It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot over the past few weeks: why do I feel this protective need to defend Arsene Wenger while simultaneously believing that his time at Arsenal is up?
I first started to believe that Wenger should step down when Arsenal lost 3-2 to Swansea at the Emirates last season. I’d believed that change was needed for years but always held onto the hope that our coach of 20 years was the man to do it; that he wasn’t the grumpy, stubborn bloke that others thought he was and that he would adapt his team’s style and tactics, as other managers have, to be effective against the modern game.
The football that Arsenal play can, at times, looks terribly outdated and, apart from the odd five-minute burst of brilliance, has done for a while.
When teams like Watford are pressing so high up the pitch, tearing us apart, and knocking us out of the FA Cup at the Emirates, you know that something’s got to give. A change was needed and I desperately wanted Wenger to acknowledge this.
Over the past couple of months, however – probably since the Everton game – I’ve edged, or been shoved, from thinking that although the club needs a change, Wenger could still be the man to do it, to wanting a new manager but only the ‘right one’, to just thinking any change will do. Perhaps it’ll give our players who, on paper, are more than capable, the kick up the backside they need.
So, why is it that when others bring up his lack of tactical adaptation, stubbornness or wooden demeanor in post-match interviews, that I feel the need to jump in.
“But the referee…”
“But he’s only just returning to form and we have no others options…”
“But the players still have to go out there and perform…”
“But he’s done so much for us…”
But. But. But.
Constant excuses… sound familiar?
The thing is, I agree with almost everything others say. His style is outdated, he IS stubborn and the cliches he reels out post-match are infuriating.
When he changed up our formation against Chelsea from his favoured 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 against Chelsea. I, and many others, were surprised. That’s right, surprised that our manager, who has decades of experience, had tailored his tactics to suit our opposition.
I think the key difference is, is that I love the man. Not in a makes-fan-art-and-has-posters-of-him-on-my-wall way but I appreciate everything he has done for the club and everything his hard work will do long after he’s gone. He has ensured we don’t just have a club now but we have one for many years and for that I’m eternally grateful.
First and foremost, I respect Arsene more than most. More than a lot of the people slagging him off.
Therefore, when I hear others tear into him, my knee-jerk reaction is to dive in and bring up facts that are no longer perhaps relevant. I’m so used to defending him that I just do it instinctively now. How bad is that?
Groups that hold up A4 pieces of paper and trend #WengerOut are what have made wanting change seem like an attack on the manager. They’ve segregated the people who want him out of the club now and at any cost, from the people who believe we need change but don’t want to stay inside on a Friday night, printing out slogans to feebly hold up at our next match.
Their vehement hatred towards a great man is what makes the rest of us, even those, like myself, who do believe he should leave, stand up and protect him. Not that a grown man needs protecting, of course, but considering the hammering he’s got from fans, the media, other managers and pundits over the years, it feels warranted. Like it’s the least we can do.
It’s what makes those who usually perhaps would be on the fence, claim that he’s still the right man for the job.
The idea of Arsene signing a new two-and-a-half year deal worries me but that doesn’t mean I’m going to go digging around in the garage for my pitch fork and chase him down Gillespie Road.
Ultimately, it’s fine to disagree and be angry with the way Arsenal is being run and the way the team are currently playing. It’s fine to believe that Arsene should leave at the end of the season, whether we have a replacement lined up or not. It’s fine to believe he should stay as long as you can understand why others don’t and vice versa.
You can still believe that our club deserves better without condemning and abusing a man who has done so much to get it to where it is.
You can be angry and disagree and complain and swear, without completely disrespecting a man who has done nothing but respect the club he loves.