Under-fire Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has fired back at his many critics among the club's supporters, chiding the negative atmosphere the disgruntled masses have created for his team in recent matches.
Speaking after the Gunners beat Everton 2-0 at Goodison Park in the Premier League on Saturday, per David Maddock of the Daily Mirror, Wenger insisted he can handle his detractors but couldn't avoid voicing his displeasure at their adverse effect on his team:
The critics? No, what hurts me is that at the important moment of the season we played in a sceptical environment.
And after the Tottenham game where we played a very good game, 10 against 11, and came back to 2-2 I couldn’t understand why, at the moment when you need everyone behind the team, in such an important moment, we had to hit that storm.
From the media, okay. From our fans? It is a bit more difficult to take.
Yet despite Wenger's strong rebuttal, Maddock noted how his "tone screamed hurt and pain." Of course, the entrenched Frenchman may just be wary of how often he's had to go on the defensive recently with his squad 11 points off the pace and third in the Premier league.
Since Arsenal's title bid collapsed after back-to-back defeats to Manchester United and Swansea City, Wenger found himself exposed to unprecedented criticism. The noise grew louder when Watford and Barcelona, respectively, knocked the Gunners out of the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League.
That dire run has left Wenger's team facing a double-digit deficit behind leaders Leicester City in the last competition that could yet yield a trophy this season. After 12 years without a title, Arsenal's fans have turned on Wenger.
Ligue 1 writer Matt Spiro raised a dubious eyebrow toward the gesture:
Arsenal win a 15th consecutive FA Cup tie, beating Hull 4-0. Some fans hold up banner asking Arsene Wenger to leave. Strange times— Matt Spiro (@mattspiro) March 8, 2016
Yet, there are those who believe Wenger is due his share of criticism after a relatively barren 10 years in terms of silverware. BT Sport's Fletch And Sav show recently detailed Wenger's fallow period:
But Wenger is prepared to defend his tenure, as well as his continued ability to lead Arsenal, per Maddock: “I never complain about critics, especially when they are turned against me. I just think I give my best, I built this club over 19 years with the quality of my work, not with resources from outside the club.”
Notably, Wenger made a point of emphasising how he's built and rebuilt teams without the aid of the lavish outside investment many of the other members of the Premier League's elite have enjoyed:
Not with big money, but by caring about every pound that I spent. And I think the club has moved forward a lot. I just want to continue that, you know. And show the quality of the football I like.
That’s all I can do. I can take criticism, I’m in a public job, so I personally can take the criticism and I can use that, but you know.....
While those words may fall on many deaf ears, Wenger has a point that his performance is often undervalued. Maddock is certainly in no doubt about the qualities Wenger deserves to be applauded for: "This is a manager who has qualified his team for the Champions League over 20 successive seasons, and one whose transfer market genius has effectively built them one of the most impressive stadiums in Europe."
Maddock's words strike at the heart of the issue regarding Wenger's value and future. It's never an easy question, despite how fiercely those on both sides of the argument often express their contrasting opinions.
Wenger revolutionised Arsenal in terms of playing style and recruitment philosophy while also delivering a hat-trick of league titles and six FA Cups.
But he shouldn't be too surprised to hear the dissenting voices. Not after over a decade since he last lifted the title.
What Wenger is right about is the baleful effect such a volume of negativity can have on Arsenal's players. It's particularly noticeable at the Emirates Stadium.
Should Wenger be sacked at the end of this season?
Home matches are tense affairs, and that tension seems to weigh on the players, particularly if Arsenal haven't scored after an hour and the whispers of discontent from the stands grow into full-throated shouts.
Still, the target of those shouts sounds as determined as ever to defy his critics. But any standoff between a manager, even a highly decorated one with just a single year left on his contract, and fans often ends in bitter divorce.
It would be a great shame if that's how Wenger's time at Arsenal draws to a close.