Thursday 21 September 2017

John Giles: Arsene Wenger is blind to his own weaknesses and his lack of defensive knowledge will be his downfall

Read John Giles every week in The Herald

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters
John Giles

John Giles

IT’S sad to see Arsene Wenger as he is now a tormented soul, raging against failure but unable to anything about it. For such a great man of the game, it was, of course, all but inevitable that it would happen this way.

Very few escape the eternal rhythms of football.

Has it gone on too long? Well, Bill Shankly did his best work in six years and very few of today’s super-successful managers linger for longer than four at a club.

Alex Ferguson was a genuine freak and Wenger has been haunted by the fact that his points of comparison were firstly his own remarkable run of success when he joined Arsenal and then an even higher benchmark set by the greatest manager the game in England has ever seen.

From an Arsenal fan’s perspective, it has definitely dragged on for too long but everything is relative and I’m pretty certain that at some point in the future, they will look back wistfully at Wenger’s ability to deliver Champions League football on demand.

They will look back and admire the fact that Wenger kept the club solvent and healthy, still able to challenge for the title at least.

Sure, they will also remember that Wenger couldn’t sign a defender to save his life and if he had somehow found lads to match the extraordinary backline he inherited from George Graham, I’m not completely sure he would have known what to do with them.

Right now, Gunners fans are angry and I believe, want to see him gone this summer.

I can’t argue with that which pains me because I have so much respect for what Wenger stands for and his dogged determination to do the right thing as he sees it.

I accept that he is blind to his own weakness and that the defensive gap in his knowledge has been his downfall. But I forgive that because his motives are pure, too pure if I’m being honest.

I noticed two Arsenal greats, Martin Keown and Ian Wright, have had their say and both seem to think that end is nigh.

I must say, I preferred Keown’s approach.  Wright betrayed a confidence when he told his story about how, during a private chat with Wenger, he got the feeling that the gig was up.

As Wright well knows, a lame duck manager wins nothing and he didn’t do Wenger any favours when he claimed that he thought Wenger’s plan was to go with the Champions League still in play and Premier League games to be won

Keown suggested one more big, swansong season for Wenger and then a seamless handover to the next man in.

In his heart of hearts, Keown knows that the best outcome is for Wenger to retire in May before he is pushed but he has huge respect for his old boss and clearly doesn’t want to cause any upset.

He also revealed an important piece of context when he claimed that Arsenal “are not ready” for life without Wenger.

I understand the sentiment. It will be like stepping off a cliff for everyone, shareholders, directors, staff and of course, players.

But that’s the game we’re in. Every player you hire, every manager you fire is a gamble which cannot be avoided.

Nobody could have imagined that three years after  Ferguson retired that Manchester United would be scratching around for some silverware with José Mourinho as manager.

I’m sure most of the important people at Old Trafford thought that they would have a small pause before the good times started rolling again and if they were lucky, no pause at all.

Back then, they had no interest in Mourinho. That’s why they hired David Moyes and then Louis van Gaal.

But in the end, they had to swallow deep and sign him because he’s a winner – a deeply flawed one, but still a winner.

Wenger’s employers have shown admirable restraint and walked their own path.

They could have sacked him at any time in the last four years and nobody could really have argued about it.

A club the size of Arsenal, with money in the bank and a strong squad, should be winning titles, although it is never that simple.

But they are allowing him to write his own exit lines and that’s the way it should be. I just hope he makes the right call.

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