Arsène Wenger’s knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time comes under scrutiny in the third instalment of Paul Fennessy’s column
Arsène Wenger is bearing greater resemblance to the real-life incarnation of King Lear with each passing week. The Arsenal manager’s increasing tendency to make ill-advised, deluded comments – coupled with a stark refusal to acknowledge his side’s fallibilities – means that this revered manager risks tarnishing the respect he has acquired since his dramatic arrival onto the English football scene in September of 1996.
Granted, since that fateful day when he was appointed as Arsenal manager, there is no doubting that Wenger’s footballing philosophy has enriched the English game considerably. His continual ability to produce title contending teams of immense talent is nothing short of extraordinary, given the dearth of transfer funds which consistently afflicts his club.
Last week though, a less commendable feature of the Frenchman’s managerial reign reared its ugly head once again, following yet another loss to one of Arsenal’s main Premiership rivals – Chelsea. Wenger, as he has often done in the past, accused the opposition of cheating and provided an array of statistics which supposedly proved that Arsenal were the better of the two sides.
Wenger’s argument outlined how his men were the victims of unsavoury tactics employed by Chelsea which revolved around their constant fouling. He thus accused Carlo Ancelotti’s side of deliberately disrupting the flow of his own team’s fluidity, with its emphasis on slick passing movements and speed of thought – in contrast with Chelsea’s more robust approach to playing the game. Chelsea’s playing method was untenable, claimed Wenger, who essentially equated it with anti-football.
Even the most ardent Chelsea fan would admit that Wenger has a point in stating that Arsenal employ a brand of football that is more attractive to watch than Chelsea’s play – along with all the other teams in the Premiership. Yet to imply that Chelsea’s approach is somehow unworthy of the beautiful game smacks of sour grapes on Wenger’s behalf.
Bafflingly, the Frenchman described his team’s performance as “great” and said specifically, in relation to Chelsea, that: “We didn’t get a demonstration of football but they were efficient.” Such familiar and tiresome comments, from an experienced coach who should know better, are at this stage beyond embarrassing. It is as if he considers the final outcome of a game to be a mere triviality and that all teams with lesser technical ability should bow down to Arsenal’s magisterial skills.
And this instance, of course, was by no means the first time Wenger has conducted himself poorly in post-match interviews. In the aftermath of a similar defeat to Manchester United this season, he again criticised what he perceived as the opposing team’s overly combative approach. Wenger even had the temerity to single out Darren Fletcher for the numerous fouls he endeavoured to commit.
The fact that Wenger chose to ridicule Fletcher was telling. The Scottish international’s uncompromising, take-no-prisoners footballing style represents the antithesis of all that Wenger stands for in the game. However, Fletcher’s technical ability is often underappreciated – he would hardly have acquired such success in his career without a certain degree of skill.
Moreover, such nuances are what make football a wonderful game – both to watch and to participate in. Players such as Darren Fletcher, who do not possess the exceptional talent of opponents like Cesc Fabregas, can nonetheless triumph through sheer work-rate and determination.
Along with Wayne Rooney, Fabregas has arguably been the player of the season thus far. Nevertheless, his mercurial qualities need to be complemented by a player who compensates for the Spaniard’s lack of physicality. Denilson appears to be too similar a player to provide effective support for Fabregas, while Abou Diaby has the physique but not the ability to emulate Patrick Viera.
Although it is unlikely that Wenger would admit it, Fletcher is precisely the type of player that Arsenal should seek to invest in. His admirable drive and unflinching tenacity are qualities which have been absent from the Arsenal midfield since Viera’s departure to Juventus in 2005.
Therefore, until Wenger rectifies this glaring problem – possibly in addition to finding a suitable back-up striker for the injury-plagued Robin Van Persie – Arsenal will persist in flattering to deceive. While beating Liverpool last Wednesday constituted a positive step, there remained a noticeable lack of confidence in Wenger’s team which a more clinical side than Liverpool would have undoubtedly exposed.
Ultimately, Wenger’s unbridled idealism (in relation to the way football should be played) leaves him prone to the type of stubbornness which renders him unwilling to sign a battling midfielder. Furthermore, if the Frenchman persists in making a fool of himself whenever he opens his mouth, tolerance for his eccentricities will soon dissipate.