Football: Situation descends into farce at Arsenal

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The Independent Online
Arsenal in crisis, ho, ho, ho. You could imagine the guffaws across the country on Monday as Arsenal, the club which threw off a shady past to become a byword for respectability, descended into farce.

Jailbirds, brawls, bungs and now, five days before the new season, they sack one manager only to discover the heir apparent, Arsene Wenger, may be contracted elsewhere until November.

And the reason? According to Peter Hill-Wood, the Old Etonian chairman, Bruce Rioch did not talk to the board enough. It is the most ridiculous reason for sacking a manager since Luton dismissed Ray Harford because he did not smile enough.

Though Rioch can have his difficult moments he is generally accessible and he has been in the game long enough for Arsenal to have known what they were getting when they lured him away from Bolton last season.

But then, they could hardly use his record as an excuse for sacking him. Winning a place in Europe with a team badly in need of new blood and a new style was a reasonable achievement. Especially when it was the board which stymied his attempts to bring in fresh players.

''He asked for impossible players,'' whined Ian Wright, no friend of Rioch. No more impossible than the likes of Juninho, Vialli, Ravanelli, Cruyff and Di Matteo, all of whom came to England in Rioch's tenure. Or Shearer and Sharpe, targeted by Rioch but attracted elsewhere.

Yet while Arsenal's handling of the matter has been both shabby and inept, their ambition does deserve some appreciation. It would be a bold move to appoint Wenger. His reputation may be high abroad but, after an anonymous playing career, he is little known here.

The influx of foreign players has contributed much to the quality and development of the Premiership. So might the introduction of foreign coaching. Just so long as Wenger is given the time and resources denied to Rioch.

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