Football: Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger's job secure despite team's troubles

Arsenal will have to do without midfielder Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, who was injured in the first leg, as they prepare to face holders Barcelona at the Nou Camp. The Catalan side hold a two-goal advantage.
Arsenal will have to do without midfielder Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, who was injured in the first leg, as they prepare to face holders Barcelona at the Nou Camp. The Catalan side hold a two-goal advantage.PHOTO: REUTERS

Gunners boss is safe from sack amid poor run as his team look to overturn two-goal deficit

LONDON • Arsene Wenger retains the complete support of Stan Kroenke, the Arsenal owner, and the English football club's board, despite growing calls for a change of manager from disgruntled fans.

The London club have no plans to discuss Wenger's position at the end of the season even if Arsenal finish empty-handed - the most likely scenario with Leicester City seemingly out of reach in the English Premier League and Barcelona holding a two-goal lead before tonight's Champions League second leg at the Nou Camp.

Wenger will have one year left on his contract at the end of the season and the indications are that it will be the Frenchman who decides when to end his spell at the club - a tenure that will reach 20 years in September.

Tentative talks about giving him a two-year deal next season are on hold as the club focus on arresting a dismal run that has seen them win only one of their last seven matches. They have no plans to issue a public statement of support as they fear it could enrage unhappy fans.

Wenger's situation could become more dire today as his side face an almost impossible task when they travel to face a red-hot Barcelona and are looking to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in six years.

As so often the case in the second half of the manager's 20-year reign, Arsenal will play with a sense of what might have been.

They had their chances to lead at the Emirates three weeks ago before Barca's brilliant forwards Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez cut through them with an unerring ease they have made routine.

The trio have scored a combined 103 goals this season; Arsenal's entire squad managed a mere 71.

Top of the list of Wenger's detractors has been his inability or unwillingness to splash out on the top-class striker needed to turn Arsenal from perennial pretenders into winners.

Yet, he tried to land Suarez while the Uruguayan was still at Liverpool in 2013.

The task for Arsenal will be made more difficult by Suarez's expected return to the Barcelona starting line-up - the Uruguay striker having rested as his colleagues routed Getafe 6-0 on Saturday.

More worryingly, Suarez has surpassed Messi this season with 42 goals in 41 games to the Argentinian's 36 in 36. Stopping one is difficult, stopping all three of the South American trio has been an impossible task for most clubs in the past 18 months.

"We cannot afford to concede against Barcelona," said Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker. "We have to go there and try to attack, no matter what, that is the only possibility we have.

"They are the ultimate team at the moment, so we are straight away under pressure. I think the confidence is there... the desire to play together and to be good as a team is there."

Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott provide options for Wenger to bolster his attack with pace in search of the goals required, but it remains to be seen if they have the required class to breach the defence of Luis Enrique's men, who are chasing their 10th consecutive home win in Europe's premier football competition.

Barcelona have the all-round strength and form, but Belgium defender Thomas Vermaelen, who moved from Arsenal to the Catalan club in August 2014, believes "it won't be an easy game at all".

"Although we have a small lead, you can never say that they are out. They have very quick players and that makes them dangerous. We'll need to concentrate," he told Barcelona's website.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2016, with the headline 'Wenger's job secure'. Print Edition | Subscribe