Arsene Wenger has refused to take the blame for Arsenal’s crisis
In his usual spot behind a small table at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground, there the Frenchman was, four weeks into the season, in his usual position of fighting off a crisis.
When they asked Wenger to sign a new two-year contract in the summer, did the Arsenal board really expect it to be any different?
It was the 67-year-old’s first outing in front of the press since transfer deadline day offered no respite to Arsenal fans seething from the manner of the 4-0 defeat at Liverpool. It was disappointment after disappointment – but could the two be linked?
In a classic act of Wenger misdirection, the Arsenal manager appeared to be trying to hijack the cross-examination of his side’s poor form by hinting at some greater story of far more newsworthy proportions than his own club’s steady demise.
Everybody had spotted that move of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Merseyside had come on the back of an uncharacteristically lacklustre performance at Anfield. Unsurprisingly, then, there were nudges and whispers as soon as the Frenchman hinted at the nefarious benefits of having matches while the transfer window is still open.
Even in players’ minds they have no clarity
“Even in players’ minds they have no clarity,” he said. “Are they in? Are they out? Are they half in? Are they half out? Are they tapped up in the afternoon of the game by people who want to get them out?”
What now? Was Wenger insinuating something? Pushed further, he was a good deal more reluctant to offer real answers than he had been when raising his smokescreen of questions in the first place.
Wenger was asked, for clarification purposes, if he was saying players get tapped up deliberately just ahead of matches.
“You are not naive enough to think that will not happen?” he replied suggestively.
It was time to ask him outright. Did he mean before that Liverpool game? Wenger was suddenly coy.
Arsene Wenger wants FFP to be scrapped
“I don’t know,” he added, “I don’t know. Have they been tapped up? Of course. But on the day of a game? I don’t think so, I hope not. But it’s inevitable.”
Liverpool’s interest in Oxlade-Chamberlain was certainly no secret and with hindsight, it was proposed, perhaps it might have been a better decision to rest him.
“I don’t want to go into individual cases,” was all Wenger would say. “If I am a football player, I can perform even if Liverpool is in my head. I don’t think that should stop you to perform.
“Did it? I think he was not worse than any other player on the football pitch.”
That, unfortunately, brought things to the crux of the real problem. The fact the whole team were awful. So bad, in fact, that defeat at Bournemouth tomorrow will make it the worst start to the season for Arsenal since 1982.
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Wenger, though, was not the one to blame for the negativity and criticism swirling around the club. He didn’t do it.
The club’s legends are to blame. Or the financial fair play. Or the philosophy of English football. Or, of course, the media.
After criticising his players, the Invincibles have become the ‘Imperfects’. “They had their weak games and their weak behaviours as well,” Wenger said. “Nobody was perfect.”
The lack of genuine fair play financially was used as an excuse for another nondescript transfer window and a suggestion that Wenger needs to find a way to start winning, even at the cost of his attractive brand of football, was met with scorn.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain joined Liverpool shortly after starting against them for Arsenal
“To convince people that to win you have to play ugly is for me a wrong debate,” he said.
“If England has not won on an international level in over 50 years, it’s maybe time at some stage to come to the right conclusions.
“Yes, we didn’t play well enough the way we want to play, I agree with you, but to come out to a conclusion that you have to kick the ball into the stand to win football games is the wrong conclusion.”
As for the media? “You work very hard to get our fans on our back and you do that very well,” he said.
The more honest truth is that, as a newspaper, the biggest damage we are doing to Wenger’s reputation right now is continuing to print the Arsenal results. There is no hiding that, sadly.