As I predicted yesterday, the manager’s press conference was somewhat fractious as he responded to questions about David Ospina’s selection in midweek. As he always does, he defended his player in public, and said that it wasn’t solely down to the Colombian that Arsenal lost the game. It was part of why it happened, but not the only reason.
He continued to be pressed on it, he batted away questions saying he’d already answered them, and then he threatened to leave the press conference. Now, from the video I saw (and the one on the official site didn’t show this bit), it wasn’t because of questions about Ospina – it was because the Sky reporter brought up Jose Mourinho.
Question: If you are not accountable in that way, does that not make Jose Mourinho right when he says there’s only one manager who is not under pressure?
Answer: Look, stop that story or we stop the press conference.
You know, I think there’s a lot to question Wenger over. It does seem as if the Ospina selection was a choice, rather than one enforced on him by injury, and given what happened on the night, it backfired. There’s also Arsenal’s European form, why so-called ‘lesser’ clubs keep getting so much joy at the Emirates, the potential of having to play Europa League football, a huge clash with Manchester United on Sunday, and lots more.
Asking him about what he thinks about Jose Mourinho isn’t one of things though. It’s only designed to do one thing: to get Wenger to react or say something, and then later on when Mourinho has his own press conference, they’ll relay what Wenger said – perhaps not 100% accurately – and look for the Chelsea manager’s response.
It is shit-stirring and nothing more. What Mourinho says has no relevance to what happened in midweek or what will happen tomorrow, but sections of the press do their damndest every week to try and maintain the feud between the two men. Then they tut and shake their heads sadly when Wenger and Mourinho’s behaviour in public towards each other is, to some extent, a consequence of what they do.
Will they won’t they shake hands? Is there eye contact when they do make a cursory handshake? As if this is in any way interesting. Wenger is clearly aware of it and does try to play it all down, so I understand his reaction yesterday. What would have been more on point, however, would have been to chuck that bloke out of the press conference rather than end it completely – but maybe the wider threat was a message to any of the others thinking of trying to create sensationalist headlines out of nothing.
He was then asked who would play in goal on Sunday. Here a simple answer would have been ‘Cech’, because anything else is unthinkable really, and it could all have moved on. But a clearly irritated Wenger had a go at the press in general:
I think you lack a bit creativity in the press at the moment and you follow a bandwagon. It’s very, very, very, very boring. I don’t go along with that. If you have an interesting question I will answer but apart from that let’s not always come back to the same story.
And on punditry post-Olympiacos:
They don’t analyse well. Honestly, not one came out and analysed well the game. One pundit says something on TV and all behind that repeat the same thing. It is quite boring. Nobody came out with numbers where the game was won or lost.
It’s quite depressing to read that and hear that. But they all just come to the same conclusion and haven’t watched well what’s gone on on the pitch. We lost the game because we didn’t defend well. Yes, the keeper made a mistake but we could still have won the game because of that.
The little gem in there is the admission that we didn’t defend well, and that is, for me anyway, the key reason why the game was lost. I’d have liked to hear somebody ask him what the plan is to deal with that, and I do think there’s merit to questions about Ospina and Cech because of the stature of the former Chelsea goalkeeper.
I think Ospina is a grand option to have as a number 2 goalkeeper, but Cech adds genuine experience and presence. On a night when you’re starting without Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker, the two obvious leaders in the dressing room and on the pitch, then you could do with somebody like him at the base of your spine to help the team.
Bottom line for me, in a must-win game you should play your best possible team. I understand and accept that certain changes have to be made to protect players from injury and to help freshen the team up, but Cech wasn’t going to be running 12km or anything. It was a bad decision, it contributed to a loss, and there’s no real escaping it.
Making that the entire focus of why we lost, however, only fudges the issue, and there’s far more to examine than just that. If that’s why he’s defensive, or if there’s a certain element of truth hurts to the criticism, I don’t know. I suspect he’s just doing his best to protect a player whose confidence has probably taken a knock, and it’s not the first time a manager has come out swinging in a press conference so the focus is on him and not the players/team. Alex Ferguson used to do it all the time.
The key now is to get things sorted ahead of a game which could, if results go right, see us joint top of the table by tomorrow evening. It doesn’t feel like that should be the case, but that’s the reality of what the points could do for us. Wenger is remaining positive:
If I say now that we are three points behind Man United, playing Man United at home and I don’t believe that we can win the Premier League, what would you tell me?
You will slaughter me.
As if it wasn’t already a big game, it’s Arsenal v Man Utd after all, the pressure on us to get a result is now immense. The midweek loss; the contentious selection; the press conference performance; it all adds up to add some extra spice to proceedings. Usually pressers are boring and routine, this was anything but. And look, is this not all part of the pantomime? Are we not entertained?
Fingers crossed by 6pm tomorrow we will have been.
For more on the midweek fun and games, the Arsenal Gent’s Weekly Review takes it all in, and if you haven’t had a chance to listen to this week’s Arsecast, a minimalist triumph even if I do say so myself, you can listen below.
Finally, there are still a few tickets left for the Arsecast Extra Live on Monday evening. Post-United deconstruction with beer and microphones, what more could you want?! Come join us in the Garage at Highbuy and Islington.
Right, a full preview of the United game in the morning, until then have a good Saturday.