth-placed finishes do not stand the test of time, then admirably robust balance sheets certainly do not.
Wenger’s current side can provide thrilling romps for the neutral but, mired as they are in their poorest start to a league season since 1982, they are sorely testing the patience of those that love them. The players are not immune to the nerviness around them although, to borrow from the playground, they did start it. The circle is vicious.
Against Fulham at home last Saturday, having taken a 2-0 lead, they sought to preserve what they had, instead of continuing to express themselves and, once Dimitar Berbatov had pulled a goal back, it was shocking to witness how the panic gripped the home side.
Fulham went into a 3-2 lead and, despite Arsenal rallying to draw, Wenger would lament his team’s fragility.
Andre Villas-Boas is also under intense pressure. His team have lost three out of the last four in the Premier League and the manager admitted that his chairman, Daniel Levy, had been prominent among those to tell him, repeatedly, that Tottenham must not lose the derby.
The Portuguese, though, did nothing to dispute the notion that his side could exploit Arsenal’s vulnerabilities just as his quick counter-attacking team did to Manchester United in the 3-2 away win in September. “You try, I think you try [to exploit them],” Villas-Boas said.
Arsenal fans may recall the angst-ridden build-up to the previous derby at the Emirates on 26 February and wonder whether anything has changed.
Back then, the situation was more dramatic, with their team in fifth place, trailing Tottenham in third by 10 points.
When Tottenham took a 2-0 first-half lead and with the home crowd turning on one of their own players, Theo Walcott, it became grave.