James Lawton: Wenger will not walk away, but he remains in retreat from hard reality

If fans are given the highs once provided by Wenger, they become addicted. If their habit is disrupted, they look for a new dealer

If Arsene Wenger was a field general rather than one of the most distinguished football managers ever to look as though he had reached his wits' end, his situation would be much more ruthlessly appraised.

This would be, it has to be said, in the unlikely event that it had not already been resolved.

As it stands, there is a compelling case that he is suffering from a severe dose of battle fatigue – and that his leadership is in previously unimagined disrepair.

Inevitably, there is hard talk of his being relieved of command.

Yes, it sounds like sacrilege but the unavoidable truth is that, however sublimely he has disguised the fact down the years, Wenger is not a god.

He is a working football manager who, no more than his most obscure rival, cannot be detached from the most basic demands of the job.

This, certainly, is the brutal truth after the home defeat by Liverpool and all the other fast-accumulating evidence that his Arsenal team have never before come into a new season quite so ill-prepared for serious competition.

It means that with their place in the Champions League imperilled in Italy this week and a potentially Doomsday visit to Old Trafford at the weekend, Arsenal have – according to all the rules of war and its distant cousin football – reached the point of not the unthinkable but the unspeakable.

They have to say what most of football, when you strip away the respect that naturally flows towards 15 years of uniquely passionate and brilliant work, has been thinking for some time.

They have to say that the future of the great Wenger at Arsenal can no longer be guaranteed. They have to say that all the insight, yes, all the genius, and the loyalty that led him to reject sumptuous offers from Real Madrid, Manchester City and Paris St-Germain, must submit to another reality.

This is the one that has always mattered most in football, one that has never allowed even the highest achievers more than a season or two of respite. It is the reality of now, the shape and momentum of your team, the quality of its confidence and leadership and, ultimately, its ability to answer the most important question of all –the one that demands to know if it is going anywhere of significance any time soon.

This is where we encounter the chief weakness of the argument that Wenger, having pampered the ingrate Arsenal fans for so long with superb football, is beyond reproach, or certainly any serious questioning of his position. There is not much wrong with Arsenal, say his defenders, but of course there is.

Arsenal are failing to deliver anything like the promise of Wenger's best work. They are plainly struggling to maintain, let alone enhance, their position among the elite of the English game and those who say the Arsenal fans should be happy with what they have, however reduced it is, are showing as little grasp of football as of human nature.

Wenger created a certain appetite for both style and success.

He served filet mignon and now the customers are paying the same for much lesser fare. Of course they are bitter. Football fans do not rationalise the ebb and flow of life. If they are given the highs once provided by someone like Wenger, they do not store them against the possibility of less uplifting days.

They become addicted and, if their habit is disrupted, of course they will look soon enough for a new dealer.

Though Wenger's most recent conqueror, Kenny Dalglish, was quick to say the right, fraternal things, speaking of his "fantastic" contribution, and though it was true Arsenal were weakened by injury and suspension, the verdict on Saturday could scarcely have been more damning.

You could taste the doubt. It was everywhere – and nowhere more graphically expressed than in the demeanour of Wenger. Later, the nation heard it likened – on Match of the Day, of all places – to that of Basil Fawlty, which may have been flip and cruel but was not altogether separated from the impression made by the man we know to be capable of great erudition and charm.

But then when you piece together the extent of Wenger's crisis the more intractable it becomes.

He said he didn't know the status of Samir Nasri's proposed move to Manchester City. He wasn't stubborn in refusing to sign new players, simply in pursuit of value for money. Pressure? "I always have pressure. It is usual." He thought the result was harsh and later he bemoaned the fact that for months Arsenal had been suffering bad refereeing decisions, bad luck.

It was bad luck, presumably, when young Emmanuel Frimpong, a player of undoubted drive and ability, fell victim to his own "naivety" and collected a red card to add to the one received by his new team-mate Gervinho at Newcastle last week and also the suspension imposed on Alex Song for stamping on Joey Barton.

It was rough fortune that Cesc Fabregas so long ago decided that no amount of the respect and gratitude he felt for his mentor could compensate for his belief that Arsenal were indeed straying ever further down a blind alley.

Wenger says that when Gervinho, Song and Frimpong are out of suspension and Jack Wilshere is fit again everything will be fine – or at least something resembling a little less the approach of Armageddon.

He was questioned about the claim of his old ally David Dein that he might be on the point of resigning and said, with obvious feeling: "There is no chance I will walk away. There is only the chance that I will try to give my best for the club. We live in the circumstance where every defeat is absolutely a disgrace... but we are at the start of the season."

This, of course, is not the least of the problem. For the last six years despair has taken a little longer to settle in.

Capello: it's time to buy

Speaking yesterday on Sky Sports' Goals on Sunday, England manager Fabio Capello commented on Arsène Wenger: "I hope he will stay on, I have a good relationship with him, he's a really good manager. It's difficult after six years without a trophy for an important club like Arsenal.

"I think he needs to buy some new players but it's difficult to find top players to improve the team. If you spend money buying normal players, it's not good, you need to improve the team."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
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

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?