The Arsenal fans going against the grain of the ‘Wenger Out’ brigade

James Benge
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Even as Arsene Wenger loses the backing of more and more of those who once revered him there remain a few who believe, no matter what, that he knows best. Some of them even reside outside the Arsenal boardroom.

The results of an unprecedented survey by the Arsenal Supporters Trust revealed the extent to which many fans have fallen out of love with Wenger. Seventy-eight per cent of them believe he should not extend his contract beyond the end of the season.

On a weekly basis, home or away, the protestors follow Wenger. From Wexit banners to fly-bys they haunt the Arsenal manager, demanding he leave the club to whom he has delivered three league titles.

Yet despite the alarming slide down the Premier League table, the impotence against Europe’s top sides and the doubts over Arsenal’s ability to retain their best players there remain those who are loyal to Wenger.

Perhaps not unswerving in their fidelity, but sufficiently filled with admiration for their manager of over two decades, that they will keep supporting him until the end. On Sunday they will endeavour to be heard over the latest Wenger Out protest by holding up a solitary banner that will pay thanks to the 67-year-old among what one would suspect will be a sea of them calling for him to go.

Freddie Law-Keen, a 17-year-old student from Crouch End, will be one of those proudly paying tribute to Wenger, no matter the score, when Arsenal take on Manchester City in a crucial Emirates clash.

“I will never deny my support for him,” he says. “The hostility and hatred a lot of people have for him is sickening. I hate some of the things I see said about him on social media.

“I will support him in whatever he chooses. I think if he chose to leave at the end of the year that might be best but if he doesn’t then I will still back him. Why? Because whatever he chooses to do he will do it with Arsenal’s best interests at heart.

“He turned us around in one of our hardest periods. I will support him during his.”

Abdullah Faiz, 21 from Saudi Arabia, is another of those to have forked out for the banner, which will pay tribute to Wenger’s illustrious history at Highbury and the Emirates.

“I still believe Arsene can bring the glory days back to the Emirates,” he says. “He genuinely loves the club no matter how hard some of his critics try to dismiss him.”

It certainly seems that Wenger believes that the best decision for Arsenal is that he sign the new two-year contract believed to be on offer, though he remains evasive over when he will announce a decision he vowed before the international break would be coming “very soon”.

Whenever his decision is announced, it seems unlikely that a new contract will quell the mutinous atmosphere around the Emirates. Indeed many of those who have already protested against Wenger have vowed to intensify their activities if their manager signs a new deal.

Some of those actions – most notably the chant that Wenger is “killing their club” – have not been kindly looked upon by supporters of other clubs, particularly London sides such as Charlton and Leyton Orient who struggle to see how the plight of a team who regularly finish in the top four can compare with their woes.

“I hate the atmosphere at the Emirates,” Law-Keen adds. “Lots of people go there and just scream and abuse the players. How can that help them?

“I’d like some of these more virulent fans to go away but I know that’s just not possible. The only way to patch up some of these people is to get Arsene to leave. That’s devastating. When people say he’s killing the club they need to check their history.

“He could stay for 10 years, take us to League Two, and then maybe we can talk about him killing the club.”

It has been too easy over recent years to paint the debate over Wenger’s future in black and white. There is more to it than being with him or against him. Just as those who don’t march to the Emirates holding banners do not necessarily want the manager to extend his contract neither do those who back the Frenchman do so unconditionally.

Laws-Keen thinks perhaps now would be the right time for Wenger to go, particularly if he can go out on a high with an FA Cup. Faiz doubts whether a succession plan is in place to ensure that next season does not see Arsenal decline as David Moyes does.

Perhaps the only thing that could reunite even the most virulent of the Wenger Out Brigade and Arsene Knows Bests is a consensus that the Arsenal board are doing little to ease the confusion.

“Wenger acts as a lightning rod for all the complaints of Arsenal fans,” Faiz explains. “That’s not fair on him. The board have to stand up and stop hiding behind him.”

In reality though even those who support Wenger so keenly they are willing to out themselves as among his last few backers in front of a global television audience of millions acknowledge what has been apparent for many weeks around the Emirates: that the manager’s failure to clarify his future plans is only heightening tensions.

That may be the case but still these fans, some of whom cannot quite remember even the glory years of Wenger’s tenure, will back their manager.

“I know we’ll get grief for this. I don’t care,” says Law-Keen. “All I want is that when he looks up in the 80th minute on Sunday, in the stadium he built, managing club he redefined, he knows there’s still some support there.”

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