Arsenal 1 Manchester City 1 comment: Questions over Arsene Wenger’s future are an avoidable distraction
Majority of Arsenal supporters rallied impressively behind their team
Saturday 29 March 2014
The activists assembled outside the directors’ box at The Emirates. They were unprepared to wait for a resilient performance which compromised their theatrical anger. “Au revoir, Arsène,” they chanted, before they remembered the cost of their season tickets and broke into a chorus of “Choke on your caviar.”
A tiny, vociferous minority, they flaunted a single banner with a scrawled order that Arsène Wenger and Stan Kroenke, Arsenal’s majority shareholder, should “f*ck off”. Football is a business which has turned disturbingly personal.
There was a simultaneous, more serious, demonstration at the ground, which called for Arsenal to pay their employees the London living wage of £8.80 an hour. But that was lost in the shrill search for someone to blame.
Success subdues the fair-weather fans. Adversity exposes their shallowness. The game’s culture of instant gratification , encouraged by inflationary ticket pricing and a lack of belief in such quaint, old-fashioned virtues as patience and prudence is at its most dangerous.
At least The Emirates, unlike Old Trafford, was a no-fly zone. The vast majority of Arsenal supporters rallied impressively behind their team after an early goal by David Silva, whose passing and movement was exceptional, had reopened recent scars. They booed the returning Samir Nasri with a rare relish.
Defeat would have led to their season imploding. Paul Scholes had gone in, studs up, during the week as the odds on Arsenal failing to extend their 18- year sequence of qualifying for the Champions’ League shortened. They were parodied as a team of wannabes, lacking moral fibre and physical resilience.
There was a strange atmosphere for a match of such obvious importance. The air should have been thick with rallying cries and renewed pledges of allegiance, yet there was an almost audible sense of anxiety until the momentum of the match shifted, midway through the first half.
The future remains uncertain. Even the Arsenal manager’s embattled acolytes are bemused by the word games over his new contract. Wenger implies he is ready to remain for two more years, yet falls short of providing confirmation of his commitment to a club shaped in his image.
Trust is at the heart of the issue. Managers are no longer revered figures, assumed to possess Papal infallibility. Like the politicians they increasingly resemble, they are obsessed with short-term gain and reactive when confronted by collective ignorance.
No one double-guessed Herbert Chapman when he appeared on Lord Reith’s British Broadcasting Corporation. Yet after 1,002 games in charge, Wenger is still routinely disrespected in post-match phone-ins. But he is understandably contemptuous of being lectured over the airwaves by a monosyllabic cab driver from Romford.
The revolt is muted, for the time being. The lack of clarity in Wenger’s intentions is an avoidable distraction. United’s experience has highlighted the problems created by slackness in succession planning. When a manager of Wenger’s stature and longevity moves on, the tectonic plates shift.
He cannot be replaced by Arsène Lite, a pale imitation. They will need someone of similar instincts but a different mindset. This is a club, and a team, in need of measured change, evolution rather than revolution. That will cost the sort of sums the board have previously been unwilling to invest. It seems certain that the three-year contract offer to Bacary Sagna, a free agent at the end of the season, will be too little, too late. The internal review of the club’s support services cannot come soon enough.
Murmurs about conditioning programmes, amplified by a succession of soft-tissue injuries, will not go away. They cannot afford the sort of stuttering seasons endured by the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott, whose pace has been much missed.
City, by contrast, had a striking strength of will and an impressive certainty of purpose. They have dealt better with injuries to such key players as Sergio Aguero. Their goal, the result of the slackness of Lukas Podolski, highlighted familiar weaknesses.
Both full-backs had pushed forward, leaving the centre-backs isolated once Podolski surrendered possession to Jesus Navas in a dangerous position. There was an element of fortune in Silva being perfectly placed to convert the rebound in a penalty-box scramble, but it was deserved.
So, too, was Arsenal’s equaliser, which owed much to the equally familiar listlessness of Martin Demichelis. It took time for them to assert themselves, but since Mathieu Flamini was a key figure in their response to initial adversity, he was an appropriate scorer.
Though the draw means Wenger can no longer realistically indulge the fantasy that the title is within his compass, Flamini has bought him a little time. In this perverse, fractious era, that will have to be enough.
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