Thursday 22 February 2018

Wenger reveals his 'hurt' at criticism as Arsenal turn on style

Everton 0-2 Arsenal

Arsene Wenger has faced criticism from Arsenal fans
Arsene Wenger has faced criticism from Arsenal fans
An Arsenal supporters makes his point at Goodison Park Photo: OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images

Chris Bascombe

Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, Inter Milan, PSG, the French national team, the English national team and just about every other national team.

During the last 19 years, it might be easier to draw up a list of those who have not tried to lure Arsene Wenger from Arsenal. It is measure of Wenger's class that when asked to put a figure on how many times he's stood by Arsenal his only response was to smile.

The Frenchman seemed to quite enjoy the line of enquiry, and might have gone into detail had an impatient media man not ushered him off when he was flowing as expressively and eloquently as his side over the previous 90 minutes at Goodison Park.

Off Wenger went, dragged away by one of his own when he had more to offer.

It seemed quite the visual metaphor for what might come if the Arsenal board respond to the clamour for change. Wenger is no busted flush. The risk in losing him is twofold.

His intention appears to be to end his career at the club he has defined - just like Alex Ferguson. But, if that proves unpalatable it would be naive to presume a domestic or European rival would not beg him to spend his twilight years in management elsewhere.

A guarantee of being in the last 16 of the Champions League every season may no longer satisfy Arsenal, but others would enthusiastically accept a side perpetually in contention for honours.

Wenger would transform any side he coached and while Arsenal began the unenviable task of finding another visionary - good luck with that - he'd threaten their habitual and presumptuous top-four status if he turned up elsewhere.

Wenger admitted the most recent 'scepticism' has hurt him more than usual given it's led by supporters.

The first goal at Goodison, beautifully crafted by Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil and finished by Danny Welbeck, gave him particular pleasure.

"What hurts me is that at the important moment of the season we played in a sceptical environment," Wenger said.

"I couldn't understand why. From the media - OK. From our fans? It is a bit more difficult to take.

"I never complain about critics, especially when they are turned against me. I just think I give my best, I built this club over 19 years with the quality of my work, not with resources from outside."

Saturday's match was another milestone in the rapid development of Arsenal's latest exciting young Arsenal talent.

For Alex Iwobi, it was the afternoon of his first league start and the fact that he marked it with his first senior goal completed a memorable week for the 19-year-old, who had made his Champions League debut at the Nou Camp.

The pity for English football, though, is that Iwobi's very next act was to board a flight bound for Nigeria. The Lagos-born Arsenal academy product chose to represent Nigeria, having previously played for England at U-16, 17 and 18 level, and the Super Eagles' gain is England's loss, according to Wenger.


In the Arsenal manager's eyes, the English FA missed a trick by not selecting Iwobi, who made his debut for Nigeria's U-19s in October after being overlooked by England.

On Saturday's evidence the nephew of former Nigeria captain Jay-Jay Okocha is a player of real promise - he had pace, awareness and plenty of confidence and he might have had more than the goal he scored to double his team's lead just before half-time.

"He's humble and we hope he remains humble because there is still a lot to work on, but he is a great talent," added Wenger.

As for Everton, another week, another mood swing, with Roberton Martinez warning his players that FA Cup semi-final places are at stake.

"There's been a lot of talk about the semi-final," he said. "Unless you can show you are a player to drive Everton forward, it will be difficult to see how you can stay in the side."

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