There comes a point in every season when some Arsenal fans start to call for Arsene Wenger to go. Clearly there has never been quite the displeasure that was seen at the weekend against Swansea. Arsenal appeared one bad defeat from a rebellion, and so it proved.
Yet those fans who booed Arsenal off the pitch and called for Wenger to go are completely and utterly wrong. There are many things wrong with Arsenal right now which should be openly discussed, and Wenger has a lot to answer for. Valid criticisms are needed at a club fighting to get back to the top of the English game.
Booing the team off the pitch solves nothing and makes the problems worse. For so called supporters, it is remarkable to see how many turned on the team after a defeat to, what should not be forgotten, was an excellent Swansea side. Defeat to Swansea should not be so embarrassing that fans should revolt in the way that they did. All the jeering achieves is to make the team increasingly tense and nervous when they play at the Emirates.
Many fans will claim that the players are not putting in enough effort, enough drive, determination or fight. This is one of the most clichéd, overused and inaccurate criticisms of modern football. It can be true of some of lesser sides and players, but those representing top sides do not get where they are without determination, guts and hard work. Players have claimed that they are tired after a gruelling schedule. They probably have a point. One wonders how many of the fans who booed Arsenal off on Saturday have ever done any strenuous exercise in their lives – there comes a point where it is irrelevant how determined you are, the human body can only be pushed so far. It is a physiological fact that there is a physical barrier beyond which an individual will not be able to get past - willpower is paramount of course, but alone it achieves nothing. For many of the Arsenal players on Saturday, particularly Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla, they will have run between 25 and 30 kilometres for the club last week in games against Aston Villa, Everton and Swansea. They do not deserve to be pilloried for lack of effort.
The revolt reflected the reality that Arsenal have not been playing well for several weeks now. Not since the first international break of the season has this Arsenal side looked really fluid, aside from a half hour spell against Tottenham. Yet football is fickle. Arsenal are 10th but we are less than half way through the season. Arsenal were in a bad position last season and recovered to finish fourth. One feature of Wenger’s reign is that judging him half way through a campaign is daft – the final finish has often belied mid season panics.
And what specifically of Wenger? Well for all of the mistakes he has made in recent times, it would be naïve to call for him to make a hasty exit. This is a man who has done more for Arsenal than arguably anyone else in the club’s illustrious history. He has not only given Arsenal fans the Invincibles of 2004, three Premier League titles, numerous FA Cups, consistent Champions League participation and entertaining football, but he has also helped the club to become a model of how to run a team off the field.
The new stadium was largely down to Wenger’s vision, to grow the club to a point where it is self sustaining. Today Arsenal have revenues consistently matched only by four sides in world football; Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The valid question which follows is why has their money not been spent better? Here the valid criticisms of Wenger begin. They were beaten on Saturday by a team built around the talents of Michu, of Wayne Routledge, Nathan Dyer, Itay Schechter and Angel Rangel among others. This is not an expensively assembled team. Why Wenger is not the one signing players like Michu is a wonder, when last year he spent more on André Santos, on Chu Young Park and continues to pay a wage to such luminaries as Andrey Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh, Sebastien Squillaci, Denilson and Nicklas Bendtner among others. Although this also undermines criticisms of Wenger for not spending more. Swansea, West Brom and Everton are all above Arsenal in the league – all operate on a far more limited budget than the Gunners.
It is true that Wenger has lost some of his spark in the transfer market though. He also is failing to get the team to produce the football Arsenal are famous for. The team of a decade ago was based on movement and crisp one touch passing. The Arsenal of Saturday played slowly, midfielders looked up, saw few options as forwards did not make runs and remained static, and Swansea harassed them into mistakes, counter attacking with the fluency that Wenger’s teams used to produce. Basic principles of possession based football have been lost, and that is the Frenchman’s fault. Tiredness probably is a key factor, but that means Wenger has not brought in enough strength in depth to rotate his team effectively. Sir Alex Ferguson constantly rotates his team, which is a key reason why they are consistently at the top.
Yet for all that is wrong at Arsenal, to turn on the man who has done so much to make Arsenal what they are is ungrateful, misguided and certainly counter productive. If any man deserves a perpetual benefit of the doubt, it is Wenger. One day he will go, and maybe the next manager will improve the team’s fortunes. But the ire of Arsenal fans would be more justifiably aimed at Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri or Mathieu Flamini, players who deserted the club during a time of transition for reasons of vanity, whether it was money or trophies they were after.
None of those players showed loyalty to the club, and to take it out on the man who has made the North Londoners into what they are today, and has shown more loyalty to Arsenal than any of the players to have played for them over the years, would be self-defeating. Many fans are casting eyes over at Chelsea and seeing an unstable, financially mis-managed team who win trophies, and asking for Arsenal to follow their example. Yet turning on Wenger and calling for Arsenal to follow the West London model would make those fans little better than those players who have turned on the club and left in recent years. If those fans who booed Arsenal on Saturday truly love the club, a lack of trophies would not make them turn on a team. Of course every fan wants their team to win, but few can actually do that each season. Arsenal are going through a period where winning is difficult, but to turn on the team as a result is nothing short of idiocy. If Arsenal fans are unable to cope with the idea of defeat then they would be better served to stop buying tickets and supporting a football team. The best club in the world is Barcelona. Their motto is ‘mes que un club’ – more than a club. That is a reference to the fact that there is more to football than a trophy parade at the end of a season. Perhaps the fickle fans of the 21st century will wake up and realise that one day.