Belfast Telegraph

Wenger's brave face won't make leaderless Arsenal hit title target

By Miguel Delaney

In one of the quieter moments before he spoke to the media yesterday, Arsene Wenger was asked how he's feeling. "I am not very well," the Gunners boss responded… but it was followed by a smile, and a question of his own. "Are you surprised?"

The answer would be no, since this spell of deflating successive defeats should be no surprise. We seem to see Arsenal in this type of eye-rolling reality-check form, and Wenger in this kind of tetchy mood, at least twice a season.

The visit of Marco Silva with Hull City tomorrow is coincidental in that sense, since he was responsible for one of these moments last season, when his Olympiakos side won 3-2 at the Emirates. That defeat also raised the type of questions about Wenger's reign that we've seen in the last week, but they still haven't felt as frenzied as at other times, like last season's title collapse.

That may well change if they make it three games without a win at home to Hull, after losses to Watford and Chelsea, but might also be why the manager was still in good enough mood to issue something of a rallying call.

The only problem was that rallying call was akin to Jeremy Corbyn's "real fight starts now" comment after the Brexit bill.

"It's an interesting week because it's a good test at an important moment of the season," Wenger said. "And it's a good opportunity to show what we are made of and to deal with what matters - what is at stake and in front of us in the next game."

"I focus on what is important, you know," Wenger explained.

"And what is important is to prepare for the next game and analyse what happened and prepare for the next one. I am long enough in the job that you go from hero to zero in one minute."

He also tends to unwind in the same way, regardless of what's going on around him.

"I watch football games," Wenger said, before adding a caveat: "Not so much what people think about football games."

When asked about the meetings following last Saturday's 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge, Wenger - whose side are now 12 points behind Chelsea - said: "I don't want to come out on that because it is difficult enough to keep some things internal."

Wenger might not be Sir Alex Ferguson, but he is well capable of being acerbically cutting with his players. Some of the players can also be cutting with each other, and Per Mertesacker is known to be one of the most vocal, if also receding in on-pitch importance.

For all the cliched talk about Arsenal's lack of "leaders", what is really missing is the hard-edged culture of winning offered by a standard-setting core.

It was something that Rio Ferdinand has talked about.

"When Wenger came to Arsenal, he had (Tony) Adams, (David) Seaman, (Dennis) Bergkamp, (Ian) Wright, people like that, who'd won things, knew how to win," Ferdinand said.

"If he came in at half-time and something had to be done, invariably, I bet he didn't have to say a word. Those players would be digging each other out. I don't think there's anyone in that dressing room at Arsenal that does that.

"Ferguson got rid of players who weren't capable of being intense every day. If you're not an animal who can go in there and be intense every day and demand from yourself and others to improve, you won't stay long - and good riddance."

Wenger is refusing to say goodbye to Arsenal's title chances.

"When you are a competitor you fight, you do not go home and analyse rationally if they win here, they have three points… you fight as far as you can and we are in a double fight, because we are in a fight as well to be in the top four, but we have as well to fight because we want to catch Chelsea back, or you have no fuel. We have to refuse to give up."

They have, after all, been in this situation before. None of this will be a surprise to them.

Belfast Telegraph


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