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."
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