It’s already been a frustrating season that has seen so many problematic staples of recent Arsenal campaigns - questions over transfers, an injury crisis in a key position, defeat to Chelsea - but yesterday offered something new from a very frustrated Arsene Wenger.
The 65-year-old threatened to walk out of his Friday press conference ahead of tomorrow’s home game with Manchester United, after a series of questions about the decision to select David Ospina over Petr Cech for the 3-2 Champions League defeat to Olympiakos culminated in the Arsenal boss being asked about Jose Mourinho’s recent allegation that he is the “only manager not under pressure”.
Wenger snapped, and then went on a rant about a “very, very boring” and “depressing” media, who lack creativity. Beyond the eye-catching headlines from it, the exchange is intriguing, especially for when and how it came. Wenger has clearly been feeling some pressure as his team face up the possibility of going out of the Champions League at the opening round for the first time since 2000 - coincidentally enough, from a group that featured Louis van Gaal’s Barcelona - but that only seemed a minor factor in his irritation.
He seemed genuinely angry at the tone and content of the discussion surrounding the Olympiakos defeat, and how short-sighted it was. Wenger was getting visibly angry at an awkward series of questions about Ospina, and was possibly building to the threat of a walk-out anyway.
It is interesting that the mention of long-time rival Mourinho brought it, however, and ironic that it revolved around a comment about an under-pressure man not being under pressure.
The exchange began with Wenger insisting that he has “two world-class” goalkeepers” and that makes it the “easiest choice”.
He was then asked whether he understood how fans could be frustrated when, after a summer in which only one player was signed, Arsenal did not start that player in what was clearly a key game.
“No. I don’t understand that at all.”
“I make the decision I think is right for the game.”
Question: “After the game, you said you weren’t accountable for your selection. Do you think you should be accountable or not?
Wenger: “I am accountable on the results of my team and the way they play football.”
Question: “Do you think you should be more accountable to the fans on selection?”
“I just gave you the answer.”
If you are not accountable in that way, does that not make Jose Mourinho when he says there’s only one manager who is not under pressure?
“Look, stop that story or we stop the press conference.”
Wenger got increasingly awkward, not least when he said that the “benchmark” is your last game, only to be told that the last game was Olympiakos.
“In the Premier League,” Wenger snapped back. “It’s a different competition.”
He was then asked whether he’s made a decision on a goalkeeper for Sunday, only to again intimate he would leave by answering “have you another question?”, before going on a rant about the media not analysing the match well by focusing on one issue.
The thing about a lot of this is that Wenger is, to a certain degree, absolutely correct - too much has been made of an error from a good goalkeeper like Ospina, especially when there was so much wrong with the team, not least the infuriating capacity to concede so soon after scoring.
To go any deeper, though, would be to again start criticising the biggest issue of all: his management, and how the same problems keep playing out over and over and over again. That is what should be “very, very. very boring”.
Another of those problems that keeps playing out is Arsenal getting beaten by United, especially since they’ve only won one in 13 games. Wenger disputed that.
“By coincidence the last game when we played against Man United we beat them so your stats could be proved wrong again.” It’s also worth remembering that victory could put Arsenal top of the table.
To do that, Arsenal will have to stop the type of player Wenger used to specialise in, a speedy young striker in Martial. The Arsenal boss claimed he would have moved for the 19-year-old if Monaco hadn’t declared him not for sale, and United only got him for “special money”.
“I thought they had sold many other players so they did not need to sell, and they would maintain their word. “We always liked him, already when he was in Lyon. Because that was already a surprise, that Lyon sold him on the last day of the transfer market for €5m at the time.”
Right now, it’s just one more source of frustration. A win would greatly soothe it. After all the talk, time to properly walk.
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