I was as surprised as anyone listening to Arsène Wenger direct his frustrations at Raheem Sterling last weekend.
Questioned on City’s controversial (actually not-so-controversial) penalty that effectively put the game to bed in the 50th minute of his side’s 2-1 loss, Wenger’s reply was shamefully salty: “We know that he [Sterling] dives well, he does that very well.”
Frustrations have been running high at Arsenal ever since Wenger first decided to outstay his welcome in 2006. The club now sit 12 points behind the leaders (us!) and realistically a few years behind the Premier League’s front-runners in terms of squad development, and so the viciousness behind the 68-year-old’s words may have been discarded as a by-product of irritation following yet another blow to Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the top four.
But not from Wenger, a manager who has perfected the art of holding one’s tongue during his 21 years in North London. The Frenchman, although drawn into it by others at times, isn’t one for controversy and prides himself on being respectful. That’s what make his comments so hard to accept.
Added to that, one would’ve thought that people would’ve learnt by now that Raheem Sterling is the wrong man to pick on with an army of overly-parental City fans behind him, defending his every action with the written word, sending letters of complaint to the Daily Star and slapping his nay-sayers in the street.
The evidence suggests Wenger is finally beginning to crack, the pressure from an ever-growing legion of Gooners who want him no where near the club gradually eroding his outer shell. And while I personally find it difficult to go in so hard on a man who usually handles himself in such a dignified way, it’s proof that Arsenal would’ve been a potentially catastrophic move for Sterling when a swap deal with Alexis Sanchez was discussed in the summer transfer window.
But reputations count for very little here. Football has revisited the ‘he’s not that type of player’ argument hundreds of times and while bad tackles and crude words may be out of character for particular individuals, that doesn’t excuse them when they eventually lose their tongue. As Alan Shearer rightly said on BBC Match of the Day, “it’s one thing for Wenger to deflect from his team’s inadequacies, it’s another to question someone’s integrity and be wrong. I think he owes Sterling an apology.”
City, shocked by the incident, will be hoping for an offering of remorse in the next few days while City fans will just be hoping Raheem continues his fine form after the international break.
Wenger’s ever-loosening grip on his team is the reason both Sanchez and Sterling are odds on to be at the Etihad Stadium come January.