Wenger has to scramble late salvage operation

Sunderland 2 Arsenal 0: Arsenal manager focuses on short term and hints at not being part of rebuilding process

The Stadium of Light

The defiance came late on Saturday night, after Arsenal's season had imploded, and it came from the manager. It did not sound like Arsène Wenger was about to call time on his near 16-year love affair with an English football club. Wenger was prickly and feisty and stood up to a fairly severe battering in terms of answering questions about what has gone wrong. He would stand by this team, he asserted, and there seemed no question of quitting mid-season, but there was a curious pay-off line when he was asked whether this current team – one labelled the worst he could remember seeing by Roy Keane – would need a major overhaul in the summer.

"We have what it takes at the club and we will add what it takes," he said. "But at the moment I believe we are not making plans for next season, we are making plans for the next game."

Wenger was angry, and that has to be taken into account, but it brought to mind an interview he gave to L'Equipe in November, which provoked debate about his future, when he appeared to question a change in policy at the football club he works for, following the surprise deadline day signings of Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker.

Then, when asked if he was working to a long-term plan, he had said: "No. For me we're now talking short-term, it's obvious, but whether it's with me or someone else, it changes nothing. My successor needs foundations on which he can be successful."

That did not sound like Wenger then, nor did it following a justified 2-0 defeat to Sunderland, one which ended their trophy search for a seventh successive season. On more familiar ground he pointed an accusatory finger at injuries, notably to Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby, and before that (to a lesser extent) the state of the Stadium of Light pitch, as with San Siro, and general tiredness. That at least sounded like a manager under pressure who did not intend to leave.

"How do we go about getting better results? By playing well in the next game," he said. "Everything is focussed on that. A week ago, we won at Sunderland in the championship and that is our main target. Then we lost at Milan and then today here.

"That's basically down to the fact that we had a lot to give on Wednesday and then we had to travel again and that is difficult for any team in the world. We put a lot of spirit into this game and if we keep that spirit, and recover a little bit physically, we can win that next game.

"People are always asking the same question, but the first trophy is to finish in the top four and that is still possible for us. I believe that is vital for us, so let's focus on that."

The evidence against him, aside that natural aversion to a lack of long-term planning, was what occurred on the pitch. Arsenal were disjointed. Arsenal were no longer fluent and full of emerging talent that excited the neutral. They were jaded and sluggish and Sunderland ran all over them.

Technically, two own goals did for Wenger and his men, one from Sebastien Squillaci in the first half, deflecting a Kieran Richardson shot past Lukasz Fabianski, a second late in the game from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The defeat went deeper, and everyone (Wenger aside, or as well?) knew it.

The form curve over a period of years now lies at a direct contrast to that of Manchester City and Tottenham, the two clubs who have leapfrogged Arsenal in that time. They are not even treading water as their nearest rivals progress. Under Wenger, for the first time, they are clearly moving backwards.

Martin O'Neill is far too smart to either write off Wenger or be seen to do the same thing. "You are talking about a bright and intelligent man," he said.

"His judgment and record stands the highest scrutiny. They have qualified every year for the Champions League and he could do that again.

"He has had a disappointing week and expectations have been big, but I always say eventually you win a game or two and the pressure passes on to the next manager.

"My genuine view is he is one of the greatest managers. As time goes on, people forget what he has done. He was vying with Sir Alex Ferguson every year for the Championship not so long ago. He will come again no problem."

Some of the praise for Wenger, however, is no longer in the present. The tense used and how far a club looks ahead is crucially important here. Wenger's best days may no longer be in front of him, at least not at Arsenal, and that is a fact that will not get any easier to admit about a man who has helped shape English football, as the current season eventually draws to its close.

Match facts

Sunderland: MIGNOLET 7/10; BARDSLEY 7; O'SHEA 7; TURNER 7; RICHARDSON 7; LARSSON 7; CATTERMOLE 8; GARDNER7; COLBACK 7; McCLEAN 7; SESSEGNON 8

Arsenal: FABIANSKI 6; COQUELIN n/a; VERMAELEN 6; DJOUROU 5; SAGNA 6; ARTETA 6; SONG 6; GERVINHO 5; RAMSEY 6; OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN 6; VANPERSIE 6

Scorers: Sunderland Richardson 40, Oxlade-Chamberlain og 77.

Substitutes: Sunderland Campbell (Sessègnon, 88). Arsenal Squillaci (Coquelin, 10), Ramsey (Walcott, 53), Rosicky (Squillaci, 53).

Booked: S'land Larsson, Gardner, Cattermole. Arsenal Djourou, Sagna, Vermaelen. Man of the match Cattermole. Match rating 7/10. Poss: Sunderland 45% Arsenal 55%.

Attempts on target: Sunderland 2 Arsenal 6.

Referee H Webb (South Yorkshire). Attendance 26,042.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss