SportSoccer

Wenger fighting fires before a ball has been kicked

SoccerBy Kevin Palmer
Wenger needs to deliver the Premier League title this season
Wenger needs to deliver the Premier League title this season

"If you analyse well our season, we finished top of the top-four,” declared Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger last weekend, in comments that sparked an inevitable storm of abuse from his increasingly vocal army of detractors.

Even as Wenger served up his latest haphazard view of his side’s failings, the Frenchman did not realise that he was fuelling the fire of animosity burning around him.

Wenger has been losing battles on the pitch for most of the last decade, as his Arsenal team continue to come up short in the title race, yet his failure to win the PR war in press conferences has become one of his biggest problems as he edges towards the end of his career.

Finishing ahead of Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City in a season when the trio suffered a variety of calamities is hardly an achievement to celebrate, yet Wenger’s comments highlighted the declining ambitions under his watch.

The bigger picture confirmed that Arsenal ended up a full ten points behind surprise champions Leicester, but Wenger has been promoting consistency over glory for more than decade now.

FA Cup triumphs in 2014 and 2015 did not banish the theory that Wenger is yesterday’s man, but he remains defiant in the face of criticism as he heads into the final year of his current contract.

“I built the club with hard work, without any external resources and, if you compare where we are today to when I arrived, we have moved forward and without any money from anybody, just the money we produced from the work,” says the Arsenal boss.

“I have no doubts about my huge motivation. I am even more motivated than the first day I arrived and feel the pressure and the responsibility to keep moving this club forward more now.

“I’m honest enough to make sure that I give my best. I’m not too much of an image person, I just want to think I give my best for this club and I’m determined to do that.

“Honest dedication and total commitment is the most important thing.”

The cash surplus in Arsenal’s bank accounts is said to amount to as much as £200m, yet Wenger’s reluctance to spend it and the recent comments from the club’s chief executive Ivan Gazidis that the Gunners cannot compete for the game’s top players continue to infuriate fans.

With key men Per Mertesacker (below) and Danny Welbeck out for the rest of 2016 with injuries, Arsenal head into their latest title push with holes in their squad that need filling, yet don’t expect Wenger to hit the panic button and make the signings his club’s fans are demanding.

“I buy players that I feel can strengthen our team and don’t just buy to answer the critics,” adds the Arsenal boss.

“There’s always a wave of opinions. I must say people are better informed today and they know all the players.

“They tell you always that you should buy but when you ask them who to buy, they become much shorter.”

Excuses have replaced trophies in the second half of Wenger’s enduring reign as Arsenal manager, with the Frenchman who will toast 20 years at the helm of the north London club in October a transformed personality from his initial starting point in English football.

Initially hailed as the trailblazer for foreign managers following his arrival at Arsenal in 1996, Wenger’s brand of attacking football and his informed, savvy approach in the transfer market set a new standard for the rest to follow.

Yet the chasing pack plagiarised and improved on the Wenger blueprint long ago, with the former master now recast as a perennial loser.

Failure to end his enduring wait for a fourth Premier League title triumph will surely signal the end of his Arsenal dynasty next May.