at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
London – With a record such as his, over a 30-year span, Arsène Wenger has the right to claim he knows a thing or two about managing football teams at the highest level – but he is at risk of allowing a rift to develop between himself and Arsenal's fans after a response to Saturday's show of dissatisfaction that seemed to imply that their opinions did not really count for that much.
The fans were frustrated as Wenger's team laboured to a goalless draw against an Aston Villa side that had lost to each of the Manchester clubs in consecutive weeks, and his decision to substitute the in-form striker Olivier Giroud in the closing minutes and bring on a defensive player in his place prompted chants of “You don't know what you're doing”.
It irked Wenger enough for him to engage in tetchy exchanges with reporters immediately after the match, when he insisted he did not have to explain every decision he made, taking a dismissive line that he only compounded later when he contrasted the views of supporters with the vote of confidence in his methods delivered when Emirates Airlines announced a £150m extension of their sponsorship deal on Friday.
“It [the Emirates deal] means the people who invest in us believe we are doing things in the right way,” Wenger said. “So it's first a credit to the way we do things and we will try to use the money intelligently.”
The manager could not resist a sarcastic dig at critics when asked if that deal indicated that someone believes he does know what he is doing. “Not so much,” he replied. “I only managed 1,600 games, 200 Champions League games. So I'm a bit lucky.”
He told reporters: “I will not explain every decision I make – you judge the game for the papers, and I sit here and explain to you our game. You are all great managers! I read the newspapers every day and I can tell you that you are always great managers!”
Wenger would surely acknowledge, however, that the source of supporter discontent is not so much his decision to take off a striker at the end of a weary display on a wet night at Villa Park as Arsenal's failure to win any silverware since 2005, when the last of his four FA Cups capped a sequence of seven major trophies in eight seasons, including three Premier League titles.
Somehow, the 13th consecutive qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League that Wenger achieved with last week's victory over Montpellier, meritorious though it may be, does not appear to compensate for falling behind the Manchester clubs, Chelsea and currently even West Bromwich Albion in the domestic pecking order.
Arsenal's tally of 20 points from the first 13 matches is their poorest at this stage since the 1994-95 season – Wenger took over in 1996 – when they had 19. They are four points below the top four, a position that Wojciech Szczesny at least wants to see corrected.
“We are outside the top four so our first target is to reach that top four,” the goalkeeper said. “But our ambitions are much higher than that. If we can win at [fifth-placed] Everton on Wednesday it would be a very good result. It will be a six-pointer, really.” – The Independent