LONDON – Yes, it was a big win. No, Arsenal was not expected to beat AC Milan 2-0 at San Siro in the Europa League.
Yes, it saved the club from losing five matches in succession for the first time in 41 years. But no, one good performance against the seventh-best team in Serie A does not suddenly make Arsenal a decent side or Arsene Wenger a manager who should complete the final year of his contract.
“At some stage you need to respond and to respond together with a good performance,” said Wenger. “That’s what we wanted.” But Arsenal fans know the corner has not been turned; in fact the steering wheel has barely moved.
Goals by Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey on Thursday gave Arsenal a deserved and welcome win against one of the poorest Milan sides in memory. The victory cannot erase the dross Arsenal fans have seen dished up on far too many occasions, though it was typical of Wenger that as his managerial obituaries were being written he pulled a big one out of the bag.
A cloud has been temporarily lifted though we shall find out more about the so-called new Arsenal against Watford on Sunday — a Watford team whose striker Troy Deeney accused the Gunners of lacking guts after they were beaten 2-1 at Vicarage Road last October.
Regardless of the Italian job, it is no longer a surprise when Arsenal loses and defeats have become accepted with shrug of collective shoulders because they happen so regularly. Last Sunday’s 2-1 loss at Brighton left Arsenal 13 points off the Champions League places and 33 behind leader Manchester City. Arsenal has lost 10 of its 29 Premier League games, conceding 41 goals — basement club West Bromwich has conceded only two more.
Arsenal supporters will certainly not take progress to the next stage for granted despite a healthy first-leg lead because the team has lost its last six home matches in Europe. A banana skin is never far away at Emirates Stadium and Arsenal is more than capable of conceding two or even three goals at home.
The marvel in Milan may paper over a few cracks but it will not change the opinion of virtually every Arsenal fan that Wenger’s time is up. Only the Arsenal manager seems to believe he remains the right person to take the club forward. He has raised self-denial to an art form, stuck in a web of delusion that, given time, he can make Arsenal a force in football again.
It is always sad to see a great in any sport struggling against reality. Knowing the right time to quit is a skill in itself; staying too long leaves you in danger of being remembered as a failure rather than a success and this will be the case with Wenger in the eyes of many.
But Wenger’s departure this summer should not be taken for granted. The Frenchman has another season on his £7 million a year contract effectively awarded by “Silent” Stan Kroenke, the American owner of the Los Angeles Rams who is Arsenal’s major shareholder. Kroenke has seen his investment in Arsenal double in 11 years to £1.8 billion. In Wenger he trusts, for sure. The team may be going nowhere, but the Arsenal share price has continued to rise.
Who needs success when mediocrity makes you super rich?
It is unlikely Wenger will resign.
“I have been here for 22 years and I always respected my contract so I am quite amazed that you ask me the question,” he answered when questioned about his future as he is at every press conference these days. So in reality it would be up to Kroenke to force the issue and halt a decline on the field (if not in the stock market) that shows no sign of stopping despite Thursday’s San Siro win. The victory in Milan is precisely the sort of result that the board has used to justify keeping Wenger on in the past and Arsenal supporters should brace themselves for one more year of the same.
Glenn gets it wrong again
It is difficult to believe that Martin Glenn, a man at the top of his trade as the Football Association’s chief executive, could even think about likening the Star of David to Pep Guardiola’s yellow ribbon, let alone say it.
To recap, the Manchester City manager wears the ribbon in support of jailed pro-independence Catalan politicians. Guardiola has accepted an F.A. charge of breaching regulations by wearing “a political message” and will be punished at a later stage. However, Guardiola is free to wear the ribbon at Champions League matches as UEFA does not consider it offensive.
To liken the ribbon to the Star of David or, even, a swastika (the emblem of the Holocaust) shows a man not fit for purpose. The Star of David, which is a symbol of Judaism, appears on the badge of the Israel national team’s kit.
Glenn is also presumably unaware that the players of member club Southgate & Wingate (which is 5 km from the F.A.’s headquarters) step onto the pitch for every match with the Star of David part of its badge and have done so since 1947. The badge, of course, is approved by the F.A.
The only thing offensive is not Guardiola’s ribbon, it is the crass statement from the man who heads the governing body of the national game. Glenn fought FIFA for the right for England players to wear a poppy, which the F.A. claimed was not political, on their shirts and won. The poppy is a symbol that supports the Armed Forces and some in Argentina or Afghanistan may beg to differ.
Glenn apologized for another foot-in-the-mouth moment, but it leaves the most high-profile person at the F.A. struggling for respect.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.