Lack of logic
Peter Fraser thinks Arsene Wenger is suffering as a result of the extinct science of reasoning.
By Peter Fraser - Follow on twitter @SkySportsPeteF
Last Updated: 20/02/12 12:59pm
Arsene Wenger this weekend used logic as a guard. Sadly, the science of reasoning in football has been extinct for decades, if indeed it ever existed.
Even Andre Villas-Boas' continued impersonation of an amalgamation of British sitcom characters, Gordon Brittas and Frank Spencer, could not completely bury Arsenal's manager in the weekend news agenda following the FA Cup capitulation at Sunderland.
It was the conclusion of the week from hell for Wenger. The humiliation at AC Milan in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League was followed by confirmation Per Mertesacker had undergone ankle surgery. Events at the Stadium of Light were then given the additional bleakness of a burgeoning injury list now containing Aaron Ramsey, Sebastian Squillaci and Francis Coquelin.
It is a cruel twist of fate that Arsenal are currently nursing 10 players. Key men Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna have also missed large chunks of the season to expose a thin squad who are struggling in the fight to finish fourth in the Premier League.
Amid a seven-year trophy drought, it has simply become another stick with which critics have been able to beat Wenger. And on Sunday, the pressure told as the Frenchman turned to the aforementioned logic. Arsenal's manager played the card which is equivalent to the plumber telling the electrician they have no right to criticise, because they have never attempted to fix a leaking tap.
Wenger said: "At the moment, I get many lessons from many people who have managed zero clubs and zero games and zero European games." He has been mocked for the statement and it has the distinct whiff of a last refuge. But, for those missing the point, he has every right to make the claim. It is a characteristically honest, intelligent, open and clinical observation from a man nicknamed 'Le Professeur'.
Arsenal's boss of 16 years is the greatest foreign manager Britain has ever seen and, in a culture now obsessed with immediacy, it is almost impossible to imagine we will ever again see his like in the future. Wenger's contribution to British football - youth policy, nutrition, lifestyle discipline and training techniques - famously brought a seismic shift to the Premier League and beyond.
In 1998, he was the first non-British manager to win England's league championship and, in the same year, he also won the FA Cup to complete an historic Double. He was a trailblazer for the foreign imports which are now commonplace and have improved standards and transformed the identity of every club. The man himself once superbly put it: "Each person brings from his own culture the positive side, which all comes together in the service of efficiency. That is the beauty. It is almost magical."
It is when the time comes for his move away from the Arsenal dugout that the praise will increase in quantity. That time to leave is not now. In August, David Dein, Arsenal's former vice-chairman and friend of Wenger, essentially delivered the message, 'be careful what you wish for' with regards to the club's managerial situation. It was a well-judged assessment.
There is a need for practical backing of Wenger from Arsenal's board and fans. Club director and 66.8 per cent majority shareholder Stanley Kroenke is reportedly flying to England to hold a board meeting, which will include chairman Peter Hill-Wood and chief executive Ivan Gazidis. It is a positive sign to see Kroenke taking such action, a sign of leadership in a club where it is often difficult to tell who calls the shots.
Wenger should not be seen to be standing alone at a time of crisis. He deserves support. He has been let down by players who he has offered unwavering faith and so it would be refreshing to see him provided with a comforting arm from above.
The greatest gripe of Wenger from fans, who among them will include the 7,000 'club' level supporters who were this season angered by an increased season-ticket price of £2,625, has been against his transfer policy. It was panic buying at the end of last summer's window after Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri left and it was alarming to see no plan had been put in place.
Wenger, though, deserves time to address a period of transition. The long-term risks of signings in the January transfer window are well known and Wenger himself last autumn warned of the spectre of financial crisis looming over European football. He should therefore be offered this summer to deliver measured signings.
The squad needs changes and Marouane Chamakh, Tomas Rosicky, Andrei Arshavin and Squillaci should be among those who are moved on in order to make room for new arrivals. Of course, there is also Robin van Persie's contract, which expires in the summer of 2013, to address. It remains to be seen if Arsenal make a considered effort to address the identical contract situation of the frustrating and underwhelming Theo Walcott.
A transfer policy of investing big money in youth still has its merits, as has been proved by the recruitment of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but there is also a requirement for some balance. Craig Bellamy's influence at Liverpool, or next weekend taking a glance at a Tottenham team containing the likes of Scott Parker and Brad Friedel in the North London derby, would give Arsenal good examples to follow.
Thierry Henry's loan return proved beneficial, but it was again, in an echo of the re-signings of Sol Campbell and Jens Lehmann from an 'Invincibles' team prematurely dismantled, a pointer Wenger, an economics graduate, is unwilling to take real gambles on players of experience who have not already proved themselves at his club.
Mikel Arteta was signed from Everton as arguably the greatest punt on a player over the age of 29 and, admittedly, the signing has not really worked. The £10million man was a last-gasp replacement for Fabregas and his lack of pace, sideways passing and poor set-pieces have demonstrated why Arsenal would probably have preferred other targets, such as Lille's Eden Hazard.
That is the real logic. Fulham manager and ex-Tottenham boss Martin Jol, recently referenced the Rolling Stones with regards to football - 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'. A cerebral Wenger is probably more of an opera man, but he almost certainly shares the sentiments of his former derby day sparring partner.
Wenger has a job to do and he has more than enough knowledge to be aware that if Tottenham were to be defeated at the Emirates on Sunday en route to eventually securing fourth place and a return to next season's Champions League, a lot of his critics would suddenly be far less sceptical.
Arsenal's problems, of course, run deeper than the simple measure of win and you are loved. A feel-good factor and misshaped squad are among the priorities. But Wenger remains the man who deserves trust.