- Arsene Wenger labelled critical sections of Arsenal support as ‘virus’
- He felt virus spread in defeat last season to Saturday’s opposition Swansea
- Arsenal fans are often divided over support and criticism of manager
- Wenger said: ‘It is a virus that travels very quickly and goes very slowly’
Arsene Wenger has compared the negativity directed towards him from sections of Arsenal’s support to a virus.
The Frenchman felt that most keenly when Arsenal hosted Swansea at the Emirates in March. Playing against a severely weakened side, the atmosphere turned toxic when the Welsh club equalised and it only worsened when Ashley Williams struck a 74th-minute winner to leave Arsenal’s fans sick to the stomach and their title hopes virtually dead.
‘I must say that the negativity comes very quickly — it is a virus that travels very quickly and goes very slowly,’ Wenger said, looking back on that day.
He had a smile on his face as he spoke, knowing that things are different now. Arsenal have been beaten just once this season — in the opening game against Liverpool — and have won five matches in a row.
Arsenal’s manager considers that defeat against Swansea the lowest point of last season. They had just lost to Manchester United and were in need of a win against Francesco Guidolin’s struggling side to keep their title challenge alive.
‘We damaged our chances. We were really criticised a lot after the Tottenham game,’ Wenger (right) said of the following match which they drew with their rivals. ‘But against Tottenham we did extremely well to come back to 2-2 with 10 men.’
Wenger has a complex relationship with supporters after two decades at the club. It is two years in December since he was subjected to abuse at a Stoke-on-Trent train station platform after a 3-2 defeat.
The fans are often divided. Some often hold aloft banners at home games calling for him to leave, while others chant his name in support.
‘I believe at the moment the vibes are positive,’ Wenger said. ‘We are closer to the teams at the top. We have to continue to get to the next level. We have to create a positive environment and to do that we have to perform.
‘We want to perform. The rest we have to ignore. Let’s focus on the way we perform and the way we play.
‘You focus on what is important for you and what can help you; the way the team plays and the assessment of people around you. Fans are part of our game and they have the right to be happy or not to be happy. My job is to focus on my job and trying to make them happy.’
Speaking ahead of his first game in England, Swansea’s new manager Bob Bradley paid tribute to Wenger. The American said: ‘Pep Guardiola was speaking last week about Johan Cruyff’s influence being more than trophies, and if you look at what has happened over 20 years at Arsenal it’s the same kind of thing.’