Arsene Wenger – the heat is on

Arsene Wenger – the heat is on

bradford_1636447aThe most telling aspect regarding the fallout from the Arsenal defeat at Bradford City is the number of Arsene Wenger supporters who have changed their minds, or taken a vow of silence.

The ignominious defeat the other night came in a city famed for its curries. But it was Wenger who left Bradford feeling the heat.

It feels to me, writes Vernon Grant, as though there has been a sea change in attitude when it comes to the future of Wenger at Arsenal. Few people would dispute that he has transformed the club since his arrival in 1996. Long after he is gone they will build a statue to Wenger. In decades to come some of the very Arsenal fans who are now calling for his head will be telling their children and grandchildren about what a great man Wenger was and how much he did for the Gunners.

But, right now, those complaining about no honours in several years are being joined by some ex Arsenal players who have changed their minds. Many people who have for a long time pleaded for Wenger to be shown the patience and respect he deserves, have begun saying it is time for him to go.

The feeling is that Arsenal should offer former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola a long contract to take charge next season. A long contract they stick to, unlike the one he will be offered by Chelsea and their impatient owner.

Who else would be an improvement on Wenger? I have long said to moaning Arsenal fans: “be careful what you wish for.” Some of them are old enough to remember the days when Bruce Rioch was in charge of Arsenal. They wouldn’t want to turn the clock back that far, would they?

Their frustration is understandable. They see Chelsea spending millions and winning the League, domestic cups and the Champions League. They see Manchester City spend fortunes to win the Premier League – just. Arsenal fans of my generation grew up accustomed to winning things – albeit often via football so boring it would send you to sleep. The football under Wenger has been much more attractive to watch.

But Arsenal has become a selling club. You cannot lose players like Robin Van Persie and expect there not to be a dip in form.

If Manchester United win the Premier League title this season, it will be because they signed Van Persie.

Talk of legacy, financial stability and spanking new stadia is all well and good, but fans want to see trophies. Most supporters are not interested in the long view. They want success and they want it now. That is typical of the age we live in. Younger Arsenal fans will be used to getting what they want, when they want it. They expect their football club to deliver success as though it were an app or something they can download.

Arsene Wenger may go, possibly as early as the end of this season. Or he may be given money to spend in January. If so, he had better spend it well this time around. Or else the restless fans will have him for breakfast.

It could all turn around within a year. You never know. And football fans being notoriously fickle could be singing Wenger’s praises again twelve months from now.

I doubt it. Football is changing again. The long term plan that Wenger delivered has been overtaken by the big spenders. He has the best interests of the club had heart not to join them, even if the funds were made available to him. And when he did panic buy nearly a year ago, he bought badly. It seems clear to me that Wenger is best spotting young talent, often overseas players, and bringing them along slowly.

But time waits for no man these days. Nor for any manager.

Even though I am not an Arsenal fan I would like to see Arsene Wenger turn things around and prove the doubters wrong. He was a breath of fresh air when he arrived at Highbury and he has has a positive influence on English football that stretches far beyond North London.

Few had heard of him at that time when he arrived. I was working with an Arsenal season ticket holder at the time. I recall him rushing in to my office shouting: “We’ve only gone and appointed a frog!”

But others closer to the game knew better. I recall asking Chris Waddle about Wenger. Several minutes passed before Waddle had stopped praising his coaching ability and ideas about the game.

That was then. It now seems apparent to me that all is not well at Arsenal these days. Pat Rice left, Steve Bould joined and Wenger has not gone out of his way to praise the input of his new coach. And Arsenal’s defence does look poor. Some of the signings have not been good enough and Arsenal are no longer secure at the back and deadly up front.

I think the players have got off lightly since the defeat at Bradford City. I think the fans should concentrate more of their anger and frustration on those who wore the Arsenal shirt as they were knocked out of the League Cup in West Yorkshire. These are supposedly top class footballers who were, frankly, awful on the night. They are responsible for how badly they played. And it is about time someone told them that.

Wenger was loved by his past players. I recall the likes of Lee Dixon, Ray Parlour and Patrick Viera telling me how much they learned from the man when he was out on the training pitch taking coaching. Today some players are whispering that he does too little of that these days. I have no idea if there is any truth in that complaint.

What I do know is that the parting of the ways, whenever it comes, must be one that is handled well. Arsenal fans must give the man who transformed their club on and off the pitch, a warm send off. They should not be calling for his head. He deserves so much better than that.

A fact that will only dawn on some Arsenal fans when it is too late.

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