Memo to Arsene Wenger: you’re a good boss, but try humility the odd time
Tonight I’ll be at Elland Road in Leeds for the last Capital One Cup quarter-final where even defeat for Chelsea wouldn’t register remotely as high on the Richter scale as the result at nearby Valley Parade did last week.
I’m writing in advance of Tuesday night’s Premier League victory at Reading, the timing of which helped dictate Arsene Wenger’s selection in the Cup contest.
With so much time to recover, the Arsenal manager could virtually pick his strongest eleven. Seeing the resultant team-sheet, it was inconceivable that Arsenal could lose.
Yet they did and, worse, it was wholly deserved by the League Two outfit.
This wasn’t merely embarrassing, it was humiliating for Arsenal and for Wenger and, ever since, the debate has waged as to whether or not it’s time he went.
Unusually for me, I have swayed one way, then the other.
There are so many ‘plusses’ in the Frenchman’s reign. Overwhelmingly, the teams he’s produced have played glorious football: perhaps not quite up to the Barcelona level but certainly heading that way.
If you don’t support Spurs, it’s hard not to admire, time after time, the beauty of Arsenal.
Certainly, Wenger’s presence has enhanced the Premier League as a whole and, even if some people think we’re going too far in that direction, opened everyone’s eyes to the outstanding players that can be attracted to English football from beyond its shores.
How many wouldn’t vote for Thierry Henry as being one of the best of any, never mind his generation? That was thanks to Wenger.
And, while he quietly pockets the biggest salary of any manager in the country, his Arsenal are masters of husbandry during a time of wicked financial profligacy at key venues elsewhere.
It’s why he was absolutely the best to manage during the transition from Highbury to the Emirates and why he’s so beloved by the Board.
Yet he has faults. He is one-eyed, even blind, on too many occasions.
Contrast how he dealt with Cazorla’s dive to how David Moyes responded to Fellaini’s head-butt on Saturday.
And, for every Henry or Vieira he’s unfolded, there’s a Gervinho or a Chamakh. Even his staunchest allies amongst Arsenal supporters berate Wenger for his evident unwillingness to spend big money even when the club’s coffers offer ample opportunity. January will be testing.
Wenger doesn’t believe there is even a minor crisis at the club and, while Theo Walcott still shows no sign of agreeing a new contract, the signing up of Jack Wilshere to a new five-year extension relieves anxieties.
I don’t think everything’s alright at Arsenal.
I don’t believe the relationship with Steve Bould is as good as it should and needs to be. But if you press me to say, before we’re halfway through the season, who’ll be England’s Champions League entrants next season, I’d go for the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea … and Arsenal: still an ‘achievement’.
Wenger himself will know better than anyone when it’s time to go and I’d be happy to let him choose.
Madrid may come calling in May should (Jose) Mourinho depart.