Arsene Wenger has grown used to defending himself in recent years but the Arsenal manager’s grip on his position has never seemed less secure ahead of Sunday’s clash with Brighton.
A crushing 3-0 loss against Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday intensified the criticism directed at Wenger and his players following their limp defeat in the League Cup final at the hands of the same opponents four days previously.
The yawning gap between the two sides underlined how far Arsenal have fallen behind the Premier League leaders and the fact the second game was played out in front of thousands of empty seats added to the sense that Wenger’s 22-year reign is entering its final stage.
Bad weather contributed to the poor attendance in north London, but there is currently no disguising the dissatisfaction felt by many Arsenal supporters at the club’s current lack of progress on the pitch. Even one of Wenger’s former players, Martin Keown, has urged Arsenal to “throw in the towel” for the Frenchman’s own good.
Yet Wenger is calling for his critics to have a calmer perspective, insisting there is no shame in losing to a team of City’s class. “You look at the score and the temptation is to think it was all rubbish, but that is not the case,” he said.
“You have to take a perspective, sit back, look at the whole picture and analyse where we were poor and where we were strong, insist on the strong points and get rid of the weak points we showed last night.
“They are a top quality team at the moment, they are many points above everybody else, not only us. That means that’s not a coincidence, they lost only one game in the whole Premier League campaign.”
Wenger’s side lie sixth, 10 points adrift of fourth place going into the latest round of games, with victory in the Europa League now appearing to offer the best chance of returning to the Champions League.
– Ready for a fight –
They badly need a victory to restore belief and defeat at the Amex Stadium against a side promoted last season and currently engaged in a fight to avoid an immediate return to the Championship would increase the level of dissent to new levels.
“I’m always ready for a fight. I’m of course very disappointed but I’ve experienced these situations before,” Wenger said. “I’ve face difficult situations in my life and it helps when you know how to deal with that.”
Arsenal remain unbeaten in 34 games against newly-promoted sides but Wenger admits the challenge of maintaining that record is getting harder. “They are tougher, they have bigger squads,” Wenger said.
“Every team who is in the second part of the Premier League table can buy the players everywhere, so when I go down sometimes to these teams, the best indication is who is sitting on the bench. “You see that even in the teams in the second part of the table, you have six international players.”
Brighton’s 4-1 defeat of fellow strugglers Swansea gave Chris Hughton’s side a timely boost and opened up a four-point gap to the bottom three. So far, though, they have failed to take a point off any of the top six and left-back Gaeten Bong believes the visit of the Gunners presents an opportunity to end that run.
“They will provide us with a good test, but all we can do is play our game,” he said. “If Swansea can beat Arsenal, then I think we can do it as well. “Some people might say it’s a good time to play them, but they were saying the same thing when we played Chelsea, and they beat us.”