Monday 23 September 2019

John Giles: Why Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola have been exposed as powerless in the last week

Pep Guardiola, right, has held the upper hand against Arsene Wenger more often than not in meetings between the two
Pep Guardiola, right, has held the upper hand against Arsene Wenger more often than not in meetings between the two

John Giles

I’LL bet Pep Guardiola had nothing to do Manchester City halting their bid for Alexis Sanchez at £20m, as I'm sure he would have topped any offer Jose Mourinho made to Arsenal if he was allowed.

This transfer has highlighted the fact that there are limits to Guardiola’s control and that Arsene Wenger is a virtual bystander in a key component of his job.

From Guardiola’s perspective, it looks to me like pride at work and obstinately hard negotiating for a player City offered £60m for in August and who I believe would be a priceless addition to any team.

They should be breaking the bank to get him. He can play anywhere and from now on, he’ll be playing for Manchester United alongside Nemanja Matic. I cannot believe that Guardiola wanted that to happen.

The transfer has exposed Wenger in a very stark way. Arsenal are a mess, his squad is in disarray and worst of all, there’s a man in an office at the Emirates who is buying and selling players.

Sven Mislintat is calling the shots in this transfer window and it seems very obvious to me that Wenger’s legs have been cut from under him. Sanchez is on his way to Old Trafford and from Wenger’s comments yesterday, he was never in control of that situation.

During the summer, it looked like Wenger had faced down Sanchez and was prepared to take a hit and sell him for free in return for one more season scoring goals. At least that was the message he sold at the time. I understood his point and it seemed like a courageous stand.

Now, it looks like the only thing that stopped the sale to Manchester City was the Gunners’ failure to sign Thomas Lemar. So even before Mislintat took up his position as head of recruitment, Wenger’s control over his squad was gone.

It’s sad to see him looking tortured again, as it has been sad to watch his decline over the last number of years. Disappointing as well because he brought a lot of this on himself.

I wrote a few times last season that he had reached the end of the road but I always put in a proviso that if he won something, anything, the Arsenal board would allow him to decide his own fate and offer him a new deal.

That’s the way it worked out but to take advantage of the new deal and cash rich, I wanted to see him clear out the dead wood and bring in some exciting talent, preferably players proven at the highest level.

Now someone else is doing the clear-out for him and instead of Sanchez, he will have to cope with Henrik Mkhitaryan, hardly the ideal

man to come into a squad already short on leaders and displaying all the signs of a group with no direction.

The Sanchez situation and what looks like a disgruntled group of players is just a symptom of Wenger’s decline and the removal of his authority.

The moment Arsenal appointed Mislintat, his control vanished. I can’t imagine what it must be like for Wenger now to see decisions which were previously his being made by a third party.

I can see evidence of distress in his face and in his behaviour. Wenger has never been great at the publicity game when he’s under pressure.

Normally the most articulate of men, his frustration and anger, overwhelm his intelligence and I’ve often had to watch his after match interviews through my fingers. But down through the years, he always had the hope of redemption on the pitch through his own efforts as Arsenal manager because he retained control of his own fate.

Now that is gone and while I believe he will see out this season, I would be amazed if he goes to the line again next August as Arsenal manager.

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