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October 2020

The angry professor?


By Tim Charlesworth

There was much gnashing of teeth at the Ems last Tuesday.  Of course general disappointment and frustration were the cause of much of it.  But some unhappiness emerged even before the kick-off.  Some gooners were both surprised and disappointed to see Flamini start ahead of Coquelin and Elneny*.   I wasn’t surprised.  It is normal Wenger practice to ease in players who are returning from injury, or new to the country.  Two games in three days for either would have been a surprise to me.  

What seemed to get less attention, was that Gabriel had taken Mertesacker’s place in defence on Tuesday and then again against Bournemouth.  This was both surprising and predictable.  It was surprising because Mertesacker has seemed to be preferred to Gabriel for most of the season.  

It was predictable because this was the third time this season that Wenger has rewarded a player for being sent off by dropping them.  Wenger was keen to verbally defend Mertesacker after his dismissal against Chelsea, but it seems that actions speak louder than words.  It has ever been thus with Wenger.  At one point his ability to defend dismissed players was legendary and the source of some mirth (we all fondly remember the ‘I didn’t see it’ period).  

Wenger has always been massively reluctant to criticise players in public, and we sometimes confuse this with his real feelings.  ‘Le prof’ may be good at internalising his anger and frustration, but that doesn’t mean he is immune from those emotions.  For example, last season following the Southampton game (new bogey team), Wenger was clearly absolutely livid with Szczesny.  He came as close to saying ‘you will never play for Arsenal again son’ as Wenger will ever get.   And this threat has basically been carried out.  Wenger’s public criticism of Szczesny was relatively mild, but I’m prepared to bet that behind the scenes it was a different matter.

There have been four red cards this season.  Two straight reds and two double yellows.  Let’s have a look at them in chronological order:

Giroud (Dinamo Zagreb away, CL1, 16th September 2015, two yellows) – this was a bad one.  The second yellow was for an over-exuberant challenge.  This is forgiveable in a competitive player, but the first one was for dissent, and entirely unnecessary.  This is the sort of thing that winds managers up, and the circumstances were particularly unfortunate.    

Wenger is not very good at rotating.  This often creates a problem for Arsenal .  During the first part of the season, Arsenal are effectively playing more games than the teams that they are playing against, and that is a disadvantage in terms of fatigue and injuries.  

During the first three months of the season, we play Premiership teams who do not have to fit in an extra six CL games in the autumn (or eight if we finished fourth the previous season and had to play the qualifying round).  We also play CL games against teams (like Bayern) who play in less competitive domestic leagues than us, and can therefore afford to rotate their teams in league games.   

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Our traditional November blip is at least partly attributable to this problem.  November marks the end of the Champions League group stage, and by then, we are playing teams that have significantly fewer games ‘in their legs’ than we do.  The obvious answer to this problem is to have a deep squad (as we did before all the injuries) and to rotate the team.   

For the Dinamo game, Wenger had the courage to overcome his natural shyness with regard to rotation.  It was a risk, and it didn’t pay off.   Giroud got sent off against Dinamo and we lost.  As a result of this failure (and Olympiacos at home), we had to play first choice teams and expend 100% effort for the rest of the CL group games.  The inevitable result was a run of bad injuries and defeats in November.   Arguably these problems were all a direct result of Olivier Giroud’s stupidity in Zagreb.

Following the Zagreb game, Walcott was picked ahead of Giroud at no 9 consistently, until Walcott was injured.  Giroud then came back in and kept his place by dint of form (good for him, poor for Walcott) and goalscoring.

In this context, it is also worth noting that Ospina was pretty harshly treated following his mistake against Olympiacos, which also contributed to the same problem.  It seems pretty clear that Ospina had been promised a start in all our CL games.  This was presumably part of the deal under which he agreed to stay following the Cech sigining.  This use of the reserve keeper in CL games is becoming increasingly common in European football (Real Madrid won the CL in 2014 following this policy).  Again, Wenger defended him in public, but Ospina was dropped after Olympiacos and hasn’t appeared in a CL, or PL game since.

Gabriel (Chelsea, away, PL6, 19th September 2015, straight red, rescinded on review)– It looks to me as if the ‘Gabriel v Mertesacker’ decision has been on a knife edge all season.  Mertesacker has had the better of it, probably due to his established partnership with the Boss.  Mertesacker also brings other qualities of leadership, height etc.  However, Gabriel has often looked the more accomplished defender on the pitch.  

Mertesacker had the nod for the early games.  He then got the flu and missed PL game 3 against Liverpool.  Gabriel came in, played well, and seemed to keep his place (it wasn’t clear exactly when Mertesacker regained fitness).   But then Garbriel got sent off against Chelsea.  This cost us again, losing a match that we should have won.  Gabriel was certainly culpable for his sending off (even if Costa was more culpable).  

It was very upsetting due to Wenger’s dislike of Chelsea and Mourinho, and particularly frustrating on top of Giroud’s dismissal three days earlier.  You can see why Wenger was upset and despite Gabriel’s exoneration by the FA, Wenger didn’t seem to forgive Gabriel for letting the team down.   Mertesacker certainly seemed to return to his starting berth after the Chelsea game.  

Cazorla (Chelsea, away, PL6, 19th September 2015, second yellow)– this was a pretty innocuous dismissal for a second yellow.  Cazorla was chasing a lost cause, a little over enthusiastically.   His tackle actually showed a bit of character.  I don’t think anyone was really annoyed with him.

Mertesacker (Chelsea, home, PL23, 24th January 2016, straight red) – If Mertesacker got his place back from Gabriel following Gabriel’s red card against Chelsea, has the opposite now happened?  Has Mertesacker’s red card against Chelsea now tipped the balance in Gabriel’s favour?  Certainly the player was culpable.  The tackle on Costa was a mistake.  

Wenger didn’t appear angry with Mertesacker immediately afterwards, but then as we know, you cannot rely on what Wenger says in public on such occasions.  If this is the case, Gabriel didn’t seem to have his best game against Southampton (albeit a clean sheet kept).  If the decision is on a knife edge, it will be interesting to see if Mertesacker gets his place back against Bournemouth.

*Footnote from the editors: in recent days we’ve been told that Elneny’s wife is expecting a child, so his absence of late has probably been compassionate leave as much as anything, especially if the couple are living in a hotel.  It doesn’t change the point made above, but we thought we’d throw that in.

Two recent anniversaries

8 February 2012: Johan Djourou signed a contract extension to 2015 but left before the end to go to Hanover, having played 86 games over a ten year period.  He later moved on a permanent deal with Hamburg.  

8 February 2014: The run of 6 wins and 2 draws in 8, since the 6-3 defeat to Man C ends with a 5-1 defeat to Liverpool.  Arsenal were four down in 20 minutes.  It was one of three big defeats (the third was the loss to Chelsea) which came to define the season.

Last night’s report

Bournemouth v Arsenal. The match review for negativists and other members of the aaa.

The Untold Books

The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with an introduction by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon.   Details of this and our other titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site.


31 comments to The angry professor?

  • Olu Ajegena

    You hav got to understand and Love Wenger before you Love Arsenal & the football the play. I hav always predicted Arsenal Line ups from Wenger’s press speech. A great Mentor of mine Mr. Wenger

  • Olu Ajegena

    Arsene Wenger has done a tremendous work this season. He has keep us in 3 competition with a mixed squad of experience & young talent. Sometime I do think he purposely loses games I expect him to win cause I trust his Instincts, but he explains in detail to the press “learn to pay attention”. With everything standing now, We have a 70% chance to win 3 trophies this season ( Wenger teams do produce wonderful moments, Wenger is craving for retirement success too) 90% to win 2 trophies & 100% to win one (the League). You have to understand how I split the odds. As it stands if any thing goes wrong with the squad we can drop UCL & FA cup then go for our season target the league. Don’t hide behind the mask of a WengerHater. This man is not a liar, always try to update the numbers by urself, don’t let Owen & Henry do it for u (Henry seems fair sometimes) but its necessary u try to do ur updates. We have a large midfield with durable defence (back to back covers) good finishers but not quality strikers ( all having winning mentality from World cup, 2Facup as a team etc) with a Manager that built success for the club. I live everyday counting Wenger achievements. Don’t get me wrong I don’t worship him. His a great man, go back to 1996 till now. The league remains in London but we have a power shift, the blues are down the league with Mouh gone (I don’t like to be to critical of him, his a great man too with loose screws & it seem his a conspirator). The weekend is the season decider & you know whom my money is going for. Have a grt day.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Nice perspective on the sending offs and the result for the players that got send off. I admit I didn’t look at it that way. I think it comes from the fact that Wenger wants his players to use their heads and brains most and for all. Giroud didn’t use his brains at Zagreb and so did Gabriel at Chelsea. And they paid the price. Santi was not that bad and it was an attempt to get to the ball so no problem for Wenger this time in an already lost match.
    Per should have used his head and should have let Costa go further and wait for Cech to do something. Even going 0-1 down wouldn’t have been a big problem but at least we would have been with 11 vs 11 for the rest of the match.

    So yes probably Per will have to sit on the bench for a while.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Making the sin bin real at Arsenal. 😉 In Untold speak: the Sin Beach…

  • Menace

    Excellent work Tim.

  • Sammy The Snake

    I always look up to AW as a great leader, and I’ve learnt from him so much throughout the years. His interviews are a masterclass.

  • Tim Charlesworth

    In the same vein. It will be interesting to see how Wenger reacts to Flamster’s tackle against Bournmouth. He didn’t get sent off, but easily could have been, and that would have been a disaster. Like the Mertesacker challenge, does Flamini’s tackle indicate that he is having to work too hard to stay in the team, and is not able to make controlled decisions on the pitch? Will it cost him his place? Surely he is under pressure from le coq already?

  • serge


    Good article as usual.
    Re Flams tackle. Ask Menace he’s always got an “interesting” opinion on these sort of things.

  • Temitope

    Praise in public, criticise privately.
    Management 101.

  • OlegYch

    Tim, too much guesswork and blaming in a single article
    How could you blame Giroud for our troubles in CL? even with 11 men we didn’t create much on that day and let in stupid goals, same in olympiacos game

  • Polo

    What’s wrong with Flamini? He keep doing that two leg slide tackle, which will cost Arsenal one day, somebody need to give him a grilling to not do that tackle again. He was very lucky not been sent off.

    Although I don’t condone Flamini tackle but Arsenal players get tackles similar to that in a lot of matches, and the opposition always get away with it, so at least something finally in favour.

  • Pat

    Guesswork. Yes, that’s how I feel about this article too. None of us can see inside Arsene Wenger’s head so I find it a bit irritating when someone claims he can. There’s an assumption of cosy familiarity here with a managing genius none of us knows.

    This about the red cards is just a theory. There may be any number of other reasons for Arsene Wenger’s decisions on these occasions.

    I also don’t appreciate passing comments like ‘Arsene is not very good at rotating.’ This is not an analysis of what he does, or quotations from Arsene Wenger about his views on rotation, which he expresses from time to time.

    I prefer to judge Arsene Wenger on what he says and does, rather than someone’s attempt from the outside to delve into his inner motives.

  • Jambug


    “Although I don’t condone Flamini tackle but Arsenal players get tackles similar to that in a lot of matches, and the opposition always get away with it, so at least something finally in favour.”

    Spot on.

    Not only that but others never get the 3 days of inquisition we get either.

    But that, as we know, is just the medias way of ensuring the World and his dog, including PGMOL and all the refs of course, are fully aware of how we’ve ‘got away with one’ and should be duly punished in the future.

  • Mick

    On Talk sport Flamini is being widely condemned for his honest, if slightly excessive, challenge, whilst Costa is being excused his multiple, frankly disgusting, premeditated transgressions. Apparently his aggression makes him the exciting player he is so and we wouldn’t like him to take it out of his game.

  • Tim Charlesworth

    Hi Pat. Not sure I understand your comment here. The article is clearly speculative, and I think I make it pretty clear that I am advancing a theory, rather than reporting a fact. I use facts to back up the theory, but I accept that there are alternative explanations for the observed facts.

    We often complain on Untold about the standards of journalism on other sites, where speculation is presented as fact. This article is not dressed up as fact. I don’t use any of the nonsense that you see on other sites such as ‘insiders say…’ or ‘sources close to the club report…’

    I don’t think you can come to a site like Untold and complain about speculation. Football discussion is usually based on speculation and would be much poorer without it. is a good source for factual information. I am presenting, in my opinion, a reasonable idea. You don’t have to agree with it. Wenger seems to be showing a ruthlessness towards his players that has not necessarily been evident in recent years, and certainly seems to be incongruous with his public statements.

    I accept your rebuke on the unsupported rotation comment, although in my defence, I have written several previous articles on Untold that discuss the detail of Arsene’s rotational habits.

  • Tai


    Great article and I flow with your careful prognosis.

    Wenger is the most patient man I know and will easily forgive any player of mistakes but again, watching him closely, he’s not one to forgive costly errors, especially avoidable errors.

    I screamed to the screen when I saw both Flamini’s feet leave the turf for a ball he had every advantage of winning without going gaga. Again, the situation was in a quite harmless position. What got into the French, knowing he wore Arsenal jersey I never knew.

    Frankly, no other EPL player would have been sent off for that as it was not a red card offence but playing for Arsenal none-foul challenges had attracted straight red cards. Flamini could have cost us the match and he should have known better. He might have finally secured his position on the bench for the rest of the season for that.

  • para

    One thing i never understand is when we are 2 goals up and then we stop playing a little.

    This has always frustrated me, and it allows the other team to try to get back in the game, causing nervous fans everywhere. Try for 3 goals before we relax a little, then we’ve got the buffer of 2 even if they manage to score. We always relax too soon, and it does sometimes cause us heartache.

    But maybe this is how the defense gets some extra practice 🙂

    No problems with AW at Arsenal, but that don’t mean i will not critisize him when i think it is necessary.

  • Tom

    Hello Tim
    After your Mourinho is a funny dude ,and Tottenham are the best thing since sliced bread articles, I was ready to give up on you and then you come up with this.

    I like it!

    Very interesting take on Arsene Wenger’s reaction to the red card offenses by his players.
    Furthermore, I disagreed with Arsene’s comment about Gabriel deserving his red card against Chelsea, simply because every other manager spins the truth to protect his players and so should Wenger.

    That’s why I was pleased to see him stick up for Flamini after his boneheaded two footer against Bournemouth.
    An honest Wenger would’ve said it was a risky tackle and Flamini got lucky to stay on the pitch, but I say to hell with honesty when every other manager twists the truth to advance his team’s cause.

    I also agree with you about team rotation not being Mr Wenger’s strongest suit, and I wouldn’t worry about the negative feedback you’ll get on this.
    Certain people can’t handle any criticism leveled towards our manager but that’s on them and not you.

    Ps .
    In case Mourinho does get the United job, please resist the urge to write the sequel under the working title ” the comeback of the hilarious one”.

  • Tim Charlesworth

    Thanks Tom, glad you have found it in your heart to forgive me for the Mourinho and Tottenham articles. I will try to resist writing about Mourinho again. I am also reconsidering the ‘Poor little Costa is misunderstood’ ‘Mike Dean is an unbiased referee’ and ‘Blatter is honest’ pieces!

    I think we were a bit lucky with Flamini this weekend, but we are due a bit of luck after the decisions which have gone against us this season. I think the fact that he got the ball quite cleanly saved him. There was also a lack of viciousness in the lunge. It was more desperate and careless, than malicious. Nonetheless, I don’t like to see that kind of challenge, and regardless of intent, it was still dangerous. It is irresponsible and shows a lack of care towards the opponent. It is concerning that Flamini feels the need to be so reckless, so early in the game. Such tackles are now becoming widely unacceptable, and none too soon if you ask me.

    As a young man, it was the commonness of this kind of tackle, and general acceptance of it in amateur football, that eventually stopped me playing the game. I was the kind of player that invited this sort of tackle. In the end I decided that I would never play for Arsenal, and in that case, I would rather not experience what we now call a ‘Ramsay’

  • Menace

    Tom – what makes you think Wenger was being dishonest when he said Flamini was fouled? I feel that many who listen to pundits follow their lead & assume Flamini commited a foul. I have already covered my take on the incident & agree with Wenger. The pundit says two foot & studs up is a red. What the idiot doesn’t say is that the tackle must be in the direction of an opponent. I think Flamini was not anywhere in the direction of an opponent but the opponent made it a point to kick Flamini & claim contact.

  • Rich


    Another poster alerted me to fact Sky sports had done their ref watch feature today. Gallagher clearly wants a red for both challenges. Gird and Flamini.

    Ramires alone stepped on ankles on two or three occasions in this year’s charity shield. Gallagher probably chose not to analyse that game, or if he did no doubt didn’t mention those incidents.

    I had a quick look at other issues of this regular feature, but didn’t stumble across anything Arsenal related.

    The one I put into the search engine was ‘Mcnair/ Wilshere ref watch’. I would be totally amazed if it existed. Likewise I doubt Sky invited Gallagher in on the monday after Cahill’s challenge.

    That sort of selectivity shows how easy it is to distort reality, create pressure and manipulate outcomes. It exactly mirrors how we are typically treated by referees: where opportunities to punish us fully are rarely missed, while in the reverse situation it’s close to the opposite.

  • Menace

    Incidentally the hounding of the official by the Bournemouth players should have been addressed on the field. As it wasn’t, the FA have to address control of players by Bournemouth.

  • Tim Charlesworth

    The hounding of the referee is very distasteful. However, the Bournemouth effort was mild compared to the hounding of Mike Dean by the Chelsea players (sadly including Fabregas). That particular hounding, combined with a baying Stamford Bridge crowd, certainly contributed to Mike Dean’s horrific errors in gifting that game to Chelsea.

    It is remarkable to reflect on how common it is to see premiership players with veins bulging in their necks, advancing on referees who find themselves involuntarily backing away (you try stopping yourself from backing off when four adrenalin riddled men walk towards you – it is virtually impossible). It is almost impossible to expect referees to resist this kind of behaviour on the pitch. It is difficult to ban players for doing this (you would end up banning more than half a team on some occasions), so perhaps retrospective yellow cards are the answer, which will result indirectly in suspensions through accumulated points.

  • Menace

    When Ozil scores, check out the 2 Bournemouth players with 2 footed studs up tackles that got nothing. Where are the TV pundits for those 2 footed challenges?

  • Mick

    I have just checked Ozils goal out and you are right. The challenges from the Bournemouth players, especially the bloke nearest the camera, make Flaminis lunge look mild by comparison.

  • Hi Menance, good to see u back, flamini should have been sent off. Simples….

  • Pete

    Tim – Thank you.

    I read to learn something new – an aspiration rarely achieved sadly. But, in my view, you have successfully joined the dots here. I was very angry with Giroud at the time in the Zagreb game (as I was with him last season, against QPR I think). The sendings-off we have suffered this season have generally been unnecessary rather than unlucky and I think that Wenger, if this IS what he is doing, is right to punish the players accordingly.

    If Flamini had been sent off on Sunday we probably would not have won a critical game – and hence waved goodbye to the title. A completely needless risk – and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Coquelin starting against Leicester.

  • Menace

    Tipster – he was with applause & a 2 -0 victory must have pissed a few of you experts off.

  • Menace

    Mick – I wonder whether Tipster looked at it? Would you think that two footed lunge deserved an Oscar or a Gold Medal? His Friend didn’t see it as he was too busy looking for an excuse to chalk the goal off.

    According to all these gurus who are supposedly Arsenal fans (John , serge, etc,), Flamini should have had a red card. Amazing none of them saw or bothered to see the two lunges when Ozil was stuffing the Bournemouth goose.