Arsène Wenger confident he can win back faith of Arsenal fans
Arsène Wenger feels confident of winning the Arsenal fans over again, citing the example of Barcelona’s Luis Enrique, who has gone from being “an idiot to a hero” in a few weeks.
The Arsenal manager’s position remains under intense scrutiny after losing five of the past seven games, including a 10-2 aggregate defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League, but he was in a relaxed and upbeat mood before Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Lincoln.
The Frenchman watched Barcelona’s comeback against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday night and pondered the manager’s lot with Luis Enrique, a 46-year-old with six years of management behind him, set to leave the Camp Nou because he is apparently exhausted. Wenger, with decades at the sharp end behind him, feels nothing of the sort. “It just sums it up that two weeks ago he was an idiot and everyone said you have to leave, so he said: ‘OK, I go.’ Today he is a hero,” Wenger said. “I feel all right. I feel very strong, very motivated, ready to give my best.”
Wenger, in fact, has not lost the will to fight on at all. “The love for the game, the passion for football, the passion for the club, the love of the uncertainty. You have to be a little bit of a gambler.”
Wenger was also fascinated to observe how Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain reacted to the lurching emotions of their tie. “It is interesting on a psychological front,” he said. “I wanted to see how Barcelona finished the game and in fact they had half given up. I looked more at it from a tactical point of view – what is going on mentally in the head of the players? At the end of the game even when you have been so long in football you sit there and think: ‘How could this happen?’ You could see that with Paris Saint-Germain, they froze suddenly, players with experience.”
Wenger said he has recently worked out a secret mathematical formula about management (he was unwilling to divulge details given the current climate of tense ambiguity about his unsigned contract extension). “I will give it to you one day,” he said. “I am sure you will enjoy it. It is an equation about a manager’s job.”
Some Arsenal fans have equations of their own and they are not necessarily too complimentary. Wenger acknowledged that the swells of opinion will have an influence on his decision-making about his future. “It will not be the most important factor but, of course, you consider it.” He spoke to Stan Kroenke at the last board meeting but gave the impression that the conversation was nothing out of the ordinary.
The Arsenal chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, had more or less given fans the mandate to protest at a supporters’ meeting in 2011. “Arsène is ultimately accountable to the fans,” he said. “If you are seeing the relationship between the fans and the manager break down over time, that is unsustainable.”
Anyone who assumed he would be emotionally bulldozed or boxed into a corner by a series of damaging results underestimates his capacity to reboot and reignite his desire to look forward with hope. For all the tension that surrounds him on match day, he is able to park the pressures when he is at the training ground concentrating on preparations for the next game.
He admitted full responsibility for the team’s collapse. “When you are 1-1 and down to 10 men and have to score four goals, you could sit there and think, ‘I could put three defenders on now’. But even if you put three defenders on you can still lose 5-1 when you are down to 10 men. Or you have one chance in a million and you still try to play so that at least the people that come and watch you see you try to play football. I went for the second option. I got slaughtered because it finished 5-1, but that is what I decided and I stand up for that. I thought, even if it is a one-in- a-million chance, let’s go for it.”