Wenger is one of the few managers who will regularly make himself available to the press in both his lengthy pre-match and post match press conferences. He will usually answer any question no matter how provocative with good grace and some humour. Few managers are as open and available as he is.
This couldn`t have been the best time to face a question and answer session from shareholders as he did on Thursday of this week. Not that all were shareholders. Some would have attended by proxy. I remember the last such session last summer when Wenger dealt with a number of questions, most of which were good entertaining if predictable stuff but with the occasional banal, trite contribution. One questioner at the time asked why Ronaldo was able to score 40+ goals from the right wing whereas Eboue hadn`t scored any. You can`t help but wonder why such people are even interested in the game of football.
But at least last season had some mitigation in our league position. We had gone out of the cups relatively early so the disappointment of losing two semi-finals wasn`t as fresh as it was in the minds of those attending this year`s session. By all accounts some attending this year felt their entitlement to give vent to their frustrations didn`t need to consider the normal courtesies of such an assembly. I guess any forum for debating football is going to have its share of malcontents and the disaffected and seemingly this was no exception.
As Silvestre was described as a ‘geriatric`, Adebayor and Eboue slated for diving, a suggestion that Adebayor should be sold was cheered, the team accused of lacking fight and backbone and the ability of Diaby and Song questioned, much of that negativity behind the questions would have been familiar to Arsene.
He defended the team and his management of it obviously but he will have been aware that those most discontented will not have been satisfied that he doesn`t see their thoughts as the incontrovertible ‘truth` that they do. Still it didn`t stop him from sharing his own opinion with them.
Apparently astonished at the language used by one shareholder to make his point about Silvestre he told him “I cannot accept what you say about our players. Are you a shareholder? I cannot accept that you speak about the players of your club like that. I don’t agree with the terms you use.” Defending Adebayor, while claiming he is part of his plans for the future, he said “All the big clubs wanted him last summer and it will be the same again this summer.” Improving the team is relatively easy to do from many fans perspective. Change the squad every year until you find something that works would be the conventional thought but less easy in reality according to Wenger “No matter how much money you have … the number of players available who make a difference is not as big as people imagine,” he said. Responding to the accusation that the team lacks spirit he claimed “It is easy to sit in the stand and say that they are not up for the fight,” as he continued “What they have done in this season in a negative environment shows what they can do.”
It’s that ‘negative environment` this season that he feels has not helped in maximising our performance. “We have had negative vibes and manipulation around the team. It is very hard work to keep the confidence and energy demands because we had to support the team against the odds.”
At the bottom though he is sure that the policy and philosophy of the club is the right one as he pointed to the less visible achievement of Arsenal being pretty unique in maintaining a relatively high standard while building a new stadium. Such small achievements though are lost on many.
It is fair that supporters and shareholders get the opportunity to air their grievances as personally as the club allows. That the fans make their criticisms felt in an era where football has purposely converted supporters into customers and consumers is inevitable as their sense of entitlement grows accordingly. Whether the criticism is wholly justified or not is less important than the fact that Wenger is one of the few, maybe even the only manager that is prepared to face his critics as openly as he does. But they shouldn`t expect any sycophantic acceptance of their wisdom. His is no sugar coated palliative exercise to calm the savage breast.
Pointing out that not all the fans are the same “There is a massive difference between the away fans, who are absolutely fantastic, and the home ones” he told the audience “But what this team needs is people who are fans of the club.”
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