With criticism of Arsene Wenger seemingly hitting an all-time high, Derek Bilton uses his weekly TEAMtalk column to launch an impassioned defence of the Arsenal boss.
Amid precious little fanfare over the weekend Arsene Wenger became Europe’s longest serving manager. It came about following Ronnie McFall’s decision to leave Portadown after an impressive 29 years in charge, and came at a time when he again found his position at the Emirates under threat.
Wenger has been in the Arsenal hotseat for 19 years, and has again found himself under fire recently after seeing their title challenge falter. They battled gamely for a 2-2 draw at bitter rivals Spurs on Saturday but having lost two games before that now find themselves eight points behind leaders Leicester City.
Wenger, so often the pantomime villain in the eyes of rival fans, is now getting merciless stick from certain sections of his own support and it seems that North London supporters of a red and white persuasion are on the cusp of turning against the Frenchman once and for all. Even the Frenchman himself admits he’s “getting bored” of having to justify himself.
All things considered that point at Spurs was a good one, particular when you factor in they played over half an hour with 10 men following Francis Coquelin’s dismissal.
Yet as I trawled through Twitter with Tottenham 2-1 ahead on Saturday I came across the usual bitter and twisted ‘Wenger Out’ nonsense from the usual suspects. He was rounded on for being ‘naive’ while others claimed he’d now ‘lost the plot’. Neither of which of course is actually true.
This is a man who has delivered Champions League football for 18 consecutive seasons. A man whose managerial nous helped build a new stadium and establish Arsenal as one of England’s best. Yet it’s still not enough for some fans, who are unhappy that he doesn’t have a Champions League title on his CV or that he’s not won the league with the Gunners since 2004.
Wenger’s 19-year tenure is rare given that we now live in an age of angry mob rule when it comes to football. Fans can scream abuse at matches or on social media and if enough are doing it, it usually follows that the club in question takes note and changes are made.
Stats suggest that club bosses are no longer given time to get things right. The average tenure of a manager in the English professional game has dropped to just 1.23 years.
It really is becoming an impossible job. Wenger’s reign has been the exception to the rule largely because while silverware has been at a premium in recent seasons, he’s kept his club competitive while profit margins have soared. The climate now seems to be changing however and one wonders whether he will get to see out his latest contract, which expires in 2017?
It’ll be a crying shame if Wenger, a man who helped revolutionise club football over here in terms of diet and general professionalism, ends up as a prisoner in his own dugout. Harangued and derided by the very supporters who he once brought such joy to. It truly is a fickle business.
And Arsenal only need to look at the example of big rivals Manchester United to be reminded that change does not guarantee success. Since Sir Alex Ferguson left Old Trafford the Red Devils have won precisely nothing and even qualifying for the Champions League might be beyond them this season.
Listen, it’s the easiest thing in the world to be a critic. It’s harder to do in your heart what you feel to be right and follow your own philosophy. Graeme Souness recently claimed that Arsenal are “weak and insipid” and claimed they “bordered on a joke” after a recent loss to Manchester United. This from a man who was an unmitigated disaster when manager of Liverpool and who bombed after inheriting a genuinely talented team from Sir Bobby Robson at Newcastle.
Wenger will go down in Arsenal folklore. Souness will continue to wear snappy suits and throw shafts of sarcasm at the big names from the comfort and safety of a TV studio.
Times may seem tough for Mr Wenger just now, but after almost two decades at Arsenal he should draw comfort from that fact that nobody ever erected a statue in honour of a critic.