By Phil Gregory
Nope not Arsene Wenger, but Matt Law who is apparently the Chief Football Writer at the Mirror and recently penned a bit of a hatchet job on Wenger.
Thanks to the wonders of the web, I had the dubious pleasure of reading his critique (you wouldn’t catch me dead reading the Mirror) . Thankfully I don’t make a point of taking apart every piece of weakly argued “journalism” in today’s red top press, but this evening Mr Law, I make an exception for you.
I won’t take apart every sentence as I don’t disagree with every sentence he writes (just most) but I’m sure you’ll agree that I rebut the main arguments and don’t misrepresent Law’s position.
Mr Law’s article sub-headline started off with the reasonable point that Wenger is not beyond criticism just because he was brilliant when he first arrived and indeed, seven years without trophies means that questions must be asked and the debate had. The article soon flounders however, when it comes to asking those questions.
Mr Law’s first criticism surrounds Wenger’s supposed £7m salary package. Law is on shaky ground already, as his argument relies on the fact that Wenger indeed earns £7m a year, a fact nobody can verify and we can but guess at. Unless you’re doing Wenger’s tax returns, taken at face value, this argument is not even worth discussing.
If I give Law the benefit of the doubt and take the salary figure as correct however, it is in no way clear that Wenger’s consistent management of the club with regular Champions League performance against big-spending rivals (albeit with no trophies in that time) is worth £7m a year.
I indeed would argue that, but whether you agree with me or not depends on whether you recognise that Arsene has us punching above his weight given the financial means of our rivals. That question is an ideological one, and I’m not going to change many minds without taking this article miles of course so I won’t bother.
For a full time journalist to be making an argument based on a fact pulled out of thin air is disappointing indeed. Needless to say, if Mr Law or anyone else can provide a source that can corroborate this figure then I’ll be more than happy to apologise.
Law follows up with “The Frenchman’s team selection was baffling, his tactics were poor, his decision making was ineffectual and his actions supported some theories he has lost his edge” and criticises Wenger for being friendly with a player he coached for eight years… a marginal issue at best that has no relevance whatsoever to the debate around whether Wenger should continue as manager.
It’s never a good sign when you need to fling mud and invoke emotions to win a debate.
“Andre Santos should have been dragged off for a woeful first-half performance” according to Law, yet for whom? Anyone with an understanding of football will realise that the substitution that everyone proposed (Sagna to leftback, Jenkinson on for Santos) is foolhardy.
In that situation, you would have Sagna defending against Valencia, an old-school “round the outside” winger. Sagna would be defending on his weaker, left foot, and would have a hell of a job containing Valencia, who is a great player in his own right. There is a time and a place for “wrong footed” defenders, and indeed sides have used right footed left backs effectively against wingers who cut inside so they can tackle on their stronger foot, but versus a winger seeking to go on the outside such a move is daft.
Unless Mr Law is proposing a wholesale defensive change (Vermaelen leftback, Koscielny on for Santos) which wouldn’t be the brightest of ideas in the middle of a match given Vermaelen would be playing out of position and was already having a bad game… Wenger had little option but to persist with Santos, despite the Brazilian having a bit of a nightmare.
The whole shirt swapping thing at half time was barmy, (although apparently quite common in South America, according to an article in the Guardian today) but with a lack of subs I struggle to see how taking him off could have shored us up at the back. That’s without saying that we were chasing the game, and would be substantially weaker going forward with a wrong-footed leftback supporting the few attacks we had.
Santos wasn’t great, but there is a reason why Wenger is a football manager and you and I just sit here and argue about football – it’s because he understands these aspects of the game that apparently Chief Football Writers don’t.
“Wenger was right to highlight the fact he has done a wonderful job in keeping Arsenal in the Champions League, but his suggestion the club will flounder without him was incredibly arrogant and not necessarily true. Arsenal won trophies before the arrival of Wenger and will win more long after he is gone. They may not qualify for the Champions League for 15 successive years, but they may not go seven without silverware“.
I wont spend too long picking apart the above, as it doesn’t require it. Clearly Wenger elevated Arsenal’s status substantially when he arrived and, despite illustrious periods in our past, nobody can really deny that.
Look at the average league position before and after his arrival, look at the trophy count during his period at the helm (even worth the current drought) compared to before him…
Certainly a new manager could come in and win trophies, but no manager can rival Wenger’s record in the transfer market on a tight budget: what is to say Guardiola would be able to do better with the resources at our disposal? Naturally you can retort we should spend more under Wenger or a new manager, but when we’re up against the bottomless wallets of City and Chelsea getting into a bidding war is hardly a bright idea.
Likewise, leaving our club’s financial stability at the behest of a Russian billionaire does not strike me as a sensible course of action. It seems to me to be a pretty sensible course of action to stick with the geezer who has a knack for finding diamonds in the rough and developing young talents from the academy.
Law criticises Walcott’s omission from the starting line up at Old Trafford, as if he expected Theo to play in one of the most intense games of the season after playing 120 minutes in midweek. The only United player in their line-up who played in midweek was Rafael, for whom they haven’t got a replacement given injuries. This is seriously basic stuff, Mr Law!
Likewise Law criticises the club’s handling of the Walcott contract situation. While I would love it to be wrapped up and Theo secured for the future, there are two parties required to sign the deal.
While we will never know the inside story, a little bit of Arsenal stinginess with the wage packet seems to be balanced out by Theo being foolish in this negotiation with the whole “central striker” thing. Not only does he already pretty much play as a centre forward (a wide forward that cuts inside is hardly different to a centre forward, who drifts out after all) but this is Arsene Wenger we are talking about, the man who started Henry as a wide player and moved him inside.
Personally, if my coach had developed one of the most deadly strikers in football, I’d knuckle down and take his opinions on board! Theo is a class player, but a football club cannot bend over backwards to indulge a player’s whims, lest they all do it.
Mr Law makes a fair point that Wenger is pulling a fast one in pretending that Walcott isn’t being omitted from the starting line-up due to his contract situation. Perhaps that is true, but is he really going to come out and admit it, creating headlines and media furore around a situation that is already complicated? No, that would be foolish. This is standard Wenger, he regularly fakes “injuries” for players who have been dropped for poor form or personal reasons, to deflect the media attention and give the player space. Sounds like good management to me!
The strange point is made that Giroud is “designed to play in a two-man partnership“, as if it is utterly bizarre that Wenger thinks a big, strong centre forward with decent touch and link up play can play up front on his own. You know, the guy who converted Van Persie into a lone forward and one of the best strikers around (that stung) may just know a thing or two about picking centre forwards. Nit picking at its finest.
Criticising Wenger’s failure to substitute Wilshere is another easy one. On paper, it is not a bad move to take off a hot-headed player on a yellow. Yet when chasing a lead, taking off one of your best players who is a creative force for a defensive midfielder is not the best of ideas either.
Leaving Wilshere on represented a gamble and given we were behind, Wenger had to take it. Much more important going forward is the fact that Wilshere keeps his temper in check and doesn’t give the referee the opportunity to dismiss him.
“Wenger started the season hoping Abou Diaby would avoid injury, hoping his goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny would play every game, hoping Gervinho could somehow succeed as a striker and hoping Van Persie’s goals would not be missed. But what did he really expect?”
Leaving aside the apparent act of mind-reading on behalf of the Mirror’s finest, we again see criticism of Wenger’s choice of strikers! Let’s not forget that Gervinho won the French league playing as a striker, nor indeed Wenger’s rather unrivalled record of moulding strikers from Henry to Bergkamp to RvP.
The goalkeeper critique seems to me to be clutching at straws: Mannone has largely done well and few teams ever have to play a third choice goalkeeper, not least for months at a time. Abou Diaby… well. He is made of glass, but so was Robin Van Persie, and he wasn’t half bad for us last year, was he now?
Mr Law broaches an interesting topic, one worthy of debate, but his article is not it. Indeed a reasoned critique of Wenger recently would point to our not-inconsiderable wage bill and the invaluable freedom and flexibility that Wenger has, yet Mr Law sadly misses the nuances amid a flurry of ill thought-out populism. You know it’s bad when Tim Payton is lauding it on Twitter…
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