LONDON, England, February 19 – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger rounded angrily on his critics ahead of Tuesday’s crucial Champions League last 16 first leg tie against Bayern Munich.
Wenger was in a tetchy mood on Monday after suffering a barrage of abuse from fans and pundits following his side’s FA Cup exit on Saturday, when the Gunners were beaten 1-0 at home by Championship side Blackburn.
That represented the second humiliation of Arsenal’s lacklustre campaign following their elimination from the League Cup at the hands of fourth-tier Bradford.
After enduring 48 hours of criticism in the court of public opinion, Wenger made it clear he felt it was time for him to have his say, and that he expected his players to back up his words on the pitch against a Bayern side currently top of the Bundesliga thanks to 18 victories from 22 league games.
“We play for Arsenal Football Club, we are in the last 16 of the Champions League, we have qualified for a long, long time,” Wenger said at a pre-match press conference.
“What is important is not what people say but what we produce on the football pitch.
“We live in a democracy of experts and opinions and we have to live and cope with that. We have to show we have the mental strength to deal with any opinion. There are a lot of experts who are not always right.”
Many critics claimed Wenger was wrong to send out a starting line-up against Blackburn that had not included Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere or Santi Cazorla.
But all three came on as substitutes with the game goal-less and Wenger refuted the accusation that he doesn’t take the Cup seriously.
“Look, I have been accused of not taking seriously the FA Cup on Saturday. I won the FA Cup four times,” Wenger said.
“Who has won it more? Give me one name. The second thing is that we have been accused of not putting a strong team out.
“That is an insult to the players who started the game and we didn’t lose the game with the players who started. We lost in the last 20 minutes.
“There is a lot of superficial analysis that you cannot accept. We have to take the blame because we went out but for the rest you have to put it in perspective. One guy says something and everybody goes the same way.”
Despite Wenger’s protests that he is unfairly treated, reports on Monday claimed the Frenchman was set to be given a new two-year contract.
Yet even that story provoked an oddly angry reaction from Wenger.
“That is the wrong information,” he said. “I have worked for 16 years here in England and I deserve a bit more credit than wrong information.
“That report had only one intention and that is to harm. It came from nowhere and is completely wrong.”
Wenger has a selection headache at the back as Laurent Koscielny is not fully fit at a time when Arsenal’s defensive ranks have been depleted by the absence of all three left-backs.
New recruit Nacho Monreal is cup-tied in the Champions League, Kieran Gibbs is injured and Andre Santos has been sent out on loan.
Arsenal have been guilty of poor starts to games in the Premier League against some of the bigger clubs, conceding early goals against Manchester City and Chelsea and Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta is keen to put that right.
“In the last few big games in the first 20 or 25 minutes we gave the opposition too much respect,” he said.
“We want to face a different scenario, If you score first then you have a chance of winning.”
German forward Lukas Podolski is likely to start against his former club but Wenger hasn’t felt the need to quiz him for information.
“Podolski has not played for a long time at Bayern Munich and the team has changed since,” he said.
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERVIEW
Arsène Wenger arrives for his pre-Bayern Munich press conference, flanked by the team’s vice-captain, Mikel Arteta. He fields questions about the FA Cup defeat to Blackburn Rovers, team news and the challenge of Bayern. Then,several questions before the Sun’s story about Arsenal being ready to extend his contract is mentioned.
AW: That is the wrong information. I think I work for 16 years in England and I think I deserve a bit more credit than wrong information, that has only one intention, which is to harm.
Wenger looks at a reporter from the Daily Mail.
AW: I look at you not because you give the information. I do not know if it is you. I do not know where the information comes from.
Daily Mail: Me?
AW: Yeah, why do you look at me?
Daily Mail: Because it’s your press conference.
AW: OK, thank you. I just thought you had given this information out.
Daily Mail: No, I’m looking at you because it’s your press conference.
AW: OK, thank you very much.
Q: The fans were very upset at going out of the Cup at the weekend.
AW: Look, here is a pre-match conference for the Champions League. If you want to talk about Saturday, that press conference has been made after the game. Can we get some questions about tomorrow’s game? That would be very nice.
After a question about Lukas Podolski, a German reporter speaks.
Q: Mr Wenger, Bayern Munich has not only a good offence but also a good defence. Can you tell me about the quality of the defence from Bayern Munich and especially …
AW: I don’t talk about Bayern Munich today.
Wenger talks of the importance of a clean sheet, and Arteta answers three questions and Wenger comes back in to discuss Arsenal’s mentality.
Q: If everybody is saying you have no opportunity to go through, could that help the team in a way to play with freedom?
AW: We know well what is going on here. What is important is to forget what people say and focus on our strengths. We play for Arsenal in the last 16 of the Champions League, we have qualified for a long, long time. We know what is important. It’s not what people say, it’s what we produce on the football pitch. We live in a democracy of experts and opinions, but we have to live with that and cope with that and show we have the mental strength to deal with any opinion. There are a lot of experts who are not necessarily always right.
Arteta speaks about Arsenal starting slowly and how the Premier League table would be very different if it were based on second halves. He also discusses the importance of Jack Wilshere. Wenger comes back in.
Q: If this is your last chance to win a trophy this season…
AW: [Sarcastically] Thank you very much for that question. It’s a long time that we didn’t answer it.
Q: But can you talk about your desire to bring back trophies to the club?
AW: Look, I have been accused of not taking seriously the FA Cup on Saturday … I have won four times the FA Cup. Who has won it more? Give me one name.
Q: I haven’t accused you of not taking it seriously, I am just asking you …
AW: OK. Then, the second thing is we have been accused of not putting out a strong team. That is an insult to the players who started the game because we had 11 internationals on the pitch. I would like to tell you as well that we did not lose the game with the players who started. We lost it in the last 20 minutes so there are a lot of superficial analyses that you cannot accept … Because one guy says something, everybody goes the same way.
Q: The question is about your desire to win the Champions League. It is there, isn’t it?
AW: No, no. I want to lose it and I want to lose the game tomorrow, so you can all be happy. Of course we want to win it but in Europe, recently, you face as well some other teams who have quality. Barcelona has some qualities, Real Madrid has some qualities and they don’t win it every year. We have been consistently there. And now we want to break through. We have been in the final and consistently in the quarter-final, semi-finals, for years. People will say it is not the best opportunity now to do it, I think it is a fantastic opportunity because I feel I have a strong team. And I am sure they will prove me right.
Wenger breaks to talk to the daily newspapers. Here are the main points.
Q: The [Sun] story was a positive one?
AW: Why does it just come out when we lose a big game? In your opinion? You think I am so naive that I don’t see what is behind that? You think I am a complete idiot?
Q: Do you feel that there is unfinished business with the Champions League?
AW: Of course, it is unfinished business as long as we don’t win it. But if I say to you we will win it this season, you will laugh at me because we just lost against Blackburn. But it can happen. Unfortunately, in football, it is less predictable than that. It is not mathematical.
Q: Tell us why a team that has lost to Blackburn and Bradford can beat Bayern Munich?
AW: Do you think really that Bayern Munich has never lost against a smaller club in Germany? Man United, against Division Three … they have lost. It can happen. What I find is absolutely unbelievable is that when it happens to me, it is a complete storm. You know why? Because in 16 years, it never happened.
Q: Will it suit Arsenal to be the underdogs?
AW: We are underdogs, yes. You just have to read the English press and you understand that.
Q: You have beaten some fantastic teams over the years?
AW: In Europe, we have beaten everybody, which is what people forget. And we are the only team that has gone into a [Champions League] final without conceding a goal, despite the fact that we have never a good defensive record.
Q: What do you need to improve on from these last few weeks?
AW: You have heard Arteta. He sums it up well. We are champions of England in the second half, and in the first half, no. For psychological reasons. Because we fight the whole season against everybody hunting here [in press conferences] … ‘The players are not good enough, buy players and all that’, but one day, you will realise that this team has fantastic qualities.
Q: What do you put that first-half, second-half contrast down to?
Q: But what exactly?
AW: I do not necessarily want to come out on that.
Q: You’ve been very passionate here today. You seem to be suggesting that you don’t get the respect you deserve? Any theories about why?
AW: I don’t take that personally. I’m more worried about the players. I will go into the Champions League tomorrow night in a difficult situation. On top of that, they have to fight against everybody and I want to protect the players to make sure they go into the game in good conditions.
Q: You seem angry?
AW: I’m angry because when you give wrong information like that … there’s not only wrong information behind that. See what I mean?
Q: It’s aimed to hurt you?
AW: The lie is targeted to hurt. It’s easy to say people are not happy and on top of that say he’s extending the contract. That’s what I mean. I’ve worked here for 16 years and when I say I deserve more credit, that’s not about respect and everybody saying: ‘He’s doing well.’ It is morally. I think that’s right. You can criticise me and say I’m a bad manager. I’d never come back to you on that. But I think when you work like that … you will never find any story behind me that I’ve taken money anywhere, or things like that. So I think morally that is wrong.
Q: But the story is a positive one saying that they want to keep you.
AW: Come on.
Q: Do you not think that some of the criticism is justified? You’re 21 points off the top of the table. You’re going to get criticised …
AW: We are, of course, criticised for that. But we are not the only ones. You have some clubs that have invested more money than us for years and they are behind as well. We accept this kind of criticism. But it’s not what I am talking about. It’s about some other things that I talk about that have come out. They are lies. But when you criticise [about being too far behind], on that, then it is true. I can only say I am sorry. You are right, we are far too far away from Manchester United.
Q: Are you under more pressure than ever? We don’t normally see you like this?
AW: I reacted this way to the lie.
Q: Is it just to the lie or it is deeper than that?
AW: To the intention that is behind the lie. Honestly, do you really think I take all that personally? What I don’t accept is lies and when the target behind it is to manipulate people.
Q: Do you think you’ve misread this? The story does say that despite everything they want you to stay. So that’s good rather than bad but you seem to see a conspiracy theory.
AW: I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am 30 years in this job and if I was paranoid, you would know it already. I just think that when I worked for 16 years in the country I expect a certain respect. You can criticise me and say I am doing a bad job, I will never come back to you. But this kind of thing that is a bit manipulative … and then when they are wrong, I don’t accept it.
Q: What is your current contractual situation?
AW: My contract ends in 2014. I will have completed 30 years without interruption at top-level football and that demands at least a lot of commitment. Maybe no quality but commitment, for sure.
Q: What will happen beyond 2014?
AW: I am not completely sure that you are really interested. When we lost at home to Blackburn, I am not sure that is your first worry.
Q: We would miss you!
AW: I am sure you would miss me when I am gone.
– Story AFP, transcript The Guardian