Wenger re­minds fans of his hey­days

New Straits Times - - Sport -

LONDON: When Arsene Wenger was asked, at the end of his post­match press con­fer­ence, whether he felt he still had the con­fi­dence of the Ar­se­nal board, he stood up, fished a small metal ob­ject from his right trouser pocket and bran­dished it in the air.

He held it there for a sec­ond as if it were a to­ken not just of val­i­da­tion and vin­di­ca­tion but also of re­venge. It was a ri­poste to all those Ar­se­nal fans who have cas­ti­gated him and hounded him this sea­son. It was an FA Cup win­ners’ medal. His sev­enth.

“I don’t think I can an­swer that ques­tion at the mo­ment,” Wenger said, smil­ing thinly. “For once, I have kept my medal so that means it’s a spe­cial night for me. For the rest, we will see what hap­pens in the fu­ture. We are adults and we have to ac­cept what will hap­pen. If I am still here next sea­son…” His voice trailed off.

His mes­sage was clear. It was a chal­lenge to the Ar­se­nal board, which will meet to­mor­row to dis­cuss the man­age­ment struc­ture of the club and Wenger’s place in it. Wenger, it is ob­vi­ous, feels strongly he should not be hin­dered by in­ter­fer­ence from a di­rec­tor of foot­ball. After what hap­pened at Wem­b­ley on Satur­day, he holds a strength­ened hand.

Wenger had stood on the touch­line in his pressed white shirt and his smart red tie and gazed upon a re­birth. For 90 min­utes, this was how we had all imag­ined Wenger’s brave new Ar­se­nal would one day be­come in the best of all pos­si­ble worlds. This was Ar­se­nal bul­ly­ing Chelsea with beauty.

It felt as though this per­for­mance in the FA Cup fi­nal was every­thing that Wenger has been work­ing to­wards through all the years of be­ing sec­ond best to Manch­ester United, Chelsea and Manch­ester City. This was his dream un­fold­ing be­fore dis­be­liev­ing eyes.

On a day when Wenger wrote his name into the history books by win­ning English foot­ball’s most fa­mous com­pe­ti­tion for a record sev­enth time, the Ar­se­nal boss re­minded even those who have come to doubt him why they once loved him so much.

This was one of the best Cup fi­nals of re­cent years, breath­less and full of rare skill, and Ar­se­nal, de­pleted to the point of cri­sis in de­fence and be­set by the protests of their own fans, pulled off one of the com­pe­ti­tion’s most mem­o­rable tri­umphs. Even in Wenger ’s canon of works, this must rate as one of his finest achieve­ments.

So of­ten frag­ile against the other big teams, Ar­se­nal did not shrink. They had grown to the point where they were play­ing like giants. When was the last time we saw them this in­tense and de­ter­mined? They didn’t just out­play Chelsea, they em­bar­rassed them.

Ar­se­nal were mag­nif­i­cent. They made the Pre­mier League cham­pi­ons look medi­ocre. They gave them a lesson in in­ci­sive, pass­ing foot­ball and won­der­ful move­ment and sharp, clean tack­ling and dom­i­nant de­fend­ing.

Alexis Sanchez ran the show. Chelsea sim­ply could not get any­where near him.

Me­sut Ozil did every­thing his ad­mir­ers know he can do. He ca­ressed the ball and his op­po­nents into sub­mis­sion. Now and again, he even chased back. It took a bril­liant goal-line clear­ance from Gary Cahill to deny his del­i­cate chip over Thibault Cour­tois. Only the clunk of a post de­nied him what would have been a won­der­ful goal in the dy­ing min­utes.

Danny Wel­beck was bright and lively up front. Chelsea couldn’t cope with him, ei­ther. He hit the post with a header that beat Cour­tois. He had an­other ef­fort cleared off the line. Granit Xhaka was rock solid in mid­field and we have not said that of­ten this sea­son.

And Per Merte­sacker? He had only played 37 min­utes all sea­son but against Chelsea, he was a colos­sus. Play­ing at the heart of Ar­se­nal’s nascent back three, he sub­dued Diego Costa for most of the match and made sev­eral crit­i­cal chal­lenges.

Sure, it was the FA Cup fi­nal. It wasn’t the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal or the cru­cial game in a bat­tle to win the Pre­mier League. But Ar­se­nal were play­ing so well that even the staunch­est of the Wenger Out Brigade must have felt their hearts flut­ter­ing a lit­tle.

Even when Costa equalised 14 min­utes from time, Ar­se­nal did not crum­ble as they have so of­ten be­fore in re­cent years. This was a dif­fer­ent Ar­se­nal. A dif­fer­ent an­i­mal. In less than a minute, they had taken the lead again, this time through Aaron Ram­sey.

It felt as if every­thing was fall­ing into place. It felt as if Wenger’s vi­sion was be­ing re­alised. Even if it was too late to in­flu­ence any­thing else this sea­son, it was the kind of dis­play and the kind of spirit that af­forded a glimpse of what might yet come to pass un­der more years of Wenger at the Emirates.

So what now? Does this change any­thing in the long drawn-out saga of whether Wenger stays or goes. As Ar­se­nal owner Stan Kroenke sat in the stands, a white rose in his lapel, he must have been think­ing that the club would be mad to get rid of the man he has backed so loy­ally.

Does this vic­tory not change any­thing for those in­grates who want Wenger out of the club? Does this not sug­gest to them that Ar­se­nal are still ca­pa­ble of ex­celling un­der the great­est man­ager they have ever had?

Wenger showed us again what Ar­se­nal are in this Cup fi­nal. He showed us what Ar­se­nal could be. He has given so much to his club and to English foot­ball. Now he has this mas­ter­piece to add to his col­lec­tion. Daily Mail

REUTERS PIC

Ar­se­nal cel­e­brate after win­ning the FA Cup by beat­ing Chelsea 2-1 on Satur­day.

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