By J Hutcherson (Mar 7, 2017) US Soccer Players – If you’re in Arsenal’s situation, why not take a turn at the blame game? Considering what happened over 180 minutes against Bayern Munich, there’s no better chance at teasing out some upside. “We wuz robbed” has a long history in American sports of all varieties, that ability to consider the merits of sportsmanship and casually shove them aside. Sometimes, it’s a perfectly appropriate response.
“I felt that we produced a performance with the spirit and the pride that we wanted,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. After that the story finishes badly. Personally, I would say that we really put Bayern under pressure and that we were really unlucky tonight because it was 100 per cent a penalty in the first half after the foul on Walcott. I checked it on television. In the second half, the referee killed the game. After that, it was very difficult but the referee was very, very powerful for Bayern tonight. At that moment in the game, not only was it not a penalty, but Lewandowski was offside. On top of that, he gave us a red card and that killed us completely. Overall I must say that Bayern are a good side, but tonight they can also say thank you to the decisions of the referee in the second half.”
It’s a safe assumption that plenty of people tuned out after that first line. It’s easy to take it apart. Spirit and pride not necessarily making up for starting the night four goals down. Losing 5-1 twice to Bayern Munich doesn’t leave a lot to salvage, but it’s worth crediting the effort. What good does it do a team still alive in the FA Cup and looking to push back into the top four in the league to shoulder a March burden of disappointment?
Pushing against that is a management tactic. It might be the kind only used when there’s hardly anything left, but it’s still a tactic. Employ it correctly, and it can even galvanize a fan base. In the game Arsenal and the rest of the super clubs play, it’s certainly worth trying.
Where this leaves Arsenal is the question. There’s been plenty already written on Arsene Wenger staying on as manager. The people running Arsenal have shown no eagerness in change. They stress their manager’s longevity as something that differentiates the club from the rest of the Premier League. Inability to win in the Champions League is nothing new. There’s a history with Wenger that they have to honor. That’s where the theories and scenarios fall apart. The safest assumption is the same as it’s been for over a decade. Wenger is only going somewhere else during a season on his terms.
Asking Wenger “whether the players have let him down” seems a bit much on Arsenal’s official site. Based on his earlier comments he gave the only appropriate answer. “No, I feel the referee has let us down.” What it also says is that this is his club and he’ll determine their direction. If he can use it to stifle player discontent and issues surrounding his squad, why not?
Given Wenger’s experience, he knows as well as anybody that even feigned outrage has a countdown clock. A news cycle trying to take the comments far too seriously is certainly in order. Letting him double down on them at the next opportunity is almost a given. There’s the bigger problem though, firmly in play for Arsenal supporters. What’s happening here?
Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin’s comments covered a different issue. It’s a growing one for any super club in Arsenal’s situation.
“I’m really hurt because to see the fans leave the stadium so early,” he said. “At the end of the day we play for them, want them to be happy, to be behind us, and it hurts to see them leave so early. We just need to try to make them happy with the rest of our season. We know we’ve got the players and the potential to do well, we just need to play every game the same way that we started today. If we play that kind of football, we can be up there. We have to say sorry to the fans because we want to do better than that.”
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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