Arsene Wenger said on Friday morning that Arsenal supporters were being “manipulated” into opposing him, blamed the “very difficult climate” at the Emirates for the team’s struggles and urged them to be more like Liverpool fans instead.
When Arsenal face Norwich City on Saturday there will be unprecedented fan protests at the Emirates, after another season in which the club has failed to challenge for the Premier League or Champions League titles.
Wenger’s comments will only exacerbate divisions between club and fans, especially his theory that Arsenal’s faltering title challenge owed to the negative atmosphere at the Emirates. Wenger insisted that the club’s away form would make them champions this season.
In a prickly press conference at London Colney, Wenger rounded on his critics, accusing them of posing as Arsenal fans in pursuit of social media attention. He also underlined his own loyalty to the club by revealing that he had turned down lucrative offers to leave Arsenal – thought to be from Real Madrid and Manchester City – during the difficult period after the move to the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal are out of that period now, as proven by their big signings of the last three summers. But while they won the 2014 and 2015 FA Cups, there has been no real improvement in their Premier League form. Wenger admitted that Arsenal “have to do more”, but implored the fans to support the team until they do.
“When a club cannot enjoy anything anymore, it’s in trouble,” Wenger said. “We have to stick together. We lost the championship at home against the lower teams, but we played at home in a very difficult climate. We have to realise that, away from home, we are championship winners. At home, against the smaller teams, we lost the league.”
Arsenal have taken 30 points from away league games so far this season. Tottenham have taken 33 and Leicester 37.
When people pretend to be Arsenal fans and every week they come out against the club, you cannot say it’s not manipulation. They look for their own agenda
The climate at the Emirates will be more difficult than ever before the Norwich game, with a planned protest against Wenger and owner Stan Kroenke to mark the club’s twelfth straight season without winning the Premier League. Wenger said that coordinated protests had been stirred up and told his supporters to look to the example of Liverpool fans, who were more behind the team.
“Liverpool are a good example to follow,” Wenger said. “They’re a big club. We are a very big club. I can understand the frustration of our fans. But, despite that, they want to support our team. The best chance they can give our team is to be behind our team.”
Many Arsenal players privately share Wenger’s concerns, and while the manager did not want to sound like he was shifting responsibility, he said that a change in atmosphere may change results.
“You see it as well as I do,” Wenger said. “That is not an excuse or an explanation. We have to master all kinds of situations we face and perform no matter what happens. But ideally, it is a little bit easier when everyone stands behind the team.”
Only by supporting the team, Wenger said, could the fans hope to see more success in the future. “This club does have special values though and one I’ve experienced over the years is to stick together and support the team,” he said. “There’s no success without that.”
Wenger was more scornful, though, of those he accused of stirring up the Arsenal fans against him.“Some groups of people try to manipulate our fans,” Wenger said, “and I believe apart from an agenda, a personal agenda, a big ego, there’s not a lot behind it.”
Asked whether he meant Piers Morgan, Wenger insisted he “did not target anybody individually”, but said it was social media attention-seekers who were destabilising the fan-base.
“When people pretend to be Arsenal fans and every week they come out against the club, you cannot say it’s not manipulation,” Wenger said. “They look for their own agenda, to get people on Twitter and social networks, and it becomes a way to behave.”
While Wenger clearly sees some people’s commitment to Arsenal as transient, he underlined the strength of his own loyalty by admitting that he had turned down big money offers to leave. Wenger revealed that, as part of Arsenal’s bank loans to pay for the building of the Emirates Stadium, he had committed himself to stay at the club for the first five season there, from 2006 to 2011.
“When we built the stadium the banks demanded that I signed for five years, and I did it,” Wenger said. “Do you want me to tell you how many clubs I turned down during that period?” Although Wenger did not name the clubs, Real Madrid and Manchester City both tried to recruit Wenger during that period after the stadium move.
“The banks wanted the technical consistency to guarantee that we have a chance to pay back,” Wenger said. “I did commit and I stayed and under very difficult circumstances. On top of that they reproach me for not having won the championship during that period I think it is a bit overboard. I accept criticism. I think that it is a bit too far.”