Arsenal fans’ disillusionment with Arsene Wenger not as unbalanced as it may seem

FA Cup holders may well be on the cusp of something but we’re just not sure what

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29: (EDITORS NOTE: This is a retransmission of image #459708260 with an alternative crop) Arsenal fans hold up a banner for Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at The Hawthorns on November 29, 2014 in West Bromwich, England (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29: (EDITORS NOTE: This is a retransmission of image #459708260 with an alternative crop) Arsenal fans hold up a banner for Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at The Hawthorns on November 29, 2014 in West Bromwich, England (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

 

It is seven months since Arsenal last won a trophy, not seven years. It is five days since Arsenal last won a match, not five weeks. They have just qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League for the 15th time in 15 seasons and are sixth in the Premier League.

Four of Arsenal’s last five games have brought victories and in three of them – Borussia Dortmund, West Brom and Southampton – they did not concede a goal. It could be argued that as we enter the last fortnight of 2014, Arsenal can reflect on a good year.

And yet . . .

Bleak defeat

Last Saturday as Arsenal prepared to board a train at Stoke-on-Trent following a bleak 3-2 defeat by Stoke City, the man who will one day have his statue outside a stadium he did as much to create as anyone, Arsene Wenger, was berated by a small section of travelling Arsenal fans.

This was a shock – in the way that defeat at Stoke was not. Arsenal lost there last season, too. In fact they’ve won one league game at Stoke since 2008. Whether under Tony Pulis or Mark Hughes, Stoke City know what it takes to beat Wenger’s Arsenal in the Potteries.

Wenger called his defenders “fragile”. Travelling supporters could have told him that before kick-off and it is this conviction which added to their ire. It was not just that defeat was predictable, it was the manner of it.

It is a guess that those shouting on a train platform in Stoke will not have been placated by Tuesday’s 4-1 win at Galatasaray, who finished the Champions League group stage with the worst record of the 32 clubs involved.

Anger rumbles

Because while Wenger was entitled to feel relieved at the performance in Istanbul, and doubtless pleased to see Aaron Ramsey is such form and pledging commitment to his manager, elsewhere the anger rumbles on.

 

Essentially some Arsenal fans have drawn a line in the sand with Wenger. They will not have been satisfied with narrow victories over the likes of West Brom or Southampton, nor with the free hit against Galatasaray. To them, even a home win tonight against Newcastle United will not be seen as part of some recovery from Stoke or the latest step in a long-term plan.

On December 2nd Wenger said he foresees “something special” from his current squad over the next two to three years, but that was a month after he basically conceded this season’s league title to Chelsea.

Fans are due a share of scepticism when such unaligned statements are made and it is not as if these are knee-jerk reactions, these are feelings built over years. Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2 is a scoreline from 2011; AC Milan 4 Arsenal 0 is from 2012; last season, though this year, there was a 5-1 hammering at Anfield followed by a 6-0 clattering at Chelsea. On this weekend last year Arsenal also conceded six at Manchester City.

That 5-1 loss at Anfield came in February. Arsenal arrived top of the Premier League and were 4-0 down in 20 minutes. Last Saturday they were 3-0 down by half-time against a Stoke team which had lost its previous home game to Burnley. This aggravates.

Under Wenger in the past five years Arsenal have manoeuvred themselves into potentially strong positions only to be undermined by the style of play and the personnel he has recruited – or not recruited. At Stoke, at Anfield, at Chelsea and elsewhere, the question is asked: where is Arsenal’s equivalent Nemanja Matic? Where is their midfield power, where is the defensive resilience?

Stubborn man

The questions are asked with a tone that has morphed into anguish and only Wenger’s readiness to address those specific concerns will erode the anxiety. Should he do so, Wenger will be said to have “answered his critics”, as if that proves they were wrong, when in fact they were right. Should he not, and he is a stubborn man, then disenchantment will continue.

Would smart spending in January be fulfilling in itself? It would, to his critics, at least mark a shift, a recognition by Wenger that his recent acquisitions, while exciting in the form of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, occasionally, lack the strategic awareness of, say, Jose Mourinho’s.

At a time when the Premier League contains one very good team in Chelsea and another with the potential to be very good, Manchester City, Arsenal have the economic strength to re-establish themselves above post-Ferguson Manchester United and post-Suarez Liverpool. That financial muscle comes in no small part from Wenger’s astute management over the transition years from Highbury to Ashburton Grove, but that period is done.

The clinching of the FA Cup in May was meant to mark the end of the transition, belatedly, and the start of a new phase. Instead here we are seven months on still wondering what Arsene Wenger and Arsenal are up to. They remain on the cusp of something, we’re just not sure what.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.