Arsene Wenger has faced mounting criticism in the second half of his tenure with the north London club but never before has it come so strongly from within the ranks of the Arsenal hierarchy.
With the club suffering their worst start to a league season for 32 years and consecutive defeats against Swansea and Manchester United, Wenger is once again facing pressure just three months into the campaign.
The Arsenal manager knows all about the word ‘crisis’ and has faced many daunting periods during his 18-year spell in charge. But he has always had the backing of the people around the club — that is, of course, until now.
Arsenal’s second largest shareholder Alisher Usmanov has clearly had enough of the team’s poor start and feels the club is no longer competitive under Wenger. The attack did not stop there and he also feels the squad needs strengthening in every area and Wenger cannot take criticism.
That is hardly the preparation the Frenchman was looking for as his side look to get their season back on track and guarantee their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League with a tough home game against Borussia Dortmund tonight.
But try telling that to Wenger who acted like nothing was wrong and was in buoyant mood at the club’s pre-match press conference.
“Crisis? What crisis?” was Wenger’s response as he looked to put the record straight on Usmanov’s comments and even offered one journalist a bet that he would guarantee to turn the club’s fortunes around.
Wenger said: “You really think you can do 30 years in my job and not take criticism? If I couldn’t take criticism, I wouldn’t be here any more. Everybody has the right to an opinion. Having said that, we have values at this club. The first one is when we go through a difficult patch, we show solidarity. That is a very important one.
“The second one is that, when you have something to say to each other, we say it face to face. We don’t need to go to the newspapers. When you’re from this club, you’re from this club. You’re in or out, you cannot be both.
“It is not unhelpful at all. We know the rules of the game, we know how it works. What is important is how close we are together inside the club and how much we can respond to people who question our quality. I personally feel there’s a very strong bond inside the team and the club, and that this team will have a very strong season. I am ready to bet with you on that.”
After their worst start to a season since 1982 and Arsenal sitting 15 points behind leaders Chelsea, many feel this is the toughest period in Wenger’s time of charge.
But the 65-year-old clearly has other ideas and is adamant his side will put things right over the coming weeks.
Wenger added: “I’m very positive about this team, this is one of the best teams I’ve had for a long time. We are a team who gives very few chances away, we are the team who has the less shots against in the Premier League, we are the team who creates most chances in the Premier League and there’s a lot of positives.
“There is life in our team, there is quality in our team. We know where we failed on Saturday,
“I’m long enough in the game to know if there’s something there or not and there’s a lot there. It’s part of our game, when you lose a big game you get hammered.”
Wenger has not been helped by injuries to key players this season and suffered another major setback when he revealed that influential midfielder Jack Wilshere is set to face another spell on the sidelines with an ankle injury.
Wilshere was forced to leave the field during the 2-1 defeat against Manchester United and despite regaining his best form for both club and country, he simply cannot get a regular run of games under his belt.
The England star is due to see a specialist next week and even though Wenger says there is no bone damage, he still expects to be without the talented midfielder for a number of games.
He added: “There is no bone damage, we knew that straight away after the game, but there is ligament damage. It is just the extension of how much it is, which we should know Tuesday or Wednesday (of next week).
“It is so sad because he just came back. You see in the big games he has the personality. It is because he doesn’t want to lose the ball, he is ready to put his body in. It is part of his game, you cannot take it out, otherwise he will not be Jack Wilshere any more.”
Arsenal will be able to call on France defender Laurent Koscielny, who has resumed full training after an Achilles problem but forward Olivier Giroud is ineligible tonight after being omitted from Arsenal’s Champions League squad.
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