Monday, January 30, 2012

In defense of Arsene Wenger

So this is not Arsenal's season ... I get that, but I do not understand the chants for Wengers head, especially in the most recent match against Man Utd.

Less than 6 months ago we got the hammering of our lives (literally) going down at Old Trafford 8-2.

At that point there were daggers drawn against Wenger, and although I didn't agree with those voices, I understood why the fans felt the way they did.

We had just lost our 2 best players, at least one of whom we knew was going, and the feeling was that the manager didn't do enough to cover the gaps caused by their departure. Perhaps. I don't necessarily subscribe to that as I don't believe we (the general public) are privy to all the facts. Nasri played a full pre-season with Arsenal and I believe it was Wengers intention to keep him at the Emirates, but the powers that be (combined with Nasri's own greed) threw a spanner in the works at the eleventh hour.

Anyway, it happened and Arsenals dismal start to the season had fans irate at the manager. But he responded. He went on a shopping spree on the last day of the transfer window (which I documented and commented on here) and did what was necessary to strengthen the team. It took a week or two, but the team was transformed. They went on a fantastic run for 10 games and brought themselves into very realistic contention for a top 4 finish, and qualified for the Champions League knockout stages (no small feet considering that both Machester clubs didn't).

The Christmas period, however, saw a turn of fortunes. Some carelessness slipped in and points were dropped, but thanks to inconsistency from the other top 4 contenders, Arsenal remain very much in the fight (albeit in fifth place).

The latest challenge Arsenal have faced in the league was against, arch rivals, Manchester United ... In something of a grudge match following the thrashing they got earlier in the season. This time, the pundits were calling it a much more even fight. And as the game went on, Arsenal were putting on a real challenge. After equalizing from being 1-0 down, Arsenal took the game to the champions and were creating chances to win the game. The star on Arsenals part, a bright young player, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, making his first league start for The Gunners. He was fast and riveting, aggressively taking the game to United, and there was real excitement around the ground watching him ... and then the substitution. At 75 minutes, Wenger pulled off Chamberlain and replaced him with the faltering Russian captain, Andrey Arshavin.

It was an unbelievable moment ... Not so much for the substitution itself (which did puzzle me as much as 60,000 other people), but for the vocal reaction of the crowd. A deafening chorus of "boo's" echoed around the stadium ... the fans voicing their reaction to this apparently incredulous move.

Now here is my concern. Arsene Wenger has revived a dead team this season. He was accused in the summer for his inactivity in the transfer market, but he did buy Alex Oxlade - Chamberlain, for £15m. So now Wenger is being slated for substituting the player he was so criticized for buying. If the substitution is to be criticized, then what about congratulating him on the purchase?

This was one action in an isolated game ... how can opinions be turned and formed in such a short space of time? What about the phenomenal performance of the team in the 3 months prior to this?

The team currently has 4 full backs injured and is heavily compromised at the back. Their most up and coming player, Jack Wilshere, has been out injured all season, and this is bound to have an impact on the teams power.

It's quite understandable that the fans want wins and silverware (as do I), but this cannot (or at least should not) be bought, and I believe the Wenger way is the honorable and right way.

There are chants for the club (Wenger) to spend money on new talent, but I don't think the fans see the full picture. Look at Torres at Chelsea and Carroll at Liverpool. Big money purchases are not the easy answer they appear to be. Nor is it realistic to compare Arsenals alleged funds available to that of Chelsea or Man City who are being bank rolled by benevolent billionaire owners. In fact, the only club and manager that has been able to compete with "normal" means is Man Utd, and they have proven themselves to be the exception and not the rule.  Arsenal do (IMHO) a superb job of staying up amongst these top clubs while remaining financially sound (a fact that most people don't seem to understand the importance of).

Besides, apart from Wenger following his "youth" policy, It is also forgotten that there have been a number of purchases made ... Some not so good, but some excellent. Arshavin himself was the toast of North London when he arrived, but sadly his form and consistency has since dipped. Vermaelen is world class and Koscielny has finally settled into the club, and English football, after a shaky start. Szczesny has turned into an outstanding number one choice for goalkeeper and Gervinho is looking very promising in his first season.

All these players, including Mertesacker and Arteta, are solid players who form part of an efficient team ... not a disarray of star individuals (look at how Nasri is playing at Man City) ... and it works.

I think Arsenal will pull it together and I think this season is far from being written off. This team continues to play attractive football and competes with the best in the world. It has become the club it is because of and thanks to Arsene Wenger. Without him, the future could be very bleak.

Last night, Arsenal broke their run of 3 losses in a row with a dramatic FA Cup win over Aston Villa. This will have calmed tempers and frustrations for now … but other slip ups will occur and the daggers will be drawn again.

We need patients and to have realistic expectations. As I have written here before, to the Arsenal "faithful", be careful what of what you wish for ... It may come true!

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