Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Alan Green: International rescue comes at perfect time for Wenger

A decision goes against Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as his team play Tottenham on Sunday

There could hardly have been a less satisfactory way for Arsene Wenger to ‘celebrate’ the 15th anniversary of his arrival as Arsenal manager: losing to hated North London rivals Spurs, particularly when they didn’t deserve to.

That Rafael Van Der Vaart clearly handled the ball for Tottenham’s first goal — referee errors littered the weekend fixtures —and that the recently reliable Wojciech Szczesny made an awful hash for the second must have been difficult for Wenger to stomach. Shake Clive Allen’s hand? You’d want to smash his

Wenger’s team were better than Spurs for much of the game but, as with other things that have happened to them this season (did they really merit conceding eight at Old Trafford?), he’ll just have to take it on the chin.

I trust he saw some reasons for optimism. Though the league table shows that only the bottom two teams, Blackburn and Bolton, have conceded more goals this season than Arsenal (mostly because of the beating by United), I felt the Gunners’ defence looked more stable than of late. Mertesacker is settling in, albeit slowly, and Song did as good a job alongside the German as could be expected of someone merely ‘filling in’. How they miss Vermaelen.

I looked at the midfield before the game – Arteta, Coquelin and Ramsey – and thought they were bound to be over-run by the talent and greater numbers deployed in the area by Harry Redknapp. I was wrong. When was the last time Modric was as quiet?

No, Spurs were fortunate to win and, contrary to the articles written and views expressed in the build-up, I think they’re still a little way off supplanting Arsenal and becoming favourites ahead of Liverpool and Newcastle for the fourth Champions League berth.

I noted how Frank McLintock felt it would be the greatest achievement of Wenger’s career at the club if he managed to secure yet another season in the Champions League. Perhaps he’s right: the Scot certainly has no axe to grind against the manager or his beloved former club. But I think he’s unduly pessimistic.

It’s true that Arsenal sit a lowly 15th in the division and that Sunday’s injury to Sagna means he joined a lengthening list of those unavailable to the manager. But yet another international break has come at a good time and I took the trouble to look at the forthcoming league fixtures: Sunderland and Stoke, both home, Chelsea away, West Brom home, Norwich away and then Fulham home. It is surely not inconceivable that Arsenal will take at least a dozen points from those six matches.

No, I liken their situation to that of Liverpool last season who also began very badly. The difference is that Arsenal have Wenger in charge, chastened but still excellent. It was Roy Hodgson who was running things at Anfield. There’s no comparison in the abilities of the two managers.

I’d go further, Kenny Dalglish won’t say it but he’s certainly hoping that Liverpool, revived under his tutelage, will reclaim Champions League status. I’ll bet he’s far more concerned about the challenge of Wenger’s Arsenal than Spurs or Newcastle.

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