Thursday 25 May 2017

Stephen Hunt: Arsenal fans - be careful what you wish for ...

Fans protest against Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger outside the stadium
Fans protest against Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger outside the stadium
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger during a training session at the Arsenal Training Centre, London Colney. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday March 6, 2017. See PA story SOCCER Arsenal. Photo credit should read Tim Goode/PA Wire.
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

When Wolves played Arsenal a few years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a private conversation with Arsene Wenger. At the time, it was very much appreciated and I have never forgotten it.

He didn't have to do it, and in fact from what I've heard about the man and the way he interacts with opposition managers - or just doesn't bother attempting to socialise with them - I was very fortunate to get a few minutes of his time. I'd say it was a privilege and an honour.

We'd had one of those days against his Arsenal team. We'd gone down to ten men, got battered but battled like our lives depended on it to come away with an unlucky defeat. I think Wenger sensed we were a good side with more to it than just fighting spirit.

After the game, Wenger spotted me in the corridor and pulled me into a small side-room in the tunnel for a quick chat. He told me to pass on to the Wolves lads that we were a good side, with good players, not to give up fighting and that we had a good manager. It genuinely meant a lot coming from him.

Perhaps it is because he took that time to talk to me and pass on such encouragement, or maybe it's just because I feel his players should be doing so much better for him, that I actually feel sorry for Wenger. I know it's not a popular view.

Wenger is just about keeping a grip on his job at Arsenal. Like Mick McCarthy, he has that stubborn streak in him which I think will see him stay on for as long as he possibly can. In fact, all the best managers have that stubborn streak.

The Arsenal players should be performing much better, no matter how bad Wenger is or how unhappy they are with him. They are a talented bunch of players but they need to show the basics of fighting for your side and the first level of commitment - winning tackles.

Arsenal have not had that in abundance for years and this current team is full of nice boys. There are no real 'nasty buggers' in the side who are prepared to upset the opposition in the right way. Arsenal need some nastiness in them, a devilment which is used in the right way.

If you are already ten per cent down in that regard before the game has even started, then you are not going to win your individual, one-on-one challenges and battles. Those Arsenal players need to look at themselves.

Wenger has never really changed. He is not a natural in front of the cameras, he doesn't have a laugh and a joke in his press conferences. And even when he does try to be funny, he just doesn't come across as a funny bloke. So I am sure he has got to the stage where he thinks, what is the point in trying to please everybody?

Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger

I actually feel sorry for him. It sounds bananas but why should Arsenal get rid of a manager who has qualified for the Champions League every year for the last 20 years? It is definitely a case of being careful what you wish for Arsenal fans.

Like Wenger, Alex Ferguson consistently produced teams which qualified for the Champions League. As soon as he left, Manchester United became a mid-table side for a couple of years, with no guarantee of qualifying for the Europa League gig either. That could easily happen to Arsenal without Wenger.

He must have something about him to qualify for the Champions League every season and he obviously has management skills at the highest level. He cannot be an idiot to have survived at the top for so long.

It seems odd to me that the players are not all playing for him. Wenger prided himself on team spirit and unity in his early teams, and you can tell the way ex-players talk about the club, and their manager, that he instilled a real togetherness and was a major influence on a lot of players. Players obviously like him.

Contrast that clear respect with the behaviour of some players in this current squad. Alexis Sanchez has been an absolute disgrace and it is no wonder Wenger has run out of patience with him. You can't keep waving your arms about, blaming everyone else, and expect your team-mates to want you in the side. You can see the players at Arsenal are not having Sanchez.

You can channel any disappointment in your team, your manager or even your performances in a much more positive way. Keep it private, don't fight your battles in public and react in a more constructive way.

Play like Luis Suarez. So many times in that amazing game in the Nou Camp on Wednesday night he was close to crossing the line, and there were aspects of his performance, like throwing himself around under nearly every challenge, which were disappointing. But you would love to have Suarez in your team. Unlike Sanchez.

You should still have personal pride in your performance. You should still want to play for the badge, the fans and the stadium. Surely that is enough for players to want to go out and prove themselves, no matter who the manager is and what your relationship with him is. Arsenal players are letting Wenger down but they are letting themselves down too.

They are still playing in massive games in fantastic arenas so I can't understand why there isn't the motivation to perform.

Barcelona's incredible comeback just shows that the best players in the world can perform, no matter what. They can put things to one side and concentrate on their next performance to work for the team and get a result.

Right from the first minute, you could see that Suarez was up for mischief. He was in the mood to cause any kind of chaos to the PSG players and, unfortunately for the Paris players, they fell into his trap and panicked.

There was not one minute in the game when they were calm or even able to play football to get into the Barcelona half.

A lot of Championship teams would have gone to the Nou Camp to shut up shop, and would have done a better job than the PSG players. This was the elite of French football and they will have to live with how they handled that game for the rest of their lives.

And the worst culprit of the lot? The manager, Unai Emery, who just looked in complete shock and incapable of reacting to what was happening to his team. He just stood there with one arm folded and the other tucked under his chin and hardly moved throughout.

He looked like he was trying to give the impression that he was staying calm, but in fact sent out completely the opposite message.

Apart from the half-time team-talk, he didn't do anything to change the course of the match or help his players cope with the Barcelona onslaught. It was like he had no real confidence in them.

When Jose Mourinho sends a team out, and they are playing against the odds and not the favourites, he still exudes total belief in his players. He tells them to go with the chests held out and heads high.

I am not even sure that the Barcelona players really believed they could pull it off but they decided from the off that they were simply going to go for it. They went after PSG more in hope than real expectation and belief.

When PSG got their away goal, it looked like game over. And yet there was still something about Emery's body language which was horrendous. It was like he still expected a final onslaught from the home team and didn't really believe they would have enough to hold on.

Barcelona, of course, just kept going at them and, even though they still needed three goals to get through, they never gave up. The PSG players, on the other hand, didn't want to defend. When the winner flew in, there were players standing around, not marking their man and not doing their jobs.

The final outcome was not so much to do with Barcelona's magic - it was more to do with PSG's incompetence and lack of desire to win that game.

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