In Review

Arsene Wenger: Arsenal boss attacks fans as long goodbye begins

Gunners thump West Ham, but 'hurtful' supporters incur the wrath of the outgoing manager

When Arsenal hammered West Ham 4-1 in a sun-drenched Emirates on Sunday, it was never going to be an occasion dominated by on-field events. Instead the focus was on Arsene Wenger, and how he and his supporters would react to Friday’s announcement of his departure

The numerous empty seats told their own story, one written by Arsenal fans who have grown so apathetic towards their under-achieving club that they couldn’t be bothered to come and applaud the manager who has led them for 22 years.

The fans who did turn up hardly brought the house down with their devotion to their soon-to-be-ex-manager. That lack of enthusiasm brought a testy response from Wenger in the post-match press conference.

“I believe that this club is respected all over the world, much more than in England,” he told reporters. “Our fans didn’t give the image of unity I want at the club. That was hurtful... the image we gave from our club is not what it is and not what I like.”

Classic Wenger, some might say, blaming everyone but himself. If the fans were disgruntled it was because apart from the FA Cup they haven’t seen a sniff of a major trophy since 2004. Yet that didn’t register with the Frenchman during his self-pitying plea to the press corps. “[Football] is as well about something bigger than just winning and losing,” he said. “For me that was always a worry, how the club was perceived worldwide. For kids who play in Africa, in China, America. The dream that it can create for young children who want to play football.”

The fans fighting among themselves certainly didn’t do much for Arsenal’s image, but then nor have Wenger’s antics over the years, from manhandling fellow managers on the touchline to verbally abusing referees. He talks as if he’s the last gentleman in the game but everyone knows that he’s not that.

As for the match, it was a flat, tedious first half in an atmosphere-free Emirates, validating the decision of the Arsenal board to dispense with their manager. The game slowly came to life after the break with two sharp strikes, the first from Nacho Monreal and the second from West Ham’s Marko Arnautovic. But it took a dopey decision by Hammers’s defender Declan Rice to turn the contest. Ducking under a shot-cum-cross from Aaron Ramsey, Rice gave Joe Hart no chance and the ball rolled into the visitors’ net.

Arsenal then finished off the dispirited Hammers with two quick goals from Alexandre Lacazette, a win that – coupled with Burnley’s 1-1 draw at Stoke – should guarantee the Gunners sixth spot given they lead the Clarets by four points with a game in hand.

Big deal, will say Gooners, whose main focus for the final few weeks of the season is the Europa League, which starts this Thursday with the visit of Atletico Madrid for the semi-final first-leg.

How Arsenal perform in that match could determine whether the manager who replaces Wenger will start his first season in the Champions League or Europa League. Judging by Sunday’s performance, the current Arsenal squad would not fare well in the former.

For that, the blame lies with Wenger, a man who outstayed his welcome by several years but deserves to go out with the warm applause of the Arsenal fans who, for a decade after his appointment, were supporters of a European powerhouse.

Things are rather different now, as the first-half performance against West Ham proved. “We took a bit of time to get going,” admitted Aaron Ramsey after the game. “I don’t want to make excuses, we weren’t quite at it.”

Why not? Perhaps the players have become as apathetic as the fans. All they want is for a new man to come in and inspire the squad with new ideas and energy.

Wenger was asked after the game if he could describe his emotions. “Not really,” he said. “I’m touched by all the praise I’ve received from everyone in English football. I’ve been able to see the sensational development of the Premier League in 20 years and I’m very honoured... I would like to thank everyone who has been very nice and kind and praised me more than I deserved it. I would like to say thank you everyone. It’s been a great period for me and I’m thankful for that.”

And then, turning one eye to Thursday’s crucial game, Wenger said: “Before winning a trophy, you need to get through the semi-finals. This is a good way to prepare – scoring goals against a strong West Ham team who have done well recently.”

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