The Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill thinks that his team can heap more misery on Arsene Wenger and Arsenal by knocking the Gunners out of the FA Cup today, but he doesn’t understand the stick that Wenger is getting from the TV pundits and Arsenal fans.
“I’m not here to defend Arsène Wenger. He doesn’t need defending by me, who isn’t his favourite character,” O’Neill said. “Very little surprises me in the game now but I am surprised at the criticism surrounding him. His influence on English football has been immense.
“If he left tomorrow morning he would be considered Arsenal’s greatest manager – and there have been some excellent ones. Much has been made of the fact they haven’t won a trophy for seven years but during that time they have qualified for the Champions League each season. They have also recently lost some quality players of the sort that are hard to replace immediately.”
The Black Cat’s boss knows that the criticism will always be laid at the door of one manager or another, just as Wenger said about “the crisis is like a fire, blowing in the wind from team to team.” O’Neill knows that things can change very quickly. “I noticed it the season before last when I was managing at Aston Villa,” O’Neill said.
“I just think it’s par for the course these days, people can make a statistic out of anything. It becomes your turn, then it flips around. Wenger made that point – if you win a couple of games it moves on to someone else for a while and comes back round again. While it remains like that you just have to live with it.
“It’s symptomatic of the game today but not every single team can win the Premier League. That’s not to say that managers of yesteryear weren’t chased out though. Lets be fair, if you don’t win enough games then you know that, eventually, you will be in trouble.”
But, having said all that, O’Neill still thinks his team are good enough to beat Arsenal today and possibly put Wenger in further trouble. “We are capable of winning,” O’Neill said. “We have one or two players who can definitely cause Arsenal problems.”
I wonder if O’Neill and Wenger will be shaking each others hands at the end of this very interesting match….