New sea­son, same old prob­lems

Ar­se­nal boss con­tin­ues bat­tle to sal­vage tar­nished rep­u­ta­tion

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS -

Un­der fire from fu­ri­ous fans and un­able to pla­cate his un­set­tled stars, Ar­se­nal man­ager Arsene Wenger finds him­self as­sailed by fa­mil­iar prob­lems just weeks into the new sea­son as he bat­tles to sal­vage his tar­nished rep­u­ta­tion.

Just four months ago, the French­man was cel­e­brat­ing an FA Cup fi­nal tri­umph against Chelsea that the 67-year-old hoped would herald a new era of sus­tained suc­cess.

But af­ter a mis­er­able start to the Premier League cam­paign, Wenger once again ap­pears trapped in a de­bil­i­tat­ing cy­cle of on-field un­der­achieve­ment and be­hind-the-scenes un­rest.

Lack­lus­ter de­feats against Stoke and Liver­pool, with the 4-0 hu­mil­i­a­tion at An­field es­pe­cially painful, have sparked re­newed calls for Wenger’s res­ig­na­tion from his army of de­trac­tors.

Mak­ing mat­ters worse, the Ar­se­nal boss – hailed for rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing the English game in ar­eas such as diet and fit­ness af­ter he joined the club in 1996 – is locked in dam­ag­ing con­tract stand­offs with for­ward Alexis Sanchez and play­maker Me­sut Ozil.

Wenger gam­bled by re­fus­ing to bow to Sanchez’s de­mand for a move to Manch­ester City be­fore the trans­fer win­dow closed last week.

Sanchez’s re­fusal to sign a new con­tract, with his cur­rent deal due to ex­pire at the end of the sea­son, makes it dif­fi­cult for the French­man to ex­pect full com­mit­ment from his most in­flu­en­tial player.

Ozil is also in the last year of his Ar­se­nal con­tract and the Ger­man’s patchy per­for­mances over the past two years sug­gest Wenger should not rely on him for help when the flack is fly­ing.

Eng­land in­ter­na­tion­als Alex Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain and Kieran Gibbs were sold be­fore the dead­line be­cause they showed lit­tle in­ter­est in sign­ing new deals, while Wenger failed with a bid for Monaco prodigy Thomas Le­mar, leav­ing him with de­pleted op­tions as he tries to re­verse Ar­se­nal’s de­cline.

Watch­ing Wenger ashen-faced on the touch­line dur­ing Ar­se­nal’s ca­pit­u­la­tion at Liver­pool, it was hard to be­lieve only weeks ear­lier he was talk­ing boldly of push­ing to win the English ti­tle for the first time since 2004.

Wenger be­lieved last sea­son’s suc­cess at Wem­b­ley and his sub­se­quent de­ci­sion to sign a two-year con­tract ex­ten­sion, af­ter briefly con­tem­plat­ing end­ing his 21-year reign, had put him back in a po­si­tion of strength. In­fu­ri­ated

Spend­ing a club-record 52 mil­lion pounds ($68 mil­lion) on Lyon striker Alexan­dre La­cazette in­di­cated Wenger was in­tent on max­i­miz­ing his op­por­tu­nity.

Yet he did not have to wait long for that op­ti­mism to dis­si­pate.

In­fu­ri­ated by Ar­se­nal’s fail­ure to qual­ify for the Cham­pi­ons League for the first time in two decades, many Gun­ners’ sup­port­ers had staged protests call­ing for Wenger to quit last sea­son and the de­trac­tors re­mained stead­fast in their be­lief he should go.

It took less than 90 min­utes of Ar­se­nal’s first match on home turf this sea­son for that to be­come abun­dantly clear.

A for­get­table pre­sea­son friendly against Ben­fica at the Emirates Sta­dium sud­denly turned ugly when an irate fan sprinted onto the pitch and made a bee­line for Wenger be­fore be­ing tack­led by stew­ards.

The sup­porter ap­peared to launch a tirade at the French­man as he was es­corted away, the un­com­fort­able flash point fore­shad­ow­ing the re­newed mis­ery loom­ing around the cor­ner for the Ar­se­nal boss.

Those who ad­mire Wenger for his purist prin­ci­ples and re­call the three Premier League ti­tles of his early Ar­se­nal teams, when he went toe-to­toe with Alex Fer­gu­son’s Manch­ester United, have clung to the be­lief he could still con­jure up that old magic.

But the losses to Stoke and Liver­pool laid bare the fa­tal flaws Wenger has stub­bornly re­fused to fix.

His er­ror-prone de­fense lacks lead­er­ship, the mid­field is short of drive and de­sire and Wenger’s for­wards too of­ten fail to turn their team’s pos­ses­sion into goals.

Even Wenger’s for­mer play­ers are los­ing faith, with for­mer Gun­ners mid­fielder Em­manuel Pe­tit say­ing, “I re­ally thought they would have a big trans­fer win­dow.

“But since the start of July, ev­ery day I look at the news­pa­pers and noth­ing has hap­pened. He is no longer the man for the job.”

Ex-striker Ian Wright added, “Watch­ing him now is like watch­ing Muham­mad Ali fight Larry Holmes. You’re watch­ing Ali, one of the great­est ever, get­ting beat up.

“It was hor­ri­ble, it was un­com­fort­able, you don’t want to see that.”

Start­ing this week­end against Bournemouth, the clock will be tick­ing on Wenger’s bid to avoid the knock­out blow.

Photo: VCG

Ar­se­nal man­ager Arsene Wenger re­acts dur­ing their Premier League match against Liver­pool on Au­gust 27 in Liver­pool, Eng­land.

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