MARTIN O’Neill offered moral support to Arsene Wenger after the Gunners’ hunt for a trophy this season was ended by the Black Cats at the weekend.
The Frenchman’s future at Arsenal is now coming in for serious questioning for the first time since he took over the club in 1996 – with the Londoners now looking certain to end a seventh successive season without a trophy.
But O’Neill, who shares no bond of friendship with his opposite number, suggested it was important to remember that we’re talking about one of the finest managers in the game.
“My view is that when eventually he decides to retire, he will be considered by everybody, including me, as one of the great managers in the game,” said the Sunderland boss.
“And that’s not to suggest for a moment he should consider retiring any time soon.
“We might not see eye to eye about events from time to time, but he is one of the great managers – up there with the very, very best.
“Of that, there can be no doubt.
“I think he has been fantastic for the English game, and that’s not me being part of the manager’s union.
“My view is that I don’t think the criticism that we all receive – and it just seems to get passed around, from one of us to another – is sometimes merited.
“It’s been a very disappointing week for him and for Arsenal.
“You get them.
“But then you get another couple of wins and it all changes again and it wouldn’t surprise me if that was to happen for him now.”
O’Neill also felt that consideration should be given to the fact that Arsenal – like Sunderland the previous week – had had the disadvantage of a draining midweek game to contend with.
“I think that helped us immensely,” he reflected.
“The game in Milan might have caught up with them, and coming away after being well beaten doesn’t help either.
“Had they gone and got the result, their confidence might have been up, but that wasn’t the case.
“I think you have to give credit to us, too, though.
“I thought we had lots of energy in the game and deserved to win it.
“If anything, we were getting stronger as the game went on.
“The last 15 minutes of the previous week, when we lost 2-1, we looked really tired as the FA Cup replay against Middlesbrough took its toll.
“But I thought the advantage swung our way this time and we made the most of it.”