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."

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?