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Thursday 17 August 2017

Arsenal boss is light on excuses for latest slump

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is running out of excuses.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is running out of excuses.

He's a great man for excuses, Arsene Wenger. If things go pear-shaped against Hull in the FA Cup tonight, it will probably be something to do with the referee or the chilly weather or aliens.

No manager has agonised more over botched jobs by referees and no boss is so blind when one of his own commits a sin.

Yesterday, he urged UEFA and FIFA to take on the next technological challenge after solving the goal-line dilemma and to bring in some kind of camera which will reliably register an offside.

No harm there if it can be done without a pigeon or a balloon getting in the way and there's a good chance we will see a system in action within the next five years.

But at some point Wenger will run out of grey areas in the way the game is refereed and who or what will he blame then?

Whinge

Barcelona don't have to whinge about referees because most of the time they will beat anything you put in front of them no matter how many dodgy penalties they concede.

Okay, they will struggle if a referee starts throwing red cards around but in their current incarnation, they will always play well enough in every other game to make one bad or debatable decision just a minor and temporary irritation.

Referee decisions have become the overriding focus of Wenger's life since the days when Arsenal were the Invincibles and couldn't be beaten.

By the time that remarkable team had disbanded, Wenger had won enough to be anointed as a management great but the years since have chipped away at his reputation and a very obvious flaw has emerged.

He is no judge when it comes to goalkeepers, defenders or tough, workhorse midfielders and the evidence of nine seasons is now overwhelming that blind luck handed him one of the best defensive units of all time when took over from Bruce Rioch.

Had he been asked to go out and buy a defence when he took over at Highbury all those years ago, would Wenger have bought lads like Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Steve Bould?

Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon perhaps but the other lads were Row Z men - not Wenger's type at all.

He is given great credit for freeing Adams and his pals to play football when before, presumably, they were doing something else. Probably defending.

Perhaps the credit should be reversed. Perhaps Adams's ability to whack the ball high into the stands was the difference between a successful Wenger and the current version which is anything but.

It would be interesting to do a comparison between Leicester and Arsenal this season and count the number of controversial decisions that went for or against.

Chances are they would be level enough. These things balance out and even Wenger must concede that a club and a manager get what they deserve over the course of a full league season.

Qualification

Wenger's fans point to year-after-year of Champions League qualification which helped provide a financial engine for the development of the Emirates and the odd Cup on the dresser to prove he still has it.

It's a fair argument or at least it was before Leicester turned up.

They have a fantastic new stadium too, not much debt and a squad assembled for Mehmet Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey's wages.

Wenger spoke again yesterday about leaving a legacy behind and Arsenal "in the best shape" he can.

He has tried and tried again to repeat what he did in his first seven seasons and each year for the last ten, brittle confidence has overwhelmed Arsenal and let them down.

If he carries on beyond this summer and his team is still under achieving and fundamentally incapable of reaching the levels of self-belief and performance which make match officials irrelevant, will the penny finally drop?

It's not the referee or indeed, the players. It's Wenger.

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