Wenger feels for Zola
Arsene Wenger has plenty of sympathy for Gianfranco Zola, as the West Ham United manager continues to battle against problems caused by the credit crunch. Arsenal are proud of their self-sustaining business model, built around the 60,000-seater Emirates Stadium which, so far, has meant that they have not had to rely solely on the financial input of one individual. The Hammers, though, are one of several Barclays Premier League clubs whose owners have found themselves troubled by the recent economic downturn, as their Icelandic former chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson was hit hard and forced to sell the club.
While not forced into a complete fire sale, Zola has had his team-building plans somewhat restricted and, despite a few positive performances, West Ham head into tomorrow's London derby at Upton Park second-bottom. Wenger can empathise with the plight of the Italian coach, on whom he will look to increase the pressure by making it five league wins in a row.
"I have a big deal of sympathy for him," Wenger said. "I believe he is doing well, but of course he has lost players, and like a lot of teams they have had to cut their expenses. From then on it becomes more difficult."
Wenger reflected: "When the quality of a football club is linked with the financial situation of any given person, you have a risk involved that the club could suffer because of the personal situation of the owner."
The Gunners manager, though, believes that under the circumstances, Zola is doing an admirable job. "I believe no matter what kind of players you have, it is always important to play in a positive way, as it is the best way to be successful," he said. "That is what he tries to do.
"Zola had good results at the end of last season," said Wenger. "This season he has had less good results, but there is still a long way to go."
Wenger this week celebrated his 60th birthday and maintains he has no plans to leave the Arsenal dugout any time soon. The French coach, though, accepts that had he started out in the modern game, he perhaps may not have been so fortunate as to have lasted so long.
"I was in charge at 33 and to survive at that age is not easy," said the former Monaco and Grampus Eight coach, who took charge at Highbury some 13 years ago, recently becoming the longest-serving manager in Arsenal's history.
"You can see with many young managers, it is difficult when you start with such a big responsibility. I was very, very, very lucky to still be in charge today."
With Wenger reaching his personal milestone earlier this week, there has been the inevitable question of just who might one day replace him in the Arsenal hotseat. Gunners legend Thierry Henry, now at Barcelona, has made no secret of his desire to one day return to the club, perhaps in a coaching capacity. Wenger, though, will not let talk of the next Arsenal manager cloud his judgment in the challenges ahead.
"You cannot give 100 per cent for your job every day and think who will replace you," he said. "I always believe that a good club is where everybody does the job they are responsible for.
"The players are responsible to play; they play. The manager is responsible to make decisions; he makes decisions. The board make the long-term decisions; they do it. It is not my job."
The Gunners manager also has no qualms about the on-going ownership issue at Emirates Stadium, with American billionaire Stan Kroenke now close to the 29.9 per cent takeover threshold.
"For me, the only important thing is that the club is run properly in every department," Wenger said. "The most important department in any football club is what is happening on the pitch. As long as whoever owns the club does not interfere with what we do on the pitch, then for me it is okay."