Were Things Ever Really as Bad as the Press and ‘Wenger Out’ Crowd Made Out?
So the Premier League is over for 2016/17 and Arsenal have finished 5th and out of the Champions League qualifying places, for the first time in over 20 years. The coach’s head has been called for on numerous occasions, banners have been unfurled and flown above the grounds screaming for his demise, the press ask every week when he is going to leave and almost every paid pundit says that it is time for him to go. But have things ever been as bad as the press made them out to be, or the Wenger Out crowd are willing to believe?
Let’s Take a Look at Some of the Facts.
- Yes Arsenal finished 5th, their lowest Premier League position since 1996, but they accumulated more points than they did last season, when they finished second. The 75 points, that they finished with, would have gained them a top four finish in every previous season going back to 2008/09
- Arsenal went out of the Champion’s League at the first knock out stage, with two embarrassing defeats to Bayern Munich, but they did actually top their qualifying group, undefeated, almost beating Paris Saint Geramain, home and away, despite PSG‘s massive spending power. Remember PSG went on to defeat Barcelona 4-0
- Despite a horrible mid season slump, where they lost or drew games that they should have won, Arsenal won 23 Premier League games, that’s a better than 60% win record, the same as Manchester City, better than Liverpool and only 3 fewer wins than Tottenham.
- Arsenal‘s goal scoring efforts were right up with all of the top 4 teams. There were only 8 goals differentiating the champions and the team finishing 5th. Despite all of the money Manchester United spent in the close season and the press plaudits for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba and Wayne Rooney, United scored 23 goals less, or 30% fewer goals than Arsenal.
While many of the Wenger Out crowd take the words of the pundits as supporting evidence that the manager needs to move on, a more discerning view would be that this is simply a method of filling column inches and creating controversy to fill air time.
Even former Arsenal players have been willing concede that it is time for Le Boss to go. Some may see this as expert opinion, others as disloyalty. But again, when you examine it closely, it is most likely just a means of picking up a pay cheque.
Once the papers, TV sports shows and online media have written their match reports, previews and made up some transfer rumours, where do they go next? Well, time to shuffle some managers around, obviously! Stability is not news, so no good for them.
There was uproar in the press earlier this year when Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Leicester City. Obviously no one wants to see a championship winning coach sacked a few months after winning the Premier League, especially a fairy tale championship winning coach. But the reality was that Leicester was flirting with relegation from the Premier League and drastic situations demand drastic action. This was a crisis for the club.
Arsenal have never been in a crisis during Arsene Wenger‘s stewardship, they have just not won as many trophies recently as he got the fans used to in his early days. That is a totally different situation.
If there is one man who knows about Wenger‘s situation it is Sir Alex Ferguson, he has been there and this is what he had to say. When reading this bear in mind that, unlike many other ‘experts’ who have been quoted on the subject, Sir Alex does not rely on the press for an income for his opinion.
“At the moment, of course, with the ridiculous situation of the pressure Arsene is under, I just wonder if they realise the job he’s done,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.
“The most amazing thing about him is this: he has come through a forest of criticism for months now, and has never bowed. He has seen it right through, he has shown a determination, a stubbornness. I think when you look at that, it’s a quality, and I’m not sure they’ll ever get another manager like that.
“It’s quite easy to say ‘Get rid of him’, but who do you get? Who do you get in to keep that club the way they are for the next 20 years?
“I really feel sorry for him because I think he’s shown outstanding qualities, and I think he has handled the whole situation. I don’t know many that have done that.”
Lack of Understanding
The Wenger Out crowd do not have an iota of the understanding of football, or sport in general, that either Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson has.
To my mind they are a total embarrassment to the sport, up there with diving players who writhe around on the ground to get a free kick or another player booked and are up and running about as soon as that is done.
There is a very good argument that all of the disruption that they have caused is a major contributor to Arsenal‘s drop in form mid-season. It must affect the mind of players when they are going out doing their best to win and no matter what, sections of the crowd are calling to sack the coach.
They do the game, the club and themselves a disservice and I am certain that they would be happier at a club like Chelsea or Manchester City, where money talks and loyalty means nothing.
But this is not a blind tribute nor an acceptance that not winning is OK. There is no doubt that changes need to be made to win the big trophies. But before the transfer rumours begin and numerous strikers are linked with the club, remember that the goals are coming already. It is the defence that lets Arsenal down so often and has been a problem since Wenger took over and the original back four that he inherited retired.
Picking quality defenders has never been his forté and I thought that maybe things would improve when Steve Bould became assistant manager and they did, a bit, for a while. But the flakiness in defence returns far too often.
Mustafi was a good buy and I don’t think it was a coincidence that Arsenal‘s poor mid-season run linked in with his drop in form. But hopefully his form will return. Rob Holding looks very promising and the change to a back three has proved positive, after a shaky start.
Gabriel went off injured after having one of his best games at the weekend, but I would still like to see him replaced, with someone much more reliable in that position.
In midfield the big buy, Granit Xhaka, did not have a stellar start to his Arsenal career. But hopefully it has been a foundation season for him, that could see him go on to be a major Premier League player. Because, as well as solid central defenders, Arsenal really need someone solid in midfield, who does not get sent off or booked all of the time.
At left back Arsenal have a defensive problem too. Both Monreal and Gibbs are very good at going forward, but not defending and far too many crosses come in from that side
It Ain’t Over ’til it’s Over
But Arsenal‘s season is not over yet. There is still one big game remaining… at Wembley, and Arsenal love Wembley. There is no denying Chelsea are going to be hard to beat. They are on a tremendous run of form and full of confidence. But Arsenal have been tenacious of late, with five wins on the trot, scoring 13 goals and only conceding 2.
So, if you are a real Arsenal fan, get behind them next weekend and drown out any cynical voices that you hear.