ARSENAL boss Arsene Wenger is a man on the brink. Saturday’s home defeat to Liverpool has detonated the myth that the Gunners were ever likely to finish in the top four and Wenger would be advised to consider jumping before he is pushed. Or so some would have us believe.
But it’s hard to escape the feeling that, while he is certainly in the hardest spell of his reign, Wenger’s obituaries are being prepared hastily and that reaction to one negative result has bordered on the hysterical.
Arsenal were competing adequately with Liverpool until the sending off of Emmanuel Frimpong. Thomas Vermaelen was rendering £35m Andy Carroll anonymous and Robin van Persie had gone very close to putting them ahead. The red card, and the subsequent introduction of Luis Suarez, changed everything.
It was Liverpool’s first win at Arsenal for 11 years, we were breathlessly informed – as if it were further evidence of how far the Gunners had fallen, rather than a reflection of the long malaise from which the Merseysiders are only now escaping.
Other statistics highlighted were that Arsenal still hadn’t scored a Premier League goal this season and, before yesterday’s games, had dropped to the unheard-of low of sixth from bottom in the table. Is this not a bit much after two games? And in terms of goals, half of the teams in the division have only managed one or fewer, so they are far from unique.
PULL THE TRIGGER
It is undeniable that Wenger’s current team is a pale shadow of his previous ones and that a handful of experienced, good quality signings could make a world of difference. They lack depth at centre-back, have been shorn of creativity in midfield and rely far too heavily on Robin van Persie for goals. The Frenchman has not earned himself much sympathy with some curious comments and a baffling transfer policy, which justifies committing £15m to a League One teenager but not a similar amount to an England defender.
Yet a sluggish start to the season and a loss to one of English football’s traditional superpowers, who have lavished £100m in the last six months on becoming a top four force again, is surely not going to convince him that it is time to hang up his incongruous sports cagoule for good. He made that quite clear after the game. Even less likely is it that American owner Stan Kroenke will pull the trigger. Fans may be on Wenger’s back now, but if he was sacked and fortunes deteriorated further – as there’s every danger they would – then they would be baying for Kroenke’s head next.
Wenger complained, with justification, after Saturday’s game that every Arsenal defeat was being treated “like an absolute disgrace and an earthquake”. The one match that does have seismic repercussions, however, is Wednesday’s Champions League play-off at Udinese. Arsenal go to Italy with just a one-goal lead, and elimination would be a colossal blow to their standing as well as their coffers. Then, and only then, ought serious questions about his future to be raised.