ARSENE WENGER revealed last weekend that he’d turned down an offer to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson as Manchester United manager back in 2001.
The Frenchman has previously stated that he could have signed Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba for the Arsenal.
And he could have won a Champions League. And he could have won a title more recently than 2004.
In fact it’s becoming pretty clear that Wenger could have been the most successful manager in footballing history if only reality hadn’t got in the way.
As he takes Arsenal to Chelsea today, Wenger still sounds as if he may be operating in a parallel universe – or at least, living a long way in the past.
The Gunners have lost on each of their past five visits to Stamford Bridge, and four of those defeats have been convincing – especially the 6-0 drubbing which marked Wenger’s 1,000th match in charge of the club.
This is part of a wider trend of Arsenal proving a soft touch away from home against top-six rivals – winning only two of 21 such matches since the start of the 2013-14 season, conceding 52 goals along the way.
The latest example, a 4-0 humping at Liverpool last month, suggested that Wenger has done little to change his team’s glaring tactical deficiencies when visiting elite clubs.
Yet when challenged about his away record, Wenger pointed to the fact that he had twice led Arsenal to unbeaten Premier League campaigns on the road – way back in the mists of 2002 and 2004.
He said: “If you look at my record, you will see I played two years in the Premier League without losing a game away from home.
“Last year, until we lost at Everton, we had not lost away from home for a whole year (actually just under ten months).
“After that, we lost at Man City, that’s true that it gave us a problem of confidence away from home.
“But I don’t really believe in that. The pitch is 105 metres long and 68m wide everywhere and never in my life I could accept or understand that it’s different away from home.
“It’s just a question of how much you want it, it’s about football. It’s a good opportunity to show that we have that quality.”
Yet whatever Wenger says about pitch dimensions, home advantage has made a difference throughout the history of the game.
And winning away, especially against the most serious opposition, usually requires a strength of character which Arsenal have too often lacked over the past dozen years – not a statement which was true of the more muscular and bloody-minded 2002 or 2004 Arsenal teams.
Since Roman Abramovich parked his tanks on Arsenal’s lawn and since Jose Mourinho first arrived at the Bridge, straight after Wenger’s invincible league campaign, the Arsenal-Chelsea rivalry has undergone a major power shift.
Wenger denies that his side ever had an inferiority complex against a team which has consistently bullied his own.
And he does point out that they defeated Chelsea at home last season and in the FA Cup Final, as well as in a penalty shoot-out in the Community Shield.
Wenger said: “In the last few years, Chelsea has had great teams so it was always difficult to win there but our record against Chelsea has been good, we won (at home) last year, we won the FA Cup final, on penalties in the Community Shield so let’s focus on the quality of our game and not too much on where we play.”
The importance of a result against a leading rival and the need to expunge memories of that shocking display at Liverpool are clear for Wenger.
He said: “It is important to get a result against a rival, of course it’s very important. Nobody would deny that.
“If you calculate the positions in the top four then of course it will be decided by your results against your direct opponents.
“Of course, I believe we had a bad performance at Liverpool, I never deny that, that should be an even greater motivation for us to turn up with an even better performance on Sunday.
“We don’t too much look backwards, we’ve analysed Liverpool well, we know what we missed there, it’s important we correct it.”
More importantly than wiping out memories of one horror show, Wenger needs a result at the Bridge to suggest that Arsenal’s decision to hand him a two-year contract extension was anything other than blind faith in a busted flush.
One fact which has been lost among the recriminations of deadline week is that Arsenal do appear to have made two excellent summer signings – fox-in-the-box Alexandre Lacazette and powerhouse defender Sead Kolasinac.
Not quite Ronaldo or Messi. Not even the same stature as the recruits he might have made had he taken over at Old Trafford.
But the merest hint of a suggestion that Wenger’s reality might not be quite as bad as all that.
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