ARSENE Wenger offered integrity in the face of adversity after watching Arsenal’s season implode at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
Out of the Champions League (barring a miracle) and out of the FA Cup in the space of 72 hours, his much-knocked Gunners have only the uninspiring goal of a fourth-place finish in the Premier League left to go for.
Even that modest target – something which would have been an effortless aim for his Gunners of yesteryear – is an almighty ask, now with both Chelsea and Liverpool battling to prevent Arsenal qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in the Frenchman’s 15-year reign.
Sitting in the Press conference after Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Sunderland, a clearly-rattled Wenger fought successfully to retain his dignity amid questioning which could have been deemed impertinent were the club not under such intense and deserved scrutiny after seven trophy-less years.
He thought his side unlucky on the day, after a display which he thought was so much better than the Milan massacre three days earlier.
Dismissing TV pundit Roy Keane’s claim that this was the worst Arsenal side he’d ever seen as “a harsh judgment”, he said: “I think we had a committed performance and gave absolutely everything that was left in our legs.
“It was a very difficult game – we had three away games in a week and a very unfortunate schedule with the away trips.
“We had a lot of possession but didn’t create a lot because of fantastic defending from Sunderland.”
Now Wenger faces questions from every direction about his future at the Emirates and the future of a squad which looks a shadow of his great teams of the past.
“We have to take the critics on board and stay together,” he suggested.
“There is only one response in our job, which is to stay united and fight and focus on the next game – we need to finish well in the Premier League.”
It felt like a pat answer and it did not satisfy the critics who pushed him further on how he might turn things around.
“It’s too early to say how we are going to turn things around,” he said. “We are very disappointed straight after the defeat and, straight after the defeat, it is very difficult to say.”
These are not the sort of words that the 4,200 faithful who made the trip to the Stadium of Light want to hear. Not the words which match up against Arsenal fans’ proud boast: “Arsene knows”.
On the touchline against Sunderland, arms flapping impotently in his oversized quilted jacket, Wenger had looked more Clouseau than Gallic genius and it was all he could do to avoid flapping as his very future at the club was questioned afterwards.
“We will get criticism for our defeat, but I think that will be very harsh on our team,” he muttered.
“I will let people talk and analyse and criticise and destroy, but, on our side, we need to show internal strength and resilience and come out and perform well in our next game.
“At the moment, I am getting many lessons from people who have managed zero clubs and zero games and zero European games.
“One day, you will see it is not easy to manage a football club.
“I think it is best that we finished this Press conference. You got what you wanted.”
His tetchy departure left the media wondering whether the big Au Revoir might night be too far away.
No doubt there will be immense speculation in the days ahead. But, in terms of what his future genuinely holds now, only Arsene knows.