By Tony Attwood
One of the great things about Arsène Wenger is that he never shies away from a situation. Famously, on the day he arrived at Highbury he was greeted by a swarm of journos already out for his blood. Not quite realising the intellectual abilities of the man they had brought into the club, the old guard of the board room told Mr Wenger not to go and face the journalists, but that was not the way of our manager.
He did face them, constantly asked them to be specific about the rumours they were suggesting he talk about, and waited until they gave up (knowing that if they mentioned the rumours the club would sue for slander) and then strolled back into the club to get on with his work.
It’s been like that ever since, over all these years. While Sir Alex F refused to talk to the BBC, and was circumspect about who else he would talk to, while Fat Sam repeatedly said that he was suing the Corporation over imagined injustices (but has always chickened out), Arsène Wenger carries on being polite and courteous, giving the journalists of his time, knowing of course that they are going to write the most awful rubbish about him each time.
The point about Mr Wenger is that he is a visionary, not a pragmatist. Just like the most famous manager we had before him: Herbert Chapman. Herbert Chapman demanded complete control over the club, just as Mr Wenger has done, with Chapman famously being the only person in the club to take on Sir Henry Norris, and face him down, when Chapman wanted the removal of George Hardy (Norris’ favourite) in the back room staff.
Of course we know that when the press try to get Mr Wenger to eulogise about a team that contains Theo Walcott, Alexis Sánchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud they are doing it in order to bash him next time the club is assaulted by a bent ref and/or a load of thugs.
So Mr Wenger had his bit of fun saying in reply, “Yes, my imagination works like yours.” The journos will forget that linking together of the manager and the scribblers, but it’s a nice one to put in the scrap book.
As to why we didn’t see Theo this week Mr Wenger went on, “Theo could have had 30 minutes, but it was tight and I didn’t want to expose him to that.” (I think that is a polite way of saying that the studs were on show). (And it is also what Untold’s preview column predicted. 1-0 to us) “Theo’s fit but it’s been 10 months. I have to find a way of bringing him back slowly over the next three or four weeks.”
Meanwhile it was Mathieu Flamini who did the comparison bit. saying, “Alexis Sánchez is a breath of fresh air. He gives so much for the team. I didn’t realise he works so hard off the ball, not just creating space for others but helping out defensively. He’s right up there with Thierry Henry.”
Of course no journalist can let a day go by without knocking the manager somehow, and the Independent said he, “raged in his technical area towards the end.” Mr Wenger’s version, with that twinkle in his eye was, “I was getting irate; it can happen.”
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On this day, even the Telegraph backed off for once, admitting “there is tendency to expect Arsenal not only to win but to do it in style. Even their victories are sometimes criticised.” And a bit later, “Wenger has also never been able to play his strongest team…. but Arsenal’s front-line looks scary when everyone is fit.”
High praise indeed from such a source.
While the press rightly gave high praise to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sánchez, Mr Wenger could not help ruminating a little more on our returning hero but with a sense of realism..
“It could be frightening, but imagination does not always become reality.”
As for Sánchez the Telegraph said, “The Chilean was superb, his speed and diligence forcing the mistakes from Wes Brown and Vito Mannone that gifted Arsenal their two goals.”
And here’s one other thing. Have we actually gone across to 4-4-2 or did I imagine it?
Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs (Bellerin, 74);
Arteta (Ramsey, 88), Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Rosicky, 90), Cazorla;
That would be interesting, because that is the format we would play when Giroud is fit, and assuming that both Wellbeck and Giroud play together. It will be great to give each of them an occasional break, and to have cover for the inevitable injuries, but it looks like we are moving through a phase of 4-3-3 melding during the match into 4-4-2 and then back again.