Civilised Wenger defiant in trying times
Never in his 15 years shaping Arsenal's fortunes has Arsene Wenger faced such a torrent of trouble as this.
From red tape to red cards, outgoing stars like Cesc Fabregas to incoming missiles like Andy Carroll, Wenger fights a turning tide. "We swim a bit against the stream,'' he concedes.
Stream? Nice try, Arsene. This is no gentle dip in some scenic brook.
Wenger finds himself in a treacherous river swollen by storms. He can't even prepare a team without worrying who's injured, suspended or sold.
He can't even get a friend to make a phone-call without landing in hot water. An exceptional manager, one of the finest of the modern era, Wenger has never been so beset by challenges. Only a fool or a rival would call for Wenger's head but he needs to be at his inspirational, tactical best over the following daunting days.
Having kicked off with Newcastle away and Udinese at home, Arsenal's August fixture-list always resembled an assault course and the dangers now intensify. Carroll muscles his way into the Emirates with Liverpool today before Arsenal travel to Udinese on Wednesday and Manchester United on Sunday.
Test after test. Fabregas left for Barcelona because the Spaniard admitted he had "stagnated a bit" at Arsenal. Wenger must handle another 10 days of transfer-window uncertainty, Andrey Arshavin's loss of form, injuries to key players like Jack Wilshere, suspensions to Alex Song and Gervinho and another run-in with the UEFA beaks.
One of football's most civilised inhabitants, the Frenchman seemed calm at London Colney yesterday, tiring only when talk lingered too lengthily on Samir Nasri's imminent departure to Manchester City.
"He's in contention (today)," said Wenger of Nasri. "He's a professional. You do your job until the last day of your life at the club. I never questioned his love for this club. He will cope with the reaction of fans, don't worry."
As for his own standing amongst the Arsenal faithful, Wenger knows the majority remain supportive, although he still does not understand why many beseech him to temper his principles and buy experience not promise.
He's so stubborn. His eyes glazed over when mention was made of Arsenal's patent need for an established centre-half like Scott Dann or defensive midfielder like Rennes' French international Yann M'Vila.
His eyes lit up when conversation turned to two teenagers, Carl Jenkinson and Emmanuel Frimpong, who could be involved against Liverpool.
"I believe that you will fight for Jenkinson not to play for Finland,'' Wenger teased his English audience about the dual-nationality full-back.
"Frimpong is a fighter. He has fantastic levels of commitment and uses the ball well. I like him very much.''
For all their potential, Jenkinson and Frimpong are for the future. So are winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has been impressing in training, Ryo Miyaichi and Joel Campbell, whose arrival from Deportivo Saprissa was confirmed yesterday.
Wenger seems to think he's preparing for the 2012-2013 season, not this one. "You will soon see they are all top-quality players,'' he said defiantly.
Yet so far he has spent only £2m on his defence, the part most in need of strengthening, and £25m on wingers. That's the footballing purist in him, the admirer of entertainers over enforcers.
"I believe I have shown in my 15 years here that I am capable to make the right decision for the right players,'' countered Wenger. "In the last 15 years you have seen more world-class players here, or as many as anywhere else in the world. You have to trust my judgment.''
Wenger dismissed the suggestion from his friend David Dein, the former Arsenal vice-chairman, that he might walk away in frustration.
"No, he is not right. I will one day prove to you my loyalty by showing what I have turned down to stay here. You will be surprised. You can question my decisions but not my loyalty to this club.''
That is why Wenger so appreciates Robin van Persie, why he has made the Dutchman captain. "Robin loves the club, he's a technical leader on the football pitch and he's grown into leader,'' said Wenger. "He speaks his mind with everybody but without bad feelings. He will be more vocal than Cesc.
"If he can have a strong season with no injuries he will be the perfect leader. He is world class.''
Like Van Persie, Wenger was banished to the stands for the first leg with Udinese. At times, Wenger must feel some form of conspiracy is at play. UEFA yesterday opened disciplinary proceedings against him, after watching him pass messages via Boro Primorac to Pat Rice on the Arsenal bench on Tuesday.
Arsenal will present evidence to UEFA that they believe show they cleared the phone usage with officials at a meeting on Monday.
"They gave us the rules and we observed, strictly, what they told us,'' said Wenger. "Of course we will (appeal).''
Arsenal will point out that Wenger made no attempt to hide his conversations with Primorac, so he clearly felt he was doing nothing wrong. Primorac was hardly in disguise; he sat in a club tracksuit in the directors' box surrounded by men in suits.
Wenger endures a frustrating time with the authorities. Events at St James' Park last weekend still stir annoyance. "When Joey Barton grabs Gervinho in the box the ball is in the game and why is that not a penalty?'' asked Wenger.
"Why does the linesman not intervene? There are a few questions that need to be answered."
His defence certainly needs to find some answers to Carroll, who bullied them here last season. Wenger himself needs to find some answers to stop the stream becoming an inhospitable flood. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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