Sam Wallace: Wenger should learn a lesson from Ferguson

Even after such a painful defeat against United, Arsenal still need their manager. But it's time for him to find fresh voices to join his coaching staff

Nothing defines a manager more than how he behaves on the occasion of his greatest disappointment, and on Tuesday night Arsène Wenger demonstrated a generosity of spirit that sets him apart. He said that Manchester United deserved their victory; he said it twice, in case you missed it the first time, and he acknowledged the contribution of Cristiano Ronaldo without qualification or recrimination.

In those few minutes in the Emirates Stadium press room you were reminded why Wenger remains such an important part of English football and why those whose faith is wavering need to examine a few basic points. It reminded you of that game in November when an Arsenal team that had already lost to Fulham, Hull and Stoke beat United 2-1, and those of us who had wondered if Wenger really had lost the plot were obliged to make our apologies.

The same mistake should not be made twice. The supporters who gather round the "In Arsène we trust" banner at the stadium every week are not entitled to be selective about when they extend that trust. Even now, five years on from their last league title and four years from the FA Cup final win over United – Arsenal's last trophy – the Wenger project has to be trusted. His team may have felt light years behind United at times on Tuesday but this is no time for Arsenal to abandon their faith in Wenger.

"I know exactly how he feels," Ferguson said of his managerial adversary, "because prior to this everyone put that kind of criticism on me. When you work as long and hard as he has, you deserve success. The problem for Arsène and me is that the longer you are in the game the more labels you attract. Success or failure: there's no inbetween, no grey area. If you are not winning you are useless; if you are, you're great."

So let's explore the grey area. Kieran Gibbs slipped for United's first goal; the referee gave a soft free-kick for the second and within 11 minutes it was all over for Wenger's team. Those were the micro-factors in defeat. What about the bigger picture? Wenger has had the misfortune in the last five years to face the most successful Chelsea team of all time (2004-2006), arguably the best United team of Ferguson's 23 years (2006-present day) and the best Liverpool team since 1990.

Just as the competition in the Premier League left Wenger's side as the only credible challengers to United from 1996 to 2004, so it has conspired in the last five years to provide some daunting opposition. There are factors that give reason for complaint: most people would cite the absence of an established holding midfielder in the side. Wenger would counter that Denilson or Alex Song will be that player, given time.

If there is a distinction to be made between Ferguson's current success and the relatively lean recent years of Wenger, it is that on Tuesday, for all their relative ability, Arsenal were tactically out-thought. The deployment of Wayne Rooney on the left was a masterstroke by Ferguson; so too Ronaldo's role as a lone striker. By contrast Arsenal looked stale. Theo Walcott was not switched to the opposite wing to test John O'Shea when he was shackled by Patrice Evra. Robin van Persie drifted around in areas where he never seemed likely to damage United.

A thought occurs: in his 22 and a half years at United, Ferguson has employed a series of bright young coaches on his staff. From Brian Kidd to Carlos Queiroz and on to one of the current incumbents, the well-regarded Dutchman Rene Meulensteen. Even dear old Steve McClaren, in the seat from 1999 to 2001, must have given him a different perspective. Ferguson might be dictatorial in some respects but he evidently enjoys being surrounded by young coaches with fresh ideas. Wenger has stuck with Pat Rice and Boro Primorac, an old managerial peer from his days in France, and while these are evidently two venerable servants of the club, would the Arsenal manager not benefit from such fresh input? He is ever willing to give a chance to the youngest players in his squad, how about doing the same among his backroom staff?

Among the kind things that Ferguson said about Wenger on Tuesday, most worrying for him was the United manager's prediction that next season he considered Arsenal "one of the biggest threats because they have potential". It is worrying for Arsenal because that is what Ferguson says about Tottenham Hotspur every August before sending them away with a patronising pat on the head.

Arsenal and Wenger are better than that, and those who fear the Frenchman is losing it should remember that only in his 13th season at United did Ferguson win the Champions League. Wenger is just at that stage himself so he is not too far behind schedule. For Ferguson, the challenges became even greater after he turned 60 in 2001 and in time he met them all. Wenger turns 60 in October and having come this far there is no shame in believing that the best may yet be to come.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
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

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam