Editorial: Arsenal fans cost club Champions League spot

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Goal South Africa chief editor Ignat Manjoo argues that supporters are meant to support, not pull their clubs further down the table

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had already hinted that he would leave the club all the way back in the middle of March this year.

“I know what I will do in my future, so you will soon know, very soon.

“You will see, today I do not necessarily worry about that [my future],” Wenger told the media.

Reading between the lines, I had felt back then, that this was a big hint from Wenger. The main point was that he made up his mind about his future. Does he say this every season? No. That means something is new, particularly since manager’s (who want to stay) confirm their commitment. No such confirmation came from Wenger.

So then, a sensible approach from the fans was to protest at the end of the season (if necessary), because they know you can’t bring in a new Arsenal manager mid-season. They’re not Leicester Football Club. Wenger deserves to be treated with respect over such a sensitive matter in the context of his career.

So, why did he offer such a key hint to the media? It was an attempt to fan the critics and media off his back. Unfortunately for him and Arsenal, his plea didn’t work. The media and the Gunners own fans kept pointing the barrel at him. It’s strange that when the man said that his mind is already made up, even from then on the banners, and negative chants kept ringing for the manager to step down (at the end of the season).

I didn’t see the point (a point was the difference) when you consider that Wenger’s mind was made up, and even if he decided to stay, knowing how stubborn he is with his decisions, I don’t think you can change his mind.

Since Wenger hinted that he could leave, the function of supporters is to be supporters, to support the club through thick and thin. The relentless protests had a definite effect on Arsenal failing to win Champions League football and the main damage was already done before Wenger's interview after a series of initial demonstrations. After all they fell just one point behind Liverpool while Wenger walked alone.

The psychological effect the fan negativity created cost more than a point. I understand that Arsenal fans were desperate to win the league title, particularly after last season Leicester (of all teams) proved that you don’t need to invest heavily. Ironically, this also proved Wenger’s point that he didn’t need to spend unnecessarily.

Like Liverpool, the Gunners were in the race until a certain point this season. They couldn’t do anything about Chelsea’s amazing run during the turn of the year, and once it started to slip away from Arsenal, the fans got on the manager’s back.

When Wenger does announce his departure, he will always remember that he was not supported (by a large section of Arsenal fans) during his last months. It’s sad but I think Wenger is stronger than his own fans and his love for the Gunners will never turn sour, no matter how he was treated.

 

Arsene Wenger Tottenham Arsenal

Wenger walks alone at Arsenal

 

What should’ve been a title challenge, resulted in a battle for the top four after the confidence was kicked out of Arsenal. Team morale is set by the manager, but also by fan support and the media’s relentless questions about player’s and Wenger’s future. When you look at the net spend of Arsenal over the years, Wenger has produced miracles to qualify them for the Champions League every year for two decades. Their miserly budgets were not all Wenger’s fault, but certain quarters of the fanbase correctly pointed the finger at Stan Kroenke. Arsenal had won nothing for a decade because of the financial model they were following since moving to the new stadium.

Then when their finances eased up and the Gunners were loaded, they started to buy a few big names such as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, and that made a difference to win a few FA Cups. They can still add a third to their list in recent years… which is not a bad record. Ironically, Wenger was criticized for prioritizing top four over trophies in the past, and I had a feeling that he will leave when he is criticized for Cup success instead of a top four placement.

Their rivals Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool are not qualifying for the Champions League every season. It’s been tough for everyone (even Chelsea last season) since the rise of Manchester City and the outstanding work at Spurs. You can’t compare the competition to the previous decade when the only team challenging them was David Moyes’ Everton.

In many ways you can compare Arsenal’s situation with Liverpool. I can go into this in greater detail from the Reds point of view, but want to keep this editorial focused on Arsenal. FSG’s also under the microscope as they sold more than they spent in the last season. In recent years their net spend has also been low, just like Tottenham. Behind the scenes there’s a growing frustration with FSG, but you don’t see the protests spilling onto the stadium the way it did under Gillett and Hicks, mainly because the club is financially healthy this time. The same can be said of Arsenal’s health to a higher degree, a model that FSG wanted to duplicate. You see the same problems at Anfield including inexperience leading to Cup final defeats (in recent years) and scraping into fourth place now.

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The Reds confidence was also hit from January to February, being without Sadio Mane saw them fall out of the race for the title… but as always they look for that extra support to give them a lift again. Instead of witnessing Liverpool fan frustration on the stands, the Reds were united behind Jurgen Klopp and that support pushed them ahead of the Gunners, particularly the 3-1 home win in the head to head.

One can argue that Liverpool failed to win three of their last four home games, but support also counts away where the travelling fans were magnificent and the Reds ran out with three outstanding wins in a row.

Liverpool deserve to play in the UCL next season due to their outstanding results when it mattered against good opposition, but Arsenal failed to make LFC pay for their poor results against bottom clubs.

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