ARSENE Wenger’s authority was openly questioned on Sunday after his captain, Robin van Persie, appeared to join fans in disputing the decision to substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Andrei Arshavin.
While supporters reacted with boos and angry shouting in Wenger’s direction, Van Persie looked to the bench and was broadcast mouthing the word “no”. Arshavin, who is Arsenal's record signing, was then blamed by much of the crowd for Manchester United's winning goal after he failed to prevent Antonio Valencia’s run.
Wenger looked furious on the touchline but refused to blame Arshavin. He was clearly also deeply irritated at all the dissent over the substitution of Oxlade-Chamberlain.
“He had started to fatigue,” Wenger said. “He had started to stretch his calf. He was sick on Sunday night. Arshavin is captain of the Russia national team. You have to justify substituting an 18-year-old kid who’s playing his second or third game? Let’s be serious. I have to stand up to the result and for the substitutions I made. I’ve been 30 years in this job and made 50,000 substitutions and I have to justify every time I make a decision? I do not have to explain to you every decision I make.
“I can understand that the fans are upset about the substitution, especially when it doesn’t work. That means I made the right decision at the start of the game.”
When it was put to him that Van Persie also appeared to challenge his decision, Wenger said: “I didn’t see that.” Asked whether his substitution had cost Arsenal the game, he said: “Why? If you expect me to blame an individual player, it will not happen. We win and lose together. If I’ve made a mistake, I’m sorry. It could have happened if he had stayed on.”
Gary Neville, the Sky Sports pundit and former Manchester United defender, was rather more frank in his assessment of Arshavin. “He looks the most disinterested player in the league, to me,” he said. “I think he wants to go back to Russia. Well, go back. The Arsenal fans don’t want him out there.” On Van Persie, Neville said: “If the captain’s reacting like that, you’ve got problems.”
In contrast, United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson was delighted that his team had responded so positively to Manchester City’s dramatic 3-2 win against Tottenham. “Winning after City had won their game was the important thing,” he said.
“We did it in the right way, we played football, were adventurous and had belief in ourselves.”