Yes, Arsenal are struggling but sensible people should be defending Wenger now
00:00 GMT, 16 December 2012
When I started out as a pundit I was
given a piece of advice from someone in whom I place an awful lot of
trust. ‘The key to being good in the media is to ensure you don’t get
embroiled in every single little piece of comment and opinion,’ he said.
‘Don’t spend the day listening to the talkshows. Don’t read every
single paper. Keep your opinions fresh.’
Of course, I have to be across news
stories like never before but you can get distracted by the noise of
football and it can start to warp your thinking.
It has been an enormous change for me
to be inserted into that fast-moving, frantic media world when, at the
club where I played, I was working in a dressing room that was like a
sanctuary, protected from the whirlwinds and thunderstorms of the
Why always him Mario Balotelli was one of the talking points this week, storming off at the Etihad after being hauled off by Roberto Mancini
And the past week has been full of
those types of storms. On Sunday we were talking about diving yet again
after Santi Cazorla against West Brom. On Monday the headlines were all
about Mario Balotelli and his performance the day before against
Manchester United, when other players were much worse than him.
It was that or the issue of netting at
games because Rio Ferdinand had been struck with a coin in that
Manchester derby. Then we moved on to Bradford beating Arsenal and the
fact that Arsene Wenger has to go … again. On Thursday, racism reared
its ugly head again, with the verdict on the Serbian FA.
And then on Friday I was looking down
my Twitter timeline and there was a question from an Arsenal fan: ‘What
do you think of George Graham’s comments that Arsenal will never win
the title again’ And I’m thinking: ‘That can’t be right’ So I went
online to check and it’s there in the newspaper as clear as day — George
Graham is quoted as saying: ‘Will they [Arsenal] win the league again I
can’t see it.’
The dark side of the moon: Arsene Wenger watches as his side crash out of the Capital One Cup at Bradford
The speed at which the football media operate today is like a blender that is constantly having food chucked
into it and chopped into a thousand pieces but never has any end
product. There’s never any substance at the end of the process. Or it’s
like a sausage machine that just churns out more mincemeat rather than
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Being partly in football as an
assistant coach with England and partly in the media, I can see it from
both sides. And I think football and the media should work more closely
together. I want footballers to be more open.
But the reality inside the changing
room is often totally different to the furore on the outside. I’m not
sure which the public want: the frenzy of the media or a reflection of
the serenity of the dressing room; or a bit of both. But it has got to
the point where we almost need two distinct media: one that deal with
the actual match and one that deal with the issues surrounding it.
Football has become a soap opera,
which, of course, is partly why the Premier League has become so
extraordinarily popular and is one reason why it is beamed around the
world. But the actual football can get lost in the drama. For some
people the main act can become the sideshow.
And so incredible statements come out
like: ‘Arsenal will never win the league again.’ Now I’m not going to
sit here and say: ‘All’s good and well at Arsenal and they shouldn’t
worry about going out to Bradford.’ That’s not the case. They’ve lost a
lot of quality in the past three years and they haven’t replaced it,
like for like. There seem to be some management failures in the number
of players who end up with just one year on their contract but I doubt
that’s Arsene Wenger’s fault. And they definitely need a bit of the
attitude of the 2005 FA Cup final team, the last trophy they won.
Without Thierry Henry that day they struggled but there was such a
resilience about those players that they were prepared to win ugly and
beat Manchester United on penalties.
Halcyon days: A jubilant Wenger holds the Premier League trophy aloft eight years ago
But for George Graham, someone who has a greater knowledge of Arsenal than I will ever have, to be quoted as saying they will never win the league again leaves me stunned. I’ll be amazed if Arsenal Football Club never win another title. Honestly, I’d be just as surprised if tomorrow wasn’t Monday. It’s like saying Liverpool will never win another title. Of course they will. It’s a fact. Fifteen years ago who would have said that Chelsea or Manchester City would win a title Things change. They move on.
When I look back at the history of Arsenal, the club went 45 years before they won their first league title. And after dominating in the Thirties and then after the war, they went 18 years between 1953 and 1971 without a league title. And then another 18 years before the next title, which came under George Graham, in 1989. Arsenal are not a club like Real Madrid, Benfica or Celtic who should expect to win the title every year. They never have been.
When Roberto Di Matteo was sacked three weeks ago, the same people who were saying they despised the madness of Chelsea are now saying that we need a change at Arsenal. What do we want We just want a news story. We want more food in the blender.
Nadir: Arsenal's midweek defeat is a low point, but the club will get back to fighting for titles under Wenger
There’s nothing to say that if you
change Arsene Wenger you’re going to be more successful. There’s nothing
to say that if you spend 100million, like Liverpool did, you’re going
to win the league.
City and Chelsea have done superbly in recent years and between them
have won four out of the last eight Premier League titles. But it has
cost the best part of 2billion between them to do it. Are we saying
Arsenal should do that
are on the right track. They run the club in a sensible way. When I go
there, I watch good players, good football and you sense the history of
the place. There is a drop in quality, especially in forward positions.
They were the best attacking team I played against and, at the moment,
they don’t have that ruthlessness and devastation.
Lack of quality: Gervinho misses a crucial chance in the first half against Bradford
But we should be applauding the fact a club have had a manager for 16 years in a world in which divorce rates get ever higher, in which loyalty isn’t valued and in which everyone demands everything instantly.
Sensible football people should be defending Arsene Wenger and fighting for him to build another great Arsenal team. And we certainly shouldn’t be sat here saying: ‘Arsenal will never win another title.’ To me, that seems absurdly reactive.