Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will again look to confound his critics when his side welcome in-form Newcastle United to the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League this weekend.
The Frenchman was jeered by a small group of Arsenal fans as he boarded a train following his team’s 3-2 loss at Stoke City last Saturday, in scenes widely condemned within the football community.
That loss meant Wenger’s side were unable to take advantage of league leaders Chelsea’s first defeat of the season and left the north London club in sixth spot, 13 points adrift of the head of the table.
A title challenge now seems unlikely and while Arsenal reacted positively by winning 4-1 at Galatasaray in the Champions League in mid-week, Wenger remains under scrutiny.
In particular, he has been criticised for his failure to strengthen his defence during the last transfer window, although the manager can point to an alarming run of injuries to key players this season.
A victory over Alan Pardew’s upwardly mobile Newcastle will be the best way to silence the doubters, and midfielder Aaron Ramsey says the players are fully behind their manager.
“It was obviously a disappointing first half at Stoke, but we did well in the second half and almost got back into it,” said the Wales international.
“It was important to bounce back from that defeat and we did that. Every player here wants to work hard for the manager. We proved that again on Tuesday night (against Galatasaray).
“He has been under some unfair criticism, but we are all out there; we are in it together. We wanted to get the result for us and for him.
“I think whenever we go into a game, he knows our qualities, always believes in us and gives us a great feeling for matches. Every time we go out there, we are representing ourselves, our club and our manager.”
– Pardew disgusted –
Wenger is one again facing problems in defence, with Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal injured and Calum Chambers suspended after being dismissed at Stoke.
Midfielder Mikel Arteta and winger Theo Walcott remain sidelined, while Ramsey could be forced out with a hamstring problem.
Meanwhile, Pardew fears the abuse levelled at Wenger last week could make his side’s task harder at the Emirates, because the vast majority of Arsenal fans will want to show their backing for the manager.
“I think 99 percent of Arsenal fans would have been ashamed of what happened and we could get the backlash from it,” Pardew said. “They will want to show him how much they love him.”
Pardew was disgusted by the way Wenger was targeted after the defeat at Stoke, which saw Arsenal come close to completing a comeback after falling 3-0 down.
“It was total disrespect,” said Pardew. “This is a guy who has done an unbelievable job and the stadium should have been named after him.
“When they moved houses (stadiums), they couldn’t have competed in the Champions League without him being so astute in the transfer market.
“Bearing in mind the debt they had when they first moved in, he has done an absolutely marvellous job. He’s had a couple of difficult results recently, but Arsene will get through it as every manager does.”
Newcastle are the Premier League’s form team following their 2-1 victory over Chelsea last week, which left them level on points with Arsenal in seventh place.
They will be without Moussa Sissoko and Steven Taylor because of suspension, while 21-year-old goalkeeper Jak Alnwick will start a league game for the first time because of injuries to Tim Krul and Rob Elliot.