Haunted Arsenal boss Wenger running into the last man he wants to face
Arsene Wenger probably feels as though he has been living a
recurring nightmare over recent weeks.
Unfortunately for the under-fire Arsenal manager, things are
not about to get any easier.
The Frenchman seems incapable of shaking himself and his
underperforming side from their slumber, with cup successes
over non-league opposition providing mere slivers of light in
Wenger will be hoping to be woken with a start this weekend,
but he could just as easily slip deeper into a world of cold
sweats and anxious looking over the shoulder.
At a time in which bogeymen are the last thing the beleaguered
Gunners boss needs, he is about to run head-first into one.
Jose Mourinho may be his Freddy Krueger, a seemingly
indestructible figure that relentlessly disturbs his dreams
from one season to the next, but Tony Pulis is the monster that
lives under his bed.
Wenger has, for the most part, been able to contain that
presence when in the comforts of his own home at the Emirates,
but the spirits have had a tendency to run wild when the
67-year-old packs his bags and heads out on the road.
A Welshman donning a tracksuit and cap has become a haunting
figure that all too often has left visitors to his humble abode
unable to explain the events that they have just witnessed.
In seven previous meetings with Wenger on his own patch, Pulis
has suffered just one defeat – with that solitary setback
coming over seven years ago in February 2010.
Outside of that result, across spells with Stoke City and West
Bromwich Albion (he did not face Arsenal at Selhurst Park while
with Crystal Palace), there have been four successes for Pulis
and two draws.
Given that those under his guidance have never been considered
the most glamorous of sides, while the Gunners pride themselves
on being an outfit for the football purists, a wily old
campaigner has shown that the establishment can be challenged
with the right approach.
Wenger, who has often cut a confused and frustrated figure when
faced with seemingly paranormal activity on unfamiliar
territory, has spun many an excuse in an effort to explain his
failings, with his quip regarding Stoke’s perceived strong-arm
tactics in 2010 perhaps his most infamous.
He said at the time: “I believe everybody looks at his squad
and tries to find a way where the game is most efficient and we
developed one way. It is not the only way, I respect every
other way as long as the referees get the rules respected.
[But] I saw some footage last Sunday; you cannot say any more
it is football, it is rugby on the goalkeepers [rather] than
Stoke subsequently embraced the accusations levelled against
them, with “1-0 to the rugby team” becoming a popular chant in
Pulis, meanwhile, has positively revelled in his role as the
underdog and offered plenty of soundbites down the years that
have served to further rile Wenger, while amusing the neutrals.
“Wenger is moaning like a drain because it doesn’t suit
Arsenal,” he said after seeing a fixture schedule questioned.
He would later go on to say: “I’ve got nothing against foreign
managers, they are very nice people. Apart from Arsene Wenger.”
Pulis has found a way of getting inside Wenger’s head, of
getting the Frenchman to question himself and his tactics
before a ball has even been kicked – with Stoke still
benefiting from the seeds he sowed as their impressive unbeaten
run on home soil against the Gunners continues.
He will be hoping to enjoy similar success at The Hawthorns on
Saturday, with battle plans that will unquestionably include
tried and tested methods against Arsenal already drawn up.
Wenger, meanwhile, needs to start facing his demons, with the
north London natives growing restless as calls for change mount
Victory in the Black County will not silence the critics or
exorcise his ghosts, but it would allow him to sleep a little
easier through the international break and potentially offer
the last word in what could be a final showdown with Pulis the