Arsene Wenger’s Emirates swansong highlights stunning hypocrisy of Arsenal fans

Arsene Wenger’s Emirates swansong highlights stunning hypocrisy of Arsenal fans
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Arsenal fans hold "Wenger Out" banners in reference to Arsenal's French manager Arsene Wenger. (AFP)
Arsene Wenger’s Emirates swansong highlights stunning hypocrisy of Arsenal fans
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Arsene Wenger's final season after 22 years in charge is destined to end in disappointment after Thursday's Europa League semi-final exit. (AFP)
Updated 07 May 2018

Arsene Wenger’s Emirates swansong highlights stunning hypocrisy of Arsenal fans

Arsene Wenger’s Emirates swansong highlights stunning hypocrisy of Arsenal fans
  • Arsene Wenger managed his last home league game for Arsenal at the weekend - a 5-0 thrashing of Burnley
  • Wenger has come in for criticism and abuse from Arsenal fans over the season

LONDON: As chants of “One Arsene Wenger” rang out around the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon — where the Gunners ruthlessly dismantled Burnley in a performance reminiscent of Wenger’s heyday — one had to question the hypocrisy of Arsenal supporters.
A matter of weeks before, a toxic atmosphere swept around the terraces of Arsenal’s glittering north London home almost every game. The fans had consistently turned on their manager in a spectacular display of vitriol and anger. The fact that a club legend like Wenger had suffered this ignominy for month after month shows how little the Arsenal fans wanted him in the hot seat.
So, to hear the gushing praise trickle down from the Arsenal faithful suggested one of two things. Either the naysayers and the ‘#WengerOut’ brigade had stayed away for the final home game of his remarkable 22-year career, or those who had once called for Wenger’s head quickly changed their tune once he offered it himself on a silver platter.
To the rest of the world, it reeked of two-faced duplicity.
Wenger is one of the last of a near-extinct breed: Namely, a manager who stayed more than three seasons. A manager who created a footballing culture that became synonymous with the club he ran. A manager who bucked the trend and took risks in the quest for success. A manager who defined the very essence of his club.

 

We should remember that the classy, bespectacled Frenchman was a unique specimen when he arrived at Arsenal back in 1996. The very few foreign managers who had dared to manage an English club before him had failed. Yet Wenger brought with him not only a footballing ideology, but a new approach to the professional game. After Wenger’s almost-instant success, it was not long before the English top flight was littered with European or South American coaches also equipped with “diet plans” and “quirky systems” different to the stale, tired English 4-4-2.
Wenger’s impact on the game in England was as seismic as Herbert Chapman’s WM formation change at Arsenal in the 1930s, the advent of the offside rule, or the introduction of the Premier League itself.
And his impact on Arsenal will never be forgotten. He transformed the club from occasional, plucky victors into one of the world’s most recognizable football clubs.
For all the sighs of relief and teary-eyed farewells from Arsenal fans at the Emirates at the weekend, there will be a sense of uncertainty surrounding the Gunners this summer. Just as Manchester United fans painfully pondered after Sir Alex Ferguson retired, Arsenal fans may well be asking themselves “Who can replace such a legend?”
Arsenal had the last of an ever-disappearing species — a manager able to craft teams and build a reign of all-conquering success over decades. But Wenger became a man who was left behind by the rapidly-changing landscape of top-level English football. It could well turn out that Arsenal fans rue hounding Wenger out of their club. What is certain, however, is that world football has lost its last bastion of great, dynastic managers.
And it feels all the poorer for it.

FASTFACTS

Wenger's winning ways

In a staggering 1,233 matches at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger has won 706.


Ons Jabeur becomes first Arab woman to win WTA title with Birmingham triumph

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur celebrates winning her final match against Russia's Daria Kasatkina. (Action Images via Reuters)
Tunisia's Ons Jabeur celebrates winning her final match against Russia's Daria Kasatkina. (Action Images via Reuters)
Updated 20 June 2021

Ons Jabeur becomes first Arab woman to win WTA title with Birmingham triumph

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur celebrates winning her final match against Russia's Daria Kasatkina. (Action Images via Reuters)
  • Jabeur, ranked 24 in the world, has been in fine form this season
  • Kasatkina had beaten Jabeur twice in three-set affairs

BIRMINGHAM, UK: Ons Jabeur became the first Arab woman to win a WTA title on Sunday when the Tunisian beat Daria Kasatkina of Russia 7-5, 6-4 in an engrossing hour and a half tussle in Birmingham.
Jabeur, the second seed, gained a measure of revenge as she secured her first title at the expense of Kasatkina, one of two women to have beaten her in her previous finals appearances.
“I knew I had to go for it, I had to win this title to at least breathe and give an example,” said Jabeur.
“There’s not a lot of Tunisian or Arabic players playing, so I hope this could inspire them, and I want to see more Arab (players) and Tunisians playing with me on tour.”
Jabeur, ranked 24 in the world, has been in fine form this season where she ranks alongside former world number one Ashleigh Barty in terms of matches (28) won.
The 26-year-old held her nerve despite Kasatkina breaking back when Jabeur served for the first set at 5-4.
Jabeur, though, broke world number 35 Kasatkina immediately and this time she made no mistake in serving to win the set.
Kasatkina had beaten Jabeur twice in three-set affairs.
However, her opponent did not give her a sniff of a chance of a repeat of forcing her into a decider as she raced into a 4-0 lead in the second set.
Kasatkina, winner of two titles this season, fought her way back to 4-3 down but the Tunisian remained focused, sealing the title on her first match point when the Russian netted.
Jabeur revealed the pain of her defeat to Kasatkina in a final in Moscow in 2018 where she pleaded with her to be more generous the next time they met.
“Last time we played was in Moscow, she (Kasatkina) won, and I was crying, it was a great battle,” said Jabeur.
“I told her, ‘Can you please share some titles with me, at least, let me win my first WTA?’”


Max Verstappen, Red Bull deny Lewis Hamilton in French Grand Prix thriller

Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives ahead of Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton during the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul-Ricard in Le Castellet, southern France, on June 20, 2021. (AFP)
Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives ahead of Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton during the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul-Ricard in Le Castellet, southern France, on June 20, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 20 June 2021

Max Verstappen, Red Bull deny Lewis Hamilton in French Grand Prix thriller

Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives ahead of Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton during the French Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul-Ricard in Le Castellet, southern France, on June 20, 2021. (AFP)
  • The Red Bull driver hunted down and overtook the world champion with over a lap to go
  • Christian Horner, the architect of Red Bull's revival, hailed “a great race”

LE CASTELLET, France: Max Verstappen won the French Grand Prix on Sunday to extend his lead over Lewis Hamilton in the drivers' title race and leave the world champion's Mercedes team “with a big fight” to retain control of their Formula One fiefdom.
The Red Bull driver hunted down and overtook the world champion with over a lap to go at a gusty Le Castellet to claim his third win out of seven races this season.
“Towards the end I enjoyed it! At the beginning it was super difficult out there with the wind,” said Verstappen.
This was a massive statement by the Dutch driver and his resurgent Red Bull team who won their third successive race after Monaco and Baku.
It pushed Verstappen 12 points clear of Hamilton ahead of back-to-back races on Red Bull turf in Austria.
Mercedes, for so long used to ruling the roost, are relishing the two-team title battle.
“We're in for a big fight this season and we'll have to dig deep as a team. We are up for it!” they tweeted.
Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull came in third with Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes finishing fourth at the circuit where the mesmerising light blue and red striped contours evoked a trippy psychedelic 1960s album cover.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner had said before the race “if we can beat them here we can beat them anywhere” of Mercedes, who were itching to get back onto a regular track like the circuit Paul Ricard after getting lost on the streets of Monaco and Baku.
But things got off to a bumpy beginning for pole sitter Verstappen, who went off the track in a horror start coming out of turn one, Hamilton accepting the unexpected gift to take the lead.
“I couldn't keep the car under control,” complained Verstappen.
Hamilton had led 105 of the 106 laps for his wins here in 2018 and 2019, and he set about extending his near total stranglehold at the Provencal track.
Approaching a third of the 53-lap race Hamilton had established a near three second gap back to Verstappen, with Bottas and Perez in pursuit.
With drivers starting to complain of tyre wear Charles Leclerc was the first to come into the pits for a change of footwear for his Ferrari.
Verstappen wasn't far behind, with Hamilton coming in for a slick stop on lap 20, coming out as Verstappen flashed past with Perez, still to pit, the new leader.
The Mexican, winner in Baku last time out, was hauled in on lap 25, leaving Verstappen in the lead and Hamilton half a second behind.
“We can't keep this up until the end of the race that's for sure” Verstappen told his pits over the team radio referring to tyres on lap 29.
And on lap 32 in he came in again, resuming in fourth, 25sec behind Hamilton, but with better grip he was only seven seconds behind in third by lap 40.
With nine laps to go Verstappen muscled past Bottas, the gap ahead to Hamilton just five seconds.
Hunting his prey down it made for an epic end for the 15,000 fans allowed in due to the easing of coronavirus restrictions in France.
And he duly picked off the Silver Arrows on the penultimate lap to trigger wild celebrations in the Red Bull garage.
“The whole race me and Lewis were fighting each other, so it will be like this the rest of the season,” Verstappen said.
Horner, the architect of Red Bull's revival, hailed “a great race.”
“You only having to look how close it is between the teams. It's nip and tuck for the championship.”
He added that “today was payback for Barcelona!” in reference to how Mercedes had hoodwinked them with a two-stop strategy at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Hamilton was generous in his praise for Verstappen.
“Congrats to Max he did a great job today, they had the better strength all weekend.”
The Briton, stuck on 98 career wins, added: “Considering we had such a difficult Friday I am really happy with today's result of course we didn't win and we was in the lead but I had no tyres left at the end so unfortunately lost the position but still it was a good race.”


AFC left with questions to answer ahead of draw for final 2022 World Cup qualifying round

AFC left with questions to answer ahead of draw for final 2022 World Cup qualifying round
Updated 20 June 2021

AFC left with questions to answer ahead of draw for final 2022 World Cup qualifying round

AFC left with questions to answer ahead of draw for final 2022 World Cup qualifying round
  • The identity of the 12 competing nations may be known, but where the matches will take place is still up in the air

Something unusual happened on Friday. FIFA announced the new rankings only for 12 teams in Asia so the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) can, on July 1, go ahead with the draw for the third round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup.

This will separate the surviving dozen into two groups of six who will battle it out from September to March, with the top two from each automatically going to Qatar. Sounds easy but while the “who” and the “when” are already decided, the issue that is going to dominate in the cramped corridors of AFC house in Kuala Lumpur over the next few weeks with countries still battling COVID-19 is “where.”

After leading Australia to top spot in Group B, coach Graham Arnold admitted that he was in the dark as to whether the Socceroos will be able to play Down Under any time soon. “You’re asking me what’s going to happen next with the Socceroos? I don’t know,” Arnold said last week. “I don’t know if we’ll play in Australia at all this year and where we’ll play overseas, I’ve got no idea.”

Ideas are starting to be thrown around, however. Officially, at the moment, the games will be played in the traditional home-and-away format but, as things stand in terms of the travel restrictions that are in place in a number of countries, there are questions as to whether this will be possible.

That will be the first priority. It is possible that given the importance most nations place on the World Cup, that hitherto-reluctant authorities will be willing to host home legs in the coming weeks and months. If enough are ready to do so (Iraq and Syria don’t play at home anyway), then even if there are a couple of serious dissenters, they will be given a choice: To follow the format or play their home legs — at least in the early stages — away.

This may not be possible, however, and could mean a huge headache.

The second half of the second round was played at centralized venues, but while there was plenty of debate, there wasn’t a huge amount of rancor. Iran were angry at being sent to Bahrain, partly as it meant they played seven out of eight games away from home but this was partly due to the fact the team were struggling at the time. Smaller teams were not in the running for top spot so didn’t mind so much being hosted in, for example, Saudi Arabia or Japan. That won’t be the case in the third round with the big boys battling for a World Cup place.

As one AFC official said, “The second round was relatively easy to sort out. Most of the big nations hosted the games and there weren’t many complaints aside from Iran. Australia also had to go away but as their government’s travel restrictions were so tight, they understood. Also, playing Nepal twice on foreign soil was not seen as a major problem but playing Japan twice in Japan would be very different.” 

If there are centralized venues, the simple question is one that is very difficult to answer. Who hosts them? With the World Cup at stake, most of the 12 will be very keen to have home advantage.

“You can imagine the rows if Japan have to play all their games in South Korea or vice-versa,” said the official. There could be rotating hosts with one country hosting two or three games at a time, but this also leaves the games at the mercy of travel restrictions.

While the AFC will wait until the draw is made to really start investigating the issue, there are possible solutions. At the moment, the expectation is that it will be easier to sell neutral venues to the contenders. This happened as recently as the 1990 and 1994 World Cups with the final games being played in Singapore and Qatar respectively.

The obvious option now is Qatar. The country successfully hosted AFC Champions League games last year and with the World Cup just over a year away, it has the stadiums and the know-how and, crucially, is not involved in qualification. Officials believe there will be plenty of pushback but that would fade as countries realize there are not many better options and the important thing is just to finish qualification. 

After being on the backfoot and reacting to events throughout the second round, the AFC now wants to be as proactive as possible and the feeling is that Qatar offers as much certainty as is possible at the moment. 

The question then changes into when. If the games take place along the already-set FIFA windows, it means a lot of traveling for some countries and almost none for others, and there may be a push for a second neutral venue over in the east. 

All 10 games (per team) taking place over an intensive month would be ideal, but back in the 1990s there were few Asian players in Europe meaning that it was a case of just organizing domestic leagues. Now, many of the biggest stars don’t play in Asia and would not be released by clubs for a month of busy football.

Some feel that the best way forward is reducing the number of games with the thinking being that, if there is a neutral venue then you don’t need home-and-away legs. Playing five games instead of 10 means that enough space can be found in the calendar.

There is no easy option, however, and that means a lot of difficult conversations following the draw on July 1.


2021-22 Saudi football league season set to start on Aug. 12

2021-22 Saudi football league season set to start on Aug. 12
Updated 20 June 2021

2021-22 Saudi football league season set to start on Aug. 12

2021-22 Saudi football league season set to start on Aug. 12
  • Saudi Professional League announce tentative date to Ministry of Sport, with first FIFA break coming after three rounds of the competition

The Saudi Professional League (SPL) has set Aug. 12 as a tentative date for the start of the 2021-2022 domestic season, Arabic sports daily Arriyadiyah has reported.

According to sources close to the SPL, the association informed the Technical Affairs Agency in the Ministry of Sports of the initial date for the start of the league season in order to complete all maintenance work for the stadiums and prepare them ahead of time.

The 2020-21 season concluded on May 30, with Al-Hilal claiming a record 17th title. Since then, Saudi Arabia’s senior national team has concluded the second round of the AFC qualification for the 2022 World Cup and progressed to the last stage set to take place in September.

The sources also indicated that three rounds of the league will be played before a 10-day international break takes place, which sees the Saudi squad convene for the first time in the season.


Sudan overcome Libya to reach 2021 FIFA Arab Cup as the first of the qualifiers

Sudan overcome Libya to reach 2021 FIFA Arab Cup as the first of the qualifiers
Updated 20 June 2021

Sudan overcome Libya to reach 2021 FIFA Arab Cup as the first of the qualifiers

Sudan overcome Libya to reach 2021 FIFA Arab Cup as the first of the qualifiers
  • The competition, backed by FIFA for the first time, takes place in Doha later this year

Exactly one year before the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off, football fans from across the Arab world can savor the atmosphere of international tournaments when the newly introduced FIFA Arab Cup takes place in Qatar between Nov. 27 and Dec. 18 this year.

That journey started on Saturday as Sudan and Libya met in Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium in the first of seven play-off matches where the 14 lowest ranked national teams in the region compete for a place in the finals. They will join the nine sides that have already qualified for the 16-team tournament in Qatar.

In the coming week the Qatari capital will host one game a day as Oman play Somalia, Jordan faces South Sudan, Mauritania takes on Yemen, Lebanon play Djibouti, Palestine go against Comoros and Gulf neighbors Kuwait and Bahrain lock horns in the final qualifying play-off on Friday.

On Saturday, attendance was limited to 30 percent capacity, with only vaccinated fans allowed entry, but the presence of several thousands of fans at Khalifa Stadium offered a glimpse of what to expect this winter. The crowd on Saturday predominantly belonged to Sudan, home to an estimated 60,000 expats in Qatar, but there was a small, vocal Libyan presence too.

On the pitch, Sudan showed its attacking intent from the start. Coach Hubert Velud’s men came racing out of the block, applying a high press system to retrieve the ball deep in their opponents’ half and creating chances almost at will. Their approach paid dividends at the quarter-hour mark when Saif Eldin Malik reacted fastest to reach a loose ball inside the Libyan box, drawing a foul from youngster Tahir bin Amir. Talisman Mohammed Abdelrahman stepped up confidently and converted from the spot, sending goalkeeper Mohammed Nashnush the wrong way.

Libya looked every bit a team still in search of a new playing identity in what was the first match in charge for coach Javier Clemente. The veteran Spaniard has returned for a second spell, having guided the Mediterranean Knights to African Nations Championship glory in 2014. Faisal Al-Badri tested the Sudanese goalkeeper from 30 yards out and Kuwait-based Ammar Al-Sanousi’s misconnecting volley was the only other big chance for the Libyans before the break.

Cautious not to allow their opponent space to run into, Sudan looked to hold on to its one-goal advantage with a slow passing game after the restart but this nearly backfired on the 57-minute mark as Libya’s Mohammed Zubya rose unopposed to power a header that goalkeeper Ali Abu Eshreen managed to keep out.

Abu Eshreen, who had been instrumental in Sudan’s successful African Cup of Nations qualification campaign, once more demonstrated his quality to deny Muad Eisay. The Libyan substitute outmuscled his marker and had the goal at his mercy but could not get past the Sudanese goalkeeper.

Romanian-born Yasin Hamed came off the bench for Sudan midway through the second half, replacing Malik, and he looked lively, with a curled effort that passed agonizingly wide of the upright. The 21-year-old is growing into an influential member of the Sudan squad, having switched allegiances from Romania to his father’s home country in 2019.  

Any notion of the Arab Cup being a redundant friendly tournament was dispelled by the scenes at the final whistle with emotions running high as the Sudanese players celebrated in front of their large following. There were even tears on the other side with this result coming on the back of Libya’s failure to reach the 2021 African Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

Sudan had booked its place in Cameroon three months earlier, and now Abdelrahman’s goal sealed qualification to the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup. It will serve as perfect preparation for the Falcons of Jediane ahead of their return to the African competition they won in 1970.

Sudan face North African powerhouses Algeria and Egypt in Group D of the Arab Cup in Doha, while the fourth spot in the group will be contested on Wednesday between Lebanon and Djibouti.

“The Falcons of Jediane once more taught us that our strength lies in our unity,” tweeted Sudan Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok after the match, congratulating the team and hailing the support of the Sudanese community in Qatar.

In the upcoming Arab Cup fans across the region will be immersed in such hype in a competition that taps into a pan-Arab identity and is being presented as an official FIFA tournament for the very first time.