Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wenger's Chance to Get Back on the Right Track; Arsenal Manager Can Make a Point to the Fans Who Abused Him at Stoke Station by Ending European Group Stage on a High

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wenger's Chance to Get Back on the Right Track; Arsenal Manager Can Make a Point to the Fans Who Abused Him at Stoke Station by Ending European Group Stage on a High

Article excerpt

Byline: James Olley Chief Football Correspondent in Istanbul

THERE are few people who believe Arsenal have the squad to challenge for major honours but Arsene Wenger desperately needs evidence to the contrary tonight.

Champions League qualification may already be assured but Wenger's stability as manager is not.

There remains no desire whatsoever at boardroom level to remove the Frenchman but those in the cheaper -- yet still expensive -- seats are increasingly divided.

A key facet in the argument is whether Wenger retains the ability to build a squad with sufficient resources to win the Premier League for the first time in 11 years or the Champions League for the first time ever.

Wenger's assertion last week that his players could succeed in the title race this season was greeted with much derision but what was he supposed to say when asked directly, more than once, if that was a possibility? 'Wenger says Arsenal can win title' looks better than 'Wenger rules out Arsenal title bid in December' and even before several idiots waited to abuse him at Stoke station in the wake of Saturday's 3-2 defeat, the Frenchman was acutely aware of the scrutiny he is under from those who once unequivocally adored him.

Platform anger is not an uncommon sight at weekends given the appalling overcrowding on many trains but the image of Wenger being publicly chastised was another alarming sign of how far his stock has fallen.

Every victory is a reminder of his glorious past and every defeat a signal for change.

Whatever the result, one side in the split fanbase feels galvanised. Stability can drift into stagnation without the requisite evolution. Wenger's enduring faith in his players has to be rewarded soon before it looks utterly misguided and reflects badly on the manager himself.

In what could easily be interpreted as another show of belief in his squad, Wenger took the unusual step of naming his starting line-up -- a rare occurscoring rence even with Arsenal already qualified -- while confirming youngsters including Gedion Zelalem, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Glen Kamara would comprise a youthful bench.

As has been well documented, Wenger's summer transfer policy neglected important areas of the team -- namely centre-back and central midfield -- and almost with each passing week, the consequences of those decisions look more damaging. Victory against Galatasaray would not deliver vindication in itself, given the game's minimal stakes, but it would be useful ammunition for Wenger in his fight against the detractors to end their Group D campaign on a high while resting several leading players.

The gain may only be marginal but Wenger can ill afford further setbacks given the wider picture.

As is his want, Wenger responds to criticism of the here and now with a reminder of the context of the past, neatly encapsulating the dilemma many feel about his ongoing worth to the club. …

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