Nacho Monreal has become the latest player to speak up for Arsene Wenger as Arsenal prepare for a difficult end to what, at one stage, promised to be such a memorable season.
Eleven points behind leaders Leicester City with only eight games to play, out of the cup to today’s opponents Watford and out of the Champions League to Barcelona, the sticking plasters which have just about kept the club together in recent years are now coming loose again.
A renewed campaign by some supporters for Wenger to step down is gaining momentum ahead of this afternoon’s rematch at the Emirates which comes almost too late for the ‘must win’ label.
There is, however, no sign of Wenger buckling under pressure. He insisted this week that he has ‘no doubt’ he will remain in charge until the end of his contract while shareholder Alisher Usmanov added his backing, describing the Frenchman as Arsenal’s ‘major symbol and main asset’, one that should certainly be retained.
Now players are beginning to follow suit, not overtly perhaps, but by making their feelings about their experienced manager known.
Defender Monreal has particular reason to show loyalty.
Signed in January 2013 from Malaga, he was not an instant hit and suffered some pretty severe criticism, not only from pundits but also from his own fans.
However, consistent backing from Wenger, who recently handed him an extended contract, has seen him develop into possibly the most consistent left-back in the Premier League. So, no wonder he finds criticism of his manager unimaginable.
“For me, Arsene Wenger is the best coach in the world,” the Spanish international said. “He has always given me confidence since I came here and he gave me my big chance to play in England.
“I think the Arsenal fans knows perfectly what he can do. The players always accept all the opinions from inside the ground but for me Wenger is a big, big coach.
“Arsenal have a strong team, good enough to win the Premier League, but this season Leicester have been incredible. So next year we need to do more.”
What frustrates Arsenal fans, of course, is that there has never been a better chance to break their title drought — which stretches back to 2004 — than a season in which Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City have stuttered so badly. But Monreal puts the disappointment down to Leicester’s brilliance.
“They have been spectacular,” he admitted. “It’s made it very complicated in the title race — and Tottenham have been another surprise. Harry Kane is sensational in attack and there’s no doubt they are also a candidate.
“But we must also remember that it is also possible for Arsenal. At this moment, the figures say we are still in it and still have a chance. It depends on rivals making mistakes of course but it’s a chance — so we have to continue.”
What Monreal is sure of, however, is that if Wenger stays then Arsenal will be serious challengers next season — whether or not they add to the squad in the summer transfer window as fans are so desperate for them to do.
“I would back Arsenal next year,” he said. “I would say Arsenal is always a candidate in every competition in England and it’s going to be our objective again.
“As for transfers, that’s nothing to do with me. Arsenal have a big squad already but if the directors think they can improve the level with new reinforcements I’m sure they will do it.
“This is a club that wants to win trophies. I know I am an ambitious player and that’s why I stayed. I’m very happy here and I’d like to stay for many years.”
That, in these times of frustration, is at least something positive for Arsenal fans to cling to.
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