by ‘Ifreke Inyang
In recent years, Arsenal fans have sometimes gone beyond defending Arsene Wenger’s decisions. They’ve almost gotten to the point of worshipping him. Why not? He has always been a god of some sort in North London, revered and respected without reservations.
However, times are changing fast. Last weekend’s game against Manchester United bore a strong testament. For well over an hour, the Gunners laboured to create clear-cut chances against the champions. Their talismanic captain, Robin van Persie was having an anonymous game and Ramsey and Rosicky were getting overpowered in midfield. It was the young, vibrant Oxlade-Chamberlain that shone. He pinned back Evra for most of the game and whenever he burst forward, it was with purpose and intent. In the 71st minute, he got on the end of a Rosicky pass and played in a sumptuous reverse pass into Robin van Persie’s path for the equaliser.
Two minutes later, for whatever reason, Wenger pulled the U-21 England international and replaced him with the eternally frustrating Andrey Arshavin. The decision was greeted by boos from the fans inside the Emirates, who also booed Arshavin as he ran onto the pitch. Even van Persie could not believe it. Oxlade-Chamberlain was cheered on as he took his seat.
“Oxlade-Chamberlain had started to fatigue,’ Wenger defended after the game. “He had stretched his calf and he was sick in the week. I’ve been a manager for 30 years and have made 50,000 substitutions. I do not have to justify every decision I make.”
As the Frenchman attempted to convince everyone present in the press room he made the right call, you could sense he was fighting a lost cause. A lot of fans and pundits went on about how the former Monaco boss was losing his midas touch, especially since the Russian was partially at fault for United’s winner.
“He’s Arsene Wenger, a top-quality manager,” the 18-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain said. “He’s done a lot for this club so whatever decision he makes, I’ll have to respect and I do.”
When asked about the fans’ reaction to his substitution, he said: “The fans pay money to come and watch us, so they have the right to have their own opinions. But all we can guarantee is the boys are completely focused on the task at hand. We’ve got belief in the dressing room and the manager believes, the boys believe and we know we’ve got the quality that it takes.”
The whole issue has taken a new turn as Oxlade-Chamberlain confirmed to former Southampton captain, Lundekvam that he was very fit. He claims that Oxlade-Chamberlain who signed for Arsenal from Southampton last summer confirmed to him he was still raring to go in the game. “He said, first and foremost, that he was super happy with his first match from the start, while he was pleased to have played well. I also got confirmation from Alex that he was neither tired nor injured.”
An Arsenal spokesperson also confirmed that the fast rising winner is feeling no after-effects of the United game, and should be available for the FA Cup clash against Aston Villa on Sunday. With these new developments, Wenger’s wrong tactical substitution and his subsequent defence after the game is back before the jury. His ability to deliver another trophy after six years of not winning one is in question. Is he losing it? Has the time come for the Frenchman, who has no doubt imprinted his name into Arsenal’s history books, to leave? Does Arsene Wenger still know? Your guess is as good as mine!