Sunday 21 January 2018

Wenger appeals for fanunity ahead of hazardous European encounter

Jeremy Wilson

Arsene Wenger has taken Arsenal to the final of every major club competition they can enter but was still asked yesterday whether tonight's Champions League qualifier against Udinese was the biggest match of his career.

That the question somehow felt legitimate and Wenger answered with the utmost seriousness only underlined the tension that surrounds Arsenal following a tumultuous summer of discontent.

Unrest among fans has never been more pronounced throughout Wenger's entire 15 years at the club and, in explaining his decision to sell Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona yesterday, there was also a pointed and impassioned plea to fans for unity.

"I understand everybody's worry but I believe a club is a united front," said Wenger. "Our players need the support from our fans.

"Our fans can be proud of the way we run this club, of the quality of player we have and of the financial situation that is existing at the club. Rather than convicting this club, they have more reason to be proud. It is an important period for this club, but I am confident we will get over it in a very successful way. We need to remain united."

That Wenger's appeal should, within two hours, be followed by a row on Twitter between Samir Nasri and Arsenal supporters summed up a summer in which a measure of control has been lost.

Nasri is still refusing to sign a new contract amid a probable move to Manchester City and, during Saturday's match against Newcastle, was the subject of obscene chanting from his own fans. He responded yesterday via Twitter.

"I heard what the fans were singing about me on Saturday and it is really disrespectful because I'm still a Arsenal player," he said.

Nasri's complaint, predictably, was met with little sympathy and further vitriol from many Arsenal fans on Twitter.

With such cracks appearing, the visit tonight of Udinese could not be more delicately timed. Arsenal might have just sold Fabregas for £35m but their Champions League status is worth around £25m.

They have never failed to qualify for the group phase under Wenger but, with Nasri, Robin van Persie and Jack Wilshere all unavailable tonight due to suspension and injury, Udinese are a hazardous proposition. Wenger will also have no contact with his team as he serves a one-match touchline ban for his behaviour in the aftermath of Arsenal's defeat against Barcelona last season.

There were also the usual response to criticisms of Wenger's strategy in the transfer market and whether, to repeat the message from Arsenal supporters at St James' Park on Saturday, he will "spend some f****** money".

On the one hand, Wenger said that he was not afraid to spend big, perhaps the entire £35m fee for Fabregas on one player. On the other hand, he stressed that Arsenal would not buy players for the sake of it.

There was also an endorsement for the existing squad. "I don't think just spending money is a target that is defendable," said Wenger. "To spend the money on a top player is defendable. We are not frightened to spend money, but we have to be convinced the player is better than what we have."

Intriguingly, Wenger also raised the possibility of both Nasri and Nicklas Bendtner playing again for the club, certainly until their futures are resolved.

The task now is clear. Rebuilding not just a midfield that has revolved around Fabregas but also the faith of both the supporters, and perhaps even the players, in his grand vision for Arsenal. There is also a match tonight that will be pivotal to the season and, just conceivably, Wenger's future. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Arsenal v Udinese

Live, Sky Sports 2/TV3, 7.45

Irish Independent

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