Arsene Wenger is not incontestable - but Arsenal's armchair managers should trust him
By Bradley King
With your supposed title-chasing team tied at 0-0 against a struggling relegation battler going into the final few minutes of a football match, the last thing most of us would choose to do is take off our lone striker for a defensive midfielder. But then, most of us are not professional football managers. Arsene Wenger certainly is - and there was something unsettling about Gunners' fans aiming 'you don't know what you're doing' chants at him after he carried out such a change over the weekend.
Indeed the 87th minute withdrawal of the ever-improving Olivier Giroud in favour of the French anchorman Francis Coquelin was the final straw for travelling Gunners fans. They had been frustrated by their teams inability to create chances against an ordinary Aston Villa. A defensive change, as they interpreted it, meant that Wenger had gone mad.
After the game, Wenger remained defiant over his decisions during the game, including relegating usual starters Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere to the substitutes bench. He told reporters: "Look, I have managed for 30 years at the top level, if I have to convince you that I can manage a team, it would be an insult to you. You can discuss every substitution. I do my job and I let you and other people judge it."
Despite all his successes, Wenger is not some kind of indisputable deity - despite what Arsenal fans may have you believe during times of optimism. It is only right that the supporter base, and the media, question him and his decisions should they not fathom the logic of them. They do, after all, pay plenty of money each season for that privilege. And it has been seven years without a single piece of silverware to parade - should that fact not have been widely reported enough.
But the achievements of Wenger are often all too quickly glossed over. In his 16 years in the Emirates Stadium hotseat he has won three Premier League titles and four FA Cups. He has reached a Champions League final where Arsenal were desperately unlucky to lose to Barcelona. He created, almost from scratch, the great 'invincible' team of the 2003/04 season - and imported, among many others, the likes of Thierry Henry and Robert Pires who wowed the north London crowds for years.
He has also never finished outside the top four of the Premier League - despite the constant breaking up of his well-moulded squads, particularly over the last few seasons. With the expiry of his contract not too far away, Wenger must decide whether he not only has the hunger to continue tinkering with Arsenal, but also whether he has the desire to convince the fans of his managerial expertise anymore. The supporters should appreciate that their club is led by one of the best coaches in the world - there is no suggestion that any other manager would be able to keep Arsenal on the heels of the Premier League's big boys.
To refer back to the Aston Villa game, the replacing of Giroud with Coquelin was not, in actual fact, a defensive substitution at all. Giroud, tiring after also completing 90 minutes against Montpellier in the Champions League days earlier, was replaced as a central attacker by Gervinho. Andrey Arshavin, an earlier substitute, shifted over to Gervinho's previous position while Santi Cazorla moved to the other wing. That left Coquelin to shore up the centre of the pitch, where Arsenal had been struggling to enforce themselves.
Maybe, in fact, it is the dissenting Arsenal supporter who does not know what he or she is doing, after all.