Friday 21 October 2016

We won't look back in anger at Wenger's legacy

Published 05/10/2015 | 02:30

Arsene Wenger signals to his players during yesterday’s win over Manchester United
Arsene Wenger signals to his players during yesterday’s win over Manchester United

There was a horrible moment last week when somebody realised that it was the 20th anniversary of (What's The Story) Morning Glory being released and, after it was shared around social media, everybody in their early 30s and older felt ancient.

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Their debut album was arguably better but Morning Glory was probably the high point of Oasis' success and even though what followed wasn't up to the same standards as their first two efforts, their legacy is secure and they're remembered fondly.

One year after its release, Morning Glory was still eighth in the British album charts behind Kula Shaker, Jamiroquai and Ocean Colour Scene, among a few other luminaries. It was, mercifully, one spot ahead of the Lighthouse Family.

And it's a measure of how long he has been around that this was how the charts stood when Arsene Wenger took over Arsenal.

Some might say that Wenger has already tarnished his legacy without a Premier League title in 11 years and even those who have long been in his corner are now thinking things that they just can't abide.

It's difficult to feel much sympathy, however, for the wailing and gnashing of teeth that accompanies every Arsenal hiccup given that they've been relevant to almost every discussion about the top few teams in the league for the past 20 years.


There are many supporters who shrugged at the fact that they had qualified from their Champions League group for the past 15 seasons as though it was easy to achieve, yet those same people see it as a crisis that they look unlikely to do it this season.

It's the same story with silverware - a word that nobody uses in normal conversation - when, apparently, all supporters wanted was to win a trophy.

As they were mourning glory that they used to feel, many argued that, given the choice, they would prefer the day out at Wembley and the triumph that went with victory rather than finishing in the top four.

Now, two FA Cups in two years - while maintaining the top four place - isn't enough for them.

Wenger's methods regularly draw criticism but how many special people change when their methods have been so successful?

And when there's the possibility of such vibrancy and brilliance as there was in the opening 45 minutes yesterday, there must be a temptation to keep things as they are.

There's a peculiar notion among some supporters that Arsenal are the only team stuck in a groundhog season where they compete for a while only to slowly fade away, but there are at least half a dozen teams whose aim is to finish somewhere between 12th and 17th who could say the same.

Those teams aren't the marker by which Arsenal judge themselves but if every manager achieved a minimum realistic target - as Wenger has done at the very least throughout his reign every season - there would be far fewer of them sacked.

Wenger doesn't look for credit for things that he is supposed to do but where Liverpool and Tottenham capitulated after losing a star player and Manchester United had one bad season and finished seventh, it's arguable that for several seasons in which Arsenal 'only' finished in the top four, they had, in fact, over-achieved.

Consistency might be boring but idea that supporters somehow 'deserve' success that they demand goes completely against the idea of what support is supposed to be about.

Wenger was bound with all the weight of all the words he tried to say about David Ospina when he defended him against a dreadful mistake in the defeat against Olympiakos but there was never any doubt about him picking Petr Cech yesterday.

No manager who survived in the job for any period of time would be stupid enough to publicly slaughter a player minutes after an obvious mistake, but Wenger was right in arguing that this wasn't the reason for the Olympiakos defeat.

The problem, however, was the actual reason, which was Arsenal's ability to get carried away on a wave of emotion after scoring a crucial goal and leaving themselves open to conceding again.

Against Monaco last season, they scored in injury-time, which got them back into the match, but left themselves exposed and conceded a third goal within two minutes, which put the tie beyond them.

Last week's concession against Olympiakos was even quicker and although Wenger picks the players, he is entitled to believe that by now they should've somehow realised what they've got to do in that situation.


Everything at Arsenal runs through Wenger but, at an elite professional level, there should be a certain degree of understanding that a goalkeeper won't drop a routine cross into his net or that a team won't run around like headless chickens at a crucial moment in the game.

Wenger cast no shadow of doubt that it's no time for running away now, but while his teams can be electric and occasionally full of eccentrics, they do always seem to need more time.

Yesterday's result should be a springboard for their season but many of the people who criticise them for not doing it in the big games will now wonder why they can't do it after every game following yesterday's performance.

The second half may also have shown a maturity that was lacking against Olympiakos and Monaco when they resisted the urge for more goals or trying to avenge their 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford four years ago in which Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott all started.

Instead, they saw the game out with relative comfort, relied on their goalkeeper occasionally with a clinical performance where five shots on target resulted in a 3-0 victory.

The international break should give Wenger a little time to rest his mind from the occasionally rampant and irrational desire for him to be sacked with every bad result.

Whatever happens for the rest of the season and the rest of his era, moments like those in yesterday's first half means that it'll be hard for any lover of the game to look back in anger at his legacy.

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