Wenger defiant over Arsenal's potential

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The Independent Football

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger defiantly defended the potential of his young team after two crushing home defeats, and expressed indifference to fans' mounting frustrations.

Wenger is the club's most successful manager and has enjoyed an overwhelming period of support from fans, even during the past four years when Arsenal haven't won a trophy. But the tension has been mounting over the course of the season and was compounded by heavy home losses to Manchester United and Chelsea this past week.

Arsenal supporters streamed out of Emirates Stadium in the thousands with 30 minutes left to play in the Champions League semi-final second leg on Tuesday after Manchester United went ahead 3-0 and eventually knocked the Gunners out of the tournament 4-1 on aggregate.

The fans again had seen enough on Sunday during the 4-1 league defeat to Chelsea, with thousands of empty seats well before the final whistle and widespread booing.

Wenger's response was curt and dismissive when asked after Sunday's loss what his message was to the fans, when it was suggested that their mass exodus on Wednesday and Sunday meant they were hurting.

"Everybody is free to leave the stadium when he wants," he said without elaborating, pausing to wait for the next question.

At half time and as they made an early exit Sunday, many fans recognised former Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn sitting in the press box giving commentary. Several half-jokingly yelled out to Winterburn, who was part of the team that won the double under Wenger in 1998, that he should get out onto the pitch to help the young squad.

Wenger has won three league championships and four FA Cups over his nearly 13-year tenure - the last being the FA Cup in 2005. Fans are yearning for a return of the glory days when Wenger brought trophies to the club and had solid defenders - Winterburn among them - and strikers who consistently hit the back of the net.

Wenger said he didn't think Arsenal "had a bad performance" on Sunday and that it shouldn't have been a 4-1 game because of the number of chances Arsenal created - an opinion not shared by many fans and observers who witnessed shocking defensive errors and a continual succession of mis-hit shots.

There haven't been widespread demands that Wenger resign, but fans are calling for change on blogs, radio shows and most noticeably through their lack of support when the team is down. Notably, the once ubiquitous chant "There's Only One Arsene Wenger" hasn't been heard among fans with the same frequency in past seasons.

Wenger's undying loyalty to his vision for the club - developing a team of young players through Arsenal's system - is showing signs of cracking and he has suggested in the past few days that he may strengthen his squad over the summer. Wenger, who turns 60 in October, may be encouraged to go with experience after his winter purchase of Russia playmaker Andrei Arshavin paid immediate dividends.

But Wenger's stance appeared to revert to the status quo on Sunday, saying he didn't yet know how much funds will be available this summer and remained defiant when asked if the squad required a major overhaul.

"No, I believe we need to continue to improve," he said. "Things are not as doom and gloom as everybody wants to make it after defeat ... We have to continue to improve in the areas where we feel it is right. It doesn't necessarily mean quantity (of players) and not even quantity of money, just the right players."