Ten days ago, after his team had successfully negotiated the qualifying round of the Champions League, the tall, austerely angular Arsenalmanager, Arsène Wenger, complained about the public’s pretensions to expertise. “We live in a society where everybody has an opinion on everything,” he said. “I’m like somebody who flies a plane for 30 years and I have to accept that somebody can come into the cockpit and thinks he can fly the plane better than I do.”
It was a characteristic Wenger statement, containing a wry piece of social commentary, a plaintive yet acerbic defence of his position and a tasty image for the insatiable sports media. Of course the notoriously independent-minded manager had no intention of accepting advice from outsiders. He was merely deploying his rhetorical gifts to point out the absurdity of being guided by the whims of public opinion. In other words, Wenger, whose nickname in footballing circles is “the professor”, was being Wenger: sardonic, aloof, unapologetic and unquestionably the man in control.
Unfortunately, the analogy backfired four days later when Arsenal crashed to an 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford against their fiercest Premier League rivals, Manchester United. If Wenger was the pilot, the thrashing was the equivalent of plotting a flight path through a mountain. Suddenly, the manager, who has been a study in certitude since his arrival in 1996 at Arsenal, looked dazed and confused, as though he was struggling to find his bearings amid the wreckage of the team’s heaviest defeat since 1896. Such was the pathos of Wenger’s plight that even Alex Ferguson, his most prickly adversary, was moved to offer consoling words of support. That must have hurt.