Sunday 4 December 2016

Wenger's forecast is cloudy with bright spells

Arsenal 0-0 Middlesbrough

Jeremy Wilson

Published 24/10/2016 | 02:30

Arsene Wenger: 'Our collective performance was less smooth, less fluent. We have come out of a strong period. You don't win on command. Everybody can have a draw' Photo: IAN KINGTON/AFP/Getty Images
Arsene Wenger: 'Our collective performance was less smooth, less fluent. We have come out of a strong period. You don't win on command. Everybody can have a draw' Photo: IAN KINGTON/AFP/Getty Images

Arsene Wenger has attended enough annual general meetings to admit that he cannot predict what he calls "the weather forecast" for the likely mood inside the Emirates today, but he knows that his future remains one of the club's big talking points.

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Shareholders are unlikely to raise his particular situation formally to the board today but it was addressed after Saturday's goalless draw against Middlesbrough by Petr Cech, who believes that the future of Arsenal's longest-serving manager will be defined simply by on-field performances.

Too many frustrating afternoons like this and it is possible to imagine that Wenger himself might not want to extend a contract that expires next summer.

However, the wider context is of an unbeaten sequence stretching to the opening day of the season.

Asked if Wenger's future would "take care of itself" should Arsenal keep winning, Cech said: "Of course. If we are successful, if we keep winning games and we're all going in the right direction, then everybody's happy.

For the manager and the players, the future is always uncertain in football, but you work every day to be successful and this is what we can do."

In case Wenger really is wondering, the forecast is overcast and a bit rainy around north London at the time of today's AGM but, even allowing for Saturday's disappointment, the mood inside the stadium is likely to be a lot brighter than previous years.

Wenger is due to deliver his now-annual rallying call directly to shareholders at around midday, although it seemed that he might be making a subtle point to the board about the inconvenience of the AGM's timing at the same moment today as he would usually oversee training.

The AGM has been held on a Thursday in previous years but is scheduled just the day before a match against Reading in the League Cup.

"Normally I'm not there because we prepare a game for Tuesday and we practise on Monday morning," said Wenger.

"I will see how I can combine both. I think we have never gone into the AGM in a disastrous state. Why?

"Because we are always for 20 years in the top four. We have also always been in a decent financial situation."

Arsenal are also positioned on the field to make their most lasting title challenge for a decade although some limitations were exposed by Middlesbrough.

Without Santi Cazorla, Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey, there was an absence of deeper-lying creativity alongside a more holding midfielder.

Arsenal became predictable in possession, with Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny in the centre, a situation which made the decision not to rest Cazorla on Wednesday against Ludogorets - when Xhaka was available - especially regrettable.

The Plan B of Olivier Giroud was also lacking, although he is in contention to make his comeback against Reading tomorrow.

While Arsenal failed to celebrate Wenger's 67th birthday with a seventh consecutive Premier League win, they did extend their unbeaten streak to 12 matches in all competitions, but the Arsenal manager was left frustrated.

He said: "Our collective performance was less smooth, less fluent. We have come out of a strong period. You don't win on command. Everybody can have a draw.

"At least we didn't lose the game. I think that's a change. We didn't win but before maybe we would have panicked a little bit and lost the game."

Many of the best chances fell to Middlesbrough, for whom Ben Gibson and Adama Traore were especially impressive. Boro manager Aitor Karanka believes that the performance will give his players a platform for the rest of their first season back in the Premier League.

"I asked them in the dressing room if there was anybody who thought we could not play against every single team in the Premier League," he said.

"I think over the 95 minutes it has been the best we have played. It is another step for us."

Telegraph.co.uk

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