Arsene Wenger: An apology to the Arsenal manager
On behalf of your critics, we'd like to say sorry Mr Wenger
There have been many charges levelled against Arsene Wenger over the past few years - most of them by Piers Morgan - but yesterday’s 3-0 win against Olympiakos vindicated many of the Frenchman’s decisions.
He may be on the extreme end but Morgan is far from the only one who has laid into Wenger. Over the course of the year, he has been described in national newspapers as 'naive', 'incompetent' and 'out of touch'.
On these pages, we compiled the best of the internet's savaging of Wenger after the 3-2 home defeat by Olympiakos, and then swiftly produced a gallery of Wenger's most humiliating defeats.
So, today, on behalf of your critics, we'd like to offer an apology Mr Wenger.
There are still problems at Arsenal, there are still flaws to be addressed, but breaking down the main critcisms of Wenger, the manager is looking less and less guilty.
Charge 1: He is tactically inflexible
2013/14 was a watershed season for Wenger. Arsenal were title contenders but were hammered away from home against their closest rivals - 6-0 at Chelsea, 5-1 at Liverpool and 6-3 at Manchester City.
The charge aimed at Wenger was that he was incapable of setting his team out to do anything other than dominate the ball and attack, which made the team easy pickings for anyone with a bit of counter-attacking nous.
The start of 2015, though, saw a tactical shift. In January Arsenal went to Manchester City, and with Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla sitting in front of the defence, Arsenal won 2-0 despite having just 35% of the ball.
Against Manchester United in October, Arsenal adopted another strategy and hounded the United players high up the pitch with a high-intensity press that stunned their opponents in a 3-0 victory at the Emirates.
Last night against Olympiakos, Arsenal delivered a perfect away performance. They did not go bombing forward too soon - in fact it was Olympiakos who made the initial running - and instead soaked up the pressure and took their chances on the counter. If it had been Jose Mourinho or Jurgen Klopp in the Arsenal dug-out, the pundits would have been positively purring.
Verdict: Not guilty
Charge 2: His squad is too thin
The failure to sign a holding midfielder in the summer is still indefensible, but overall the accusation that Arsenal's squad is too thin is dated and inaccurate.
There aren't many teams with a seventh-choice right winger at the standard of Joel Campbell. There aren't many teams who could absorb injuries to seven first-team players and win 3-0 away against a team who had won six of its previous seven Champions League home matches.
There certainly aren't many Premier League teams with a second-choice back four better than Arsenal's Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers, Gabriel and Kieran Gibbs.
Verdict: Overall not guilty, but lack of defensive midfield cover gaping hole
Charge 3: He must sign better striker than Giroud
In many ways Olivier Giroud symbolises Arsenal's renaissance over the last year or so. Previously a player, who, like Arsenal, could only deliver against the weaker teams, Giroud has proven himself a man for the bigger occasions. On top of yesterday's hat-trick, Giroud has scored this year against Bayern Munich (in two matches), Manchester City and Liverpool.
Not many managers would have kept faith with Giroud after his string of misses against Monaco in the Champions league last-16 tie in February, but Wenger helped rebuild the striker's confidence and got his reward last night.
it required patience, but it paid off, and was certainly cheaper than signing Jackson Martinez or Alexandre Lacazette, or whoever it was Wenger was being told he must buy at that moment. That said, Giroud has still never scored more than 22 goals in a season for Arsenal, and if someone of Karim Benzema's standard were available, there's no reason why Wenger couldn't make it work with both players in the squad.
Verdict: Jury still out
Charge 4: He contributes to Arsenal's injuries
Though Wenger can't be blamed entirely for Arsenal's injury problems, he can be criticised for his handling of certain players. Alexis Sanchez has been played into the ground, and the decision not to take him off against Dinamo Zagreb was baffling. Arsenal were 3-0 up after 69 minutes and yet the exhausted Sanchez was still not taken off.
The very next game against Norwich he pulled up with a hamstring injury and will be out for around a month. Aaron Ramsey can complain of being similarly over-burdened this season.
Charge 5: He can’t beat the big teams
Going hand in hand with the tactical tweaks Wenger has made for the bigger matches, Arsenal have also improved against the stronger sides Arsenal have beaten Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Liverpool and both Manchester clubs in 2015, while the FA Cup final demolition of Aston Villa was in marked contrast to the angst-ridden success against Hull the previous season.
Last month's 5-1 thrashing at Bayern and the 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge in September show Arsenal are not immune from big-game humblings, but then again neither is any team.
Verdict: Not guilty