In his press conference prior to the Porto game Wenger paid tribute to the fans and acknowledged their right to express their dissatisfaction though he believes it has crossed the line recently. Arsenal players were mocked on the pitch and jeered as they were substituted in the last two home games against Villa and Wigan
In reference to this trend Wenger said “It is a difficult situation when the home crowd is against you, but what can you do? Our job is a public job, so you have to deal with all kinds of responses from people.
‘In some respects it’s better we are playing away, it’s easier than to come straight back to the Emirates” as he went on to claim “Porto’s stadium is hostile but at least they will be hostile to all 11 of our players”
Higher prices and astronomic player salaries may have served to create a greater sense of entitlement amongst fans but Wenger doesn`t think that big money has a bearing on the way players perform.
“If you look brutally at it, and compare the wages then the fans have a point. But if you divide the wages by 20 or by 100 as when I played, I still made bad passes” he said.
“Once you are on the pitch, how much you are paid doesn’t play a big part. It’s how much you want to win. When you are in the game you have to take risks and this also means misses.
‘If you encourage a player to kick the ball forward when he has the ball at the back every time he will not make many mistakes, but his strikers will die of hunger.
‘If you encourage a team to play, and the players to play, they will make mistakes and when they are tired or when they are out for four or five weeks you have to accept that it is part of the mistakes”
Though he clearly feels, as many do, that fans reacted poorly in their recent treatment of the team he understands their importance.
“Without fans we cannot play football so we have to turn the fans in our favour even if we have to say sometimes, ‘Listen, now you have gone a bit too far. That is not right’,” Wenger said. “We have to get the fans on our side because the club, basically, belongs to the fans. When I am gone, the fans will still be there for the club, so they are the core strength of the club.”
There is a bit of work to be done on both sides. The team hasn`t been performing consistently well so far this season and neither have the fans yet both want the same things. That has to come from a common sense of purpose but that is much harder in an industry that, to some extent, has created customers out of supporters. If fans increasingly see themselves in that way does that mean the present malaise is here to stay?
The most disaffected fans are those of teams of which most is expected. Liverpool fans booed their team off the pitch after a dull draw against West Ham recently even though it took them to the top of the table. In a curious way failure is most likely to change the attitude of expectant fans. You`ll often hear the most vocal and committed support amongst fans fighting relegation. The singing of ‘Bubbles` at Upton Park is never louder than when the Hammers have a battle on their hands and the delirium that envelopes the Spuds when they snatch an unlikely draw are both consequences of long periods of genuine underachievement.
Maybe we also need a dose of genuine failure in order to be more appreciative of relative success.
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