In the lead up to what, in other times, may have been a run of the mill league game against Aston Villa on Saturday, it’s been a tough old week for Arsene Wenger. It’s certainly one that he’ll be pleased to close the door on, if his team garners three points against the struggling Midlands outfit.
Embarrassingly eliminated from the FA Cup, at home on Saturday by Blackburn, Wenger must still have had the boos from the Gooners ringing in his ears as he walked into the midweek press conference ahead of the Champions League game against Bayern Munich. The always urbane, if sometimes prickly, Frenchman ventured into Fergie-like anti-journo aggression when quizzed in a fairy usual non-provocative manner and delivered the “Why are you looking at me?” line, only to receive the somewhat obvious retort of “Because it’s your press conference.”
Unfortunately, that was not the nadir. Looking ever more frustrated in his seat, he then had to watch the Bavarians pick apart his team with archetypal German clinical efficiency and the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. After a 1-3 defeat, the away leg in the Allianz to come holds little promise for any of the travelling Arsenal faithful – other than the not unpleasant task of indulging in some Bavarian beer, and a bit of self-deprecating gallows humour. Arsene may not understand it, but it’s comfort as cold as that Bavarian beer for fans to hear their manager try to explain away a defeat by saying that their opponents were superior. The corollary of that of course is that his team was inferior, and for the Arsenal fans, sweating on at least finishing above resurgent north London rivals Spurs, the question then arises, as to whose fault that is. Reports suggest a meeting with club owner Stan Kroenke is due this week. The item may well be on the agenda.
Now, it’s entirely likely that, given the relative league positions, Arsenal will comfortably beat Paul Lambert’s struggling Villa on Saturday. The phrase ‘reorganizing the deckchairs on the titanic’ comes to mind however. Watching Villa ‘keeper Guzan fishing three or four out of the back of the onion bag may offer a brief period of light relief, but the chronic dull aching pain for the Gooners is that Arsenal’s best chance of a trophy this season will be to go to Germany in three weeks time, bring home a clear three goal margin victory, and then go on and land the Champions League in what looks like a vintage year for the competition. Personally, I think it’s more likely that Lord Lucan, riding Shergar as a police horse, will be there for the Wembley final of the competition than Arsenal. Sure, it’s still mathematically possible for Arsenal to win the league – actually, is it? – but if that happens, my tip for the Grand National will be Lord Lucan, riding….well, you get the picture. Another trophy-less year for the Gooners therefore seems inevitable.
Wenger’s position in Premier League history is assured. His bequest has been one of innovation, and much-copied modern techniques, now often taken as de riguer, but pioneered by the Frenchman. He’s landed many trophies for Arsenal, and in the press conference mentioned above, trumpeted the facts that he has won more FA Cups than any other manager, and that his team, and no other in Europe, has progressed into the knockout phase of the continent’s premier club competition in every one of the last twelve years.
All this may all well be true, but if the seemingly inevitable happens and Arsenal’s season ends , to borrow from Eliot’s ‘Hollow Men,’ “not with a bang, but a whimper” it’ll mean that during his tenure with the club, the second half of it has been totally bereft of trophies – and no, finishing fourth doesn’t earn one. So, Arsene, it’s sad to say and a little ungrateful perhaps, but don’t be surprised if, when the Gooners are trying to find someone to blame, they’re also looking at you.