Wenger's world shakes
Published 21/08/2011 | 05:00
Appealing for calm, Arsene Wenger said: "We live in circumstances where every defeat is absolutely a disgrace -- an earthquake." But there was no mistaking the tremors after Liverpool's victory as the Arsenal manager's troubled team face the second-leg of a Champions League qualifier against Udinese on Wednesday and a visit to Manchester United at the weekend.
Cesc Fabregas is kissing his new badge in Barcelona, Samir Nasri's move to Manchester City is still expected to go through and the 19-year-old Emmanuel Frimpong joined Alex Song and Gervinho in the suspension pen by spoiling a promising performance in central midfield with some ludicrously aggressive tackling.
With three players banned and six injured, Wenger calls on youth and promise to dispel the mounting sense that Arsenal are in for the toughest season of his 15-year reign. Beauty's glow is no longer visible above their home and Nasri, whose commitment here never wavered, has a new set of reasons to tell his agents to stop haggling over their fees and force through his transfer to City.
Reports in France claimed the Nasri deal had broken down but after a 0-0 draw at Newcastle and a home defeat to Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool he is unlikely to turn down a £60,000 a week pay-rise and stick around in London while Frimpong learns some self-control and Wenger patches up an ailing squad.
"If we decide to sell him [Nasri] we'll do it and we have to stand up for it, but at the moment I'm glad he's here," Wenger said.
Some order may return with Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby, Kieran Gibbs, Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny, who went off after 15 minutes with back spasms -- plus Song, Gervinho and Frimpong -- but for now Wenger is left to correct the impression of serious malfunction across his operation.
As the transfer window closes, few elite players across Europe will see Arsenal as a coming force, however much Wenger sticks to his mantra of eternal promise.
When Frimpong jumped into Lucas Leiva's leg in front of the referee Martin Atkinson, who had already booked him in the first-half, a familiar inability to match actions with consequences was apparent in Wenger's young and stressed XI. When the substitute Henri Lansbury was booked after coming on for Andrey Arshavin, who was dreadful, the young replacement yelled at Atkinson and jabbed his finger aggressively: a level of dissent that could have earned him a second yellow card.
Anxiety is bound to afflict a side who have failed to score in their first two league games for the first time in 42 years, yet there is repeated evidence of some Arsenal players failing to repay the loyalty shown by their manager, who has spent the six trophy-less years since 2005 promising the fans that these are men of real stature.
Liverpool exploited the numerical advantage stemming from Frimpong's dismissal by forcing an Aaron Ramsey own-goal and then closing out the game with a Luis Suarez tap-in in the final minutes. Wenger blamed Frimpong's "lack of experience" but also spoke of his "enthusiasm and heart".
An admirer of Michael Essien, his fellow Ghanaian, Frimpong brings thrust and menace to Arsenal's midfield, too long a refuge for players who can decorate but not shape a game. More than once he neglected to track a runner and was shouted at by Thomas Vermaelen for not showing for the ball when Arsenal's best defender was under pressure. But he does offer flashes of hunger and steel: qualities that will be useful to his team only if he can confine his studs to the turf.
With a depleted squad, Wenger was obliged to summon at right-back Carl Jenkinson, who had played nine times for Charlton before earning a move here over the summer. Again, Jenkinson has promise, but many fans now detest that word. They saw Fabregas high-stepping it back to Barcelona, read about Nasri's restlessness and want decisive action in the transfer market to alleviate the sense of regression.
The problem is that Wenger has no great reserve of faith to draw on.
After six years without a trophy his senior players have become accustomed to hiding between the beautiful football excuse and the youngest are being asked to compete with United, City, Chelsea and Liverpool without the bedding-in period that was available to previous generations.
Wenger will demand more from Arshavin (who appears to have lost all interest), Theo Walcott and Ramsey, and would doubtless like Marouane Chamakh to justify his transfer fee. But imagine the ennui around this stadium when Nicklas Bendtner jogged on ahead of Chamakh for the last 10 minutes as Arsenal's last goalscoring hope. Wenger can escape another "earthquake" -- a further "disgrace", as he puts it -- by sliding past Udinese in Italy. Which ever linguistic tricks he tries, though, the Emirates is shaking.
Sunday Indo Sport