In a wide-ranging interview with Sky Sports due to be broadcast ahead of Sunday’s game with Watford, Arsene Wenger has discussed the toll that Arsenal’s recent poor form has taken on him personally.
Having experienced his first ever FA Cup third round exit, a third League Cup final defeat and seen his side fall adrift of the five sides above them in the Premier League table, the Frenchman has been under intense scrutiny since the start of the year.
Whether he survives to see out his current contract – due to end in the summer of 2019 – remains to be seen, but in the meantime, the 68-year-old insists that he’s as focused as ever on the job at hand and drawing on his experience to survive the current maelstrom.
“[It is] difficult because I want to do well for the club,” Wenger explained.
“I want to do well for the fans and want them to go home happy and when I can’t give them that satisfaction I’m unhappy of course. First of all, I dedicated my whole life to winning football matches so when I lose I’m in disastrous shape.”
The boss went on to explain that the mental trauma of defeat takes its toll in many ways, including a loss of sleep.
“Every manager will tell you that. When you don’t get the results, the first thing affected is the mood and the lack of sleep and the desire to find solutions.
“Overall it’s part of the job. When you’re a young manager, you dream of taking a job and winning every game but it’s not that. It is about surviving through disappointments, finding solutions and that’s interesting as well because it can make you a better manager to face a crisis.”
In a world where defeat and disappointment are increasingly met with visceral anger, in part exacerbated by the rise of social media, the ability to maintain perspective has been key for Wenger. Despite the pointed nature of the criticism he receives, sometimes directed at him by former players and often by frustrated fans, the boss says he doesn’t take it personally.
“Honestly I can take a distance with that because it’s not the person they hate, they hate the manager who doesn’t deliver performance,” he said.
“I can make the difference but I’m just unhappy that we lose games. I want to win. My whole life is guided towards that. I want to win with style, so it’s very ambitious and when we don’t do it I suffer like everyone else.
“But what is taken into account is Arsenal today is 30 million people – it’s not the suffering of one person. You want to make 30 million people happy and that’s what you care about.”
He went on: “I have people around me – people should not think that Arsenal Football Club is just me – I have a huge staff around me.
“The difference between when I arrived and today is that I now have a staff around me of maybe 20 people who I talk with, I ask their opinion and after I make the decision of course.
“But I’m surrounded by very talented people who dedicate their life to Arsenal Football Club. But, at the end of the day, I have to stand up for what is important for the club and that mean the results and the way we play football.”
Variously labelled a professor, educator and idealist during his 21-year tenure at the club (as well as some far worse things) Wenger, in full-philosopher mode, still argues that football should not be all about winning and losing despite the influx of cash into the modern game.
Responding to the fact he still has support from many neutrals, he said: “I’m very thankful for that – that I have some respect in the game!
“I think that despite all that, football, the modern game has gone to money. But football for me is first about values so if I can leave behind me that fact that it’s as well that.
“Maybe, somewhere, people who respect a little bit that Arsenal is about winning or losing of course, it’s vital – but it’s also about what’s important in the game, what is important in football.
“My regret personally is that, today, that has completely gone underwater. We don’t speak about that at all now. It’s all about only the side of the game that’s important but is not essential.”