Club Focus – Arsenal – Unfortunately for Wenger, reputation and success are not mutually exclusive

Following a tumultuous seven days in which Arsenal suffered defeats to Tottenham and Braga, only to top the league by Saturday afternoon, Arsene Wenger felt his side demonstrated enough against Aston Villa to show those disappointing results were merely a blip in an otherwise positive campaign. Not for the first time during his lengthy tenure, he urged the fans to keep the faith: “I am confident on the longer term, like it is a marathon, that it will all come out – keep with us, and keep faith with the team.”

Needless to say, Wenger remains unperturbed by recent events both off the field and on it. “I am still quite optimistic, even if disappointed by the results,” he said. ”I have no major reason to doubt the team and the players… because I see all the positive signs which are in my team.” The Frenchman is renowned for possessing a myopic view – literally so when his side have committed a misdemeanour or benefited from a dubious refereeing decision – and his latest comments should come as no surprise. Arsene’s Arsenal is too far down the road to embark upon a U-turn at this stage and Le Professeur’s iron will ensures this will not happen under his stewardship. And nor should it on this season’s evidence. The Gunners are firmly in contention to lift a first Premier League title since 2004 and remain heavily involved in every competition entered. The horizon is bright too with UEFA’s financial fair play initiatives gathering momentum. Their poor recent form is merely symptomatic of a wider malaise amongst the Premier League sides hunting a Champions League berth in one of the most open title races in recent memory.

The manager insists: “I have my pride… what matters to me is Arsenal, more than my reputation.” Unfortunately, as much as Monsieur Wenger would like it to be the case, his reputation and the side’s success are not mutually exclusive whereby one can be traded for the other. His aforementioned myopia often makes him look foolish at best, and a hypocrite at worst, yet is designed with the sole purpose of protecting his players and giving them the environment to succeed. These latest comments only confirm that position. Yet, it is the possible connotations of his words that rankle. The statement may indicate the kind of inner drive and desire needed to galvanise the club’s somewhat static progress. Equally it may be indicative of desperation when the philosophy is failing. Much as the adage that says history is written by the victor, the interpretation of the statement will be coloured by subsequent results.

So often the lone voice campaigning against the injustices in football, Wenger faced an acolyte in Wigan’s Roberto Martinez in the Carling Cup quarter-final on Tuesday. Having stated at the weekend: “We will play a strong team,” he confirmed: “The only thing I promise is that we will take the tie seriously.” Such a guarantee would have been unthinkable five years ago, but necessity dictates, especially when trying to exude the sense of a manager driven to succeed rather than madness.

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