x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Alchemy of Wenger helps mask deeper problems at Arsenal

The Gunners' exciting end to the season has allowed the Frenchman to make light of some of the club's issues; let's see if it helps resolve them. Audio interview

Arsene Wenger's managerial moves and tactics help disguise issues with his Arsenal club.
Arsene Wenger's managerial moves and tactics help disguise issues with his Arsenal club.

When that twinkling smile crosses Arsene Wenger's face you know some elegantly sardonic humour will follow. Arsenal's manager is a delight when results elevate his mood and direct his intelligence into entertainment.

Manchester City's pursuit of the title ended comprehensively by an Arsenal squad that has lost tens of millions of pounds worth of players to the Etihad Stadium? Wenger savoured the moment by joking about his satisfaction. "You can take that both ways," he said. "Maybe they'll want some others now."

As Wenger has aged, as the unquestioning faith of Arsenal's support has seeped away, as the club has changed hands in a transatlantic battle of billionaires, his public guard has risen. Once the most approachable of elite managers, the Frenchman has taken to limiting media access, growing irritable at individuals accused of wanting him out of the club.

The endless questions as to why Arsenal refuse to employ generous cash reserves on transfers frustrate Wenger. It is the same with the criticism of seven seasons without silverware. His answers revert to a theme: 14 years of Uefa Champions League qualification is more important to the club's health than an occasional league or FA Cup.

The past year has been more trying than any before. Cesc Fabregas, his captain, forced a way out of the club by making it clear keeping him would invite internal problems. Samir Nasri, the obvious replacement, was sold against Wenger's wishes. August delivered a vicious 8-2 defeat at Manchester United, and six defeats in 12 turn-of-year fixtures imperilled that beloved Champions League place.

Throughout all this Wenger protected his players, reiterating his faith in their mental strength and technical football. His reward has been a run of eight Premier League wins in nine fixtures. At the end of this weekend, Arsenal stood two points clear in third place; Wenger batting away suggestions they might overhaul Sunday's opponents for second.

From where they started it, Arsenal's season is set to be a deserved success. Yet it is not one to become carried away with.

Chelsea have been horrible, United and City twice tumbled out of Europe, and Tottenham Hotspur's renaissance is overhyped. Arsenal may well finish as many points behind the champions (22) as they did last time out.

Robin van Persie has been flirting with City and Theo Walcott's contract allowed to dwindle down to the same dangerous final year. This fine finish to the season has allowed Wenger to make light of some of Arsenal's problems; let's see if it helps resolve them.

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