Arsène Wenger has appealed for unity at Arsenal before the potentially fraught home game against Bournemouth on Saturday and reminded the club’s legendary former players, who have been vociferous in their criticism, that they were far from perfect during their careers.
Wenger has seen a host of his former players move into the media and, with the club under siege after a tumultuous summer transfer window and a poor start to the Premier League season, the likes of Ian Wright, Thierry Henry, Martin Keown, Lee Dixon and Paul Merson have not held back. Wenger accepts that “every single defeat is a crisis” but he made a pointed call for perspective.
“I always have problems understanding what a legend is and what a legend isn’t,” Wenger said. “I’ve had all the players here and we speak about today but they all had their weaknesses, as well. Don’t worry about that. They had their weak games and their weak behaviours. Nobody was perfect.
“We have to take a distance with that, as well; focus on our performance and not be dragged into any animosity. We are all grateful for what they have done for the club but what matters is always the players on the pitch, who can defend the pride of the club.”
Wenger reflected on the transfer window, which saw Alexis Sánchez stay, despite Manchester City making a £60m offer for him, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain leave for Liverpool in a £35m deal, days after he had started for Arsenal in their 4-0 loss at Anfield on 27 August. Wenger repeated his call for the summer window to shut before the start of the season, as he fears that players can be tapped-up by rival clubs – even on the eve of matches.
“Many things happen in the last second [of the window], which I regret,” Wenger said. “That’s why I believe it’s important that we change that and close all that stuff before the championship starts. Even in the games, you sit there before the games and, in players’ minds, they have no clarity. Are they in? Are they out? Are they half in? Are they half out? Are they tapped up in the afternoon of the game by people who want to get them out?
“It’s not the way to work and it’s uncomfortable. Every single manager in the league would agree that it’s time to kick that out before the season starts and not continue to have players in the dressing room who are half out and half in.”
Wenger had promised “100%” that Oxlade-Chamberlain would not be sold and he was bitterly disappointed when the midfielder told him that he wanted to leave. But, on the other hand, the manager admitted that the club had to “sell somebody,” with Sánchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mesut Özil having entered the final 12 months on their contracts.
“I wish Oxlade-Chamberlain all the best and I am thankful for what he has done here,” Wenger said. “You make decisions in which you choose one or the other one. We had to sell somebody and, overall, I believe that we are today in a strong financial situation, as always, and we have a good enough squad to compete.
“It doesn’t take away any of the quality of Oxlade-Chamberlain. I think he’s a great player. But, sometimes, it opens the door for some younger players like [Reiss] Nelson or Joe Willock, or players who are in behind and get an opportunity that they wouldn’t get.”
Wenger reported that Jack Wilshere “still needs some fitness work” and Santi Cazorla, who has not played since October of last year because of an achilles problem, had started to run. Cazorla is out until the New Year, at least; Wenger did not name him in his 25-man Premier League squad.
“Santi’s injury is not career-threatening,” Wenger said. “He is having his first run today, so that is quite positive. The flexibility of his ankle looks good, his mobility is good and now it’s back to getting back to full fitness without having any set-backs. It’s very difficult to predict when he will be available again but, overall, I hope that after Christmas, he will be available.”
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