Arsene Wenger has revealed he is worried about the effect of Arsenal supporter unrest on the team, suggesting the fans' "relentless" pressure could prove detrimental.
The simmering tension at the Emirates came to the boil last Wednesday during the dismal 2-1 home defeat to Swansea, as a stream of invective was aimed at the players and manager as the team’s title challenge disintegrated. The club’s record goalscorer Thierry Henry wrote after the match that he had “never heard the Arsenal supporters as angry as they were”.Wenger was unhappy with Thierry Henry's comments about the Emirates crowd
Wenger reacted irritably to Henry’s claim but admitted on the weekend after a spirited 2-2 draw at Tottenham that “I prefer that the fans are happy but I’m more worried that it can get to the players’ confidence level.”
So does Wenger agree or disagree with Thierry Henry? I'm confused and it seems he is too [t.co]— Matt Law (@Matt_Law_DT) March 7, 2016
The tacit criticism of the home crowd and suggestion that anger from the stands could be affecting the players has been met with dismay by some supporters, who feel Wenger is trying to shift the blame for the poor performances of his team.
The reality is that although the Emirates crowd can be dreadfully anxious and negative, to suggest the players are being affected by it fails to engender sympathy for a number of reasons.
The relationship between the team and supporters is a two-way street. Yes, the fans are often neurotic in the extreme and many sections of the stadium are unhelpfully pessimisitic, but then it’s hardly surprising there is a sense of fatalism from a group that have seen their side throw away a 4-0 and 3-0 lead in the last five years. The atmosphere at White Hart Lane for Saturday’s derby also demonstrated the contrast between the mood at the two north London rivals, with the Spurs supporters feeding off their players’ energy and desire, and vice versa.The Emirates crowd can be a fickle bunch
Arsenal's current collapse is also so achingly familiar that the despondency in north London following the Swansea defeat cannot be dismissed as a set of fans having unrealistic expectations. By and large the supporters were reasonably patient during the early austerity years at the Emirates, but with large sums spent on genuine world-class players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez there’s an understandable demand for the team to at least be competing with league leaders Leicester City, a team built on a fraction of Arsenal’s budget.
Wenger must also accept that, although he and the players are not to blame for the extortionate ticket prices, Arsenal supporters are going to be even more enraged by their side’s failings when they are paying more than anyone in the country to see their team play.Ashley Williams said the atmosphere can become toxic at Premier League grounds Credit: Reuters
The suggestion that the players’ confidence could be sapped by terrace unrest meanwhile is a public relations misstep from the manager. At a time when Arsenal’s nerve is being seriously questioned, it is unwise to admit that they’re so frail as to be affected by what’s going on in the stands.
Of course it’s not pleasant for players to have supporters on their back – Swansea captain Ashley Williams admitted after winning at the Emirates that “when the crowd turn on you it makes it hard to play” – but if Arsenal really have the hunger to win the title, it’s just another obstacle they’ll have to overcome.Alexis Sanchez and co need to give the fans something to shout about Credit: Reuters
Even the Invincibles of 2003-04 were savaged by the home fans on occasion - a 3-0 Champions League defeat to Inter at Highbury that season led to a chorus of boos and rage from the home fans. That Arsenal team didn’t mope; four days later they went to Old Trafford and secured a gritty 0-0 draw that would go on to define their season.
Arsenal’s current vintage responded well to the Swansea defeat with a creditable 2-2 draw at Tottenham. Now it’s up to the team to build on that and give the restless Emirates crowd something to shout about.