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Wenger critics need to look at the bigger picture

THE enthusiasm with which people line up to kick lumps out of Arsenal is as mystifying as it is depressing. And never have the club come under such a barrage of criticism as they have in the wake of their defeat by Bayern Munich this week.

Cowering like a puppy who has urinated on the carpet once too often for its brute of an owner, Arsene Wenger is taking blows from all directions. The media are having a field day, former Gunners stars are wading in and fans are short-circuiting phone-in switchboards in their rabid desire to slag off the team they are supposed to support.

It’s monumentally unpleasant to witness and the critics should stop hurling abuse and ask themselves why they are so surprised at the way Arsenal’s season is panning out.

In an almost certainly futile attempt to provide some balance, let’s take a look at some boring old facts that suggest Wenger’s side are experiencing only a slightly worse season than normal rather than taking part in some evil sabotage plot to turn the club into Telford United.

Arsenal have just played in the knockout stages of the Champions league for the 13th consecutive season. They lie sixth in the Premier League and will, if they win their game in hand, be just three points behind the team in fourth place.

They have a beautiful new stadium which doesn’t come with any crippling outstanding debt, their squad contains some of the most coveted young footballers in England and they are not on the road to financial ruin as a consequence of a reckless transfer policy.

On Tuesday they lost at home to a team that anyone who spares more than a few seconds a week to look at what’s happening in mainland Europe will be well aware is now virtually on a par with the magnificence of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Clearly, it cannot be regarded as one of Wenger’s finest campaigns. Failure to mount a sustained challenge in either domestic cup competition has been disappointing, and a points haul of 34 from 21 matches is on the lean side even based on realistic expectations rather than the hysterically excessive ones that Arsenal seem to be lumbered with at the start of each season.

But this is Arsenal. They cannot match the spending capability of Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea. They are a club who have, due to the success Wenger brought them in the first half of his 16-year spell as manager and the sensible approach of the board, established themselves as roughly the fourth most powerful team in English football.

They play stylishly, manage their affairs in a reasonably inoffensive manner and are generally a team who have brought far more good than harm to the Premier League under Wenger. Yet whenever their performances fall short of expectations he gets savaged.

Press conferences, for all the lavish media coverage they get, are usually stunningly boring occasions.

Before the Bayern clash, however, Wenger made one of them genuinely interesting as he mounted a passionate defence of all things Arsenal, and the press gave it back to him with interest the following day.

Yet the same press allowed Roberto Mancini, who to my mind has done a far worse job this season, to claim he’s been the best manager in England over the last 15 months without any accompanying critical comment of this preposterous boast.

City’s defence of their league title has been woeful, their European challenge, albeit hampered by a horrible group draw, fizzled out tamely, and their general regression reflects badly on a manager who is doing a superb job of living up to the old adage that it’s harder to stay at the top than to get there in the first place.

Wenger would be far more successful than Mancini at City and the way he is being slaughtered by so many Arsenal fans makes me yearn for him to head north-west and prove the point next season.

Meanwhile, if I supported Liverpool I’d be far more pessimistic about the Reds’ prospects next term than Arsenal fans should be about their own aspirations.

They are hugely reliant on the superb Luis Suarez and if he is tempted away in the summer it would weaken the Merseysiders considerably.

Yet, while other clubs are allowed to underperform in relative peace, when Arsenal come up short to any degree the noise is enormous and the criticism savage and unjust.

Wenger has been a huge asset to English football. Without him Manchester United would have been so completely dominant that it’s possible the likes of Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour wouldn’t even have entertained the notion of trying to buy a club with a view to competing with them.

He has created wonderfully attractive sides and nurtured young players for the benefit of the national team. Yes, the trophy cabinet door hasn’t swung open for a long time, but he deserves far more respect than he is getting, not least from Arsenal fans who may well now be supporting a club the equivalent of Aston Villa if he hadn’t come along.

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