Is it possible to like someone who hurts you?
Of course it is, otherwise we would all be divorced.
Nasty old Roberto Martinez hurt us badly on Monday night. He got his Wigan team to play so well against us that – heaven forfend – they may have cost us the three points that guarantee Champions League football next season, depending on how our remaining fixtures go.
But we can’t bring ourselves to hate Roberto. Quite the opposite, in fact: most Arsenal supporters seem to like and respect him.
Teams who spend most of the season in the relegation zone usually try to fight their way out of trouble by, er, fighting. They kick and shove and hoof the ball up the field in the hope that their big lumpy players will get to the ball ahead of the opposition’s big lumpy players.
But not Martinez. Even though most of his career at Wigan has been spent trying to avoid relegation (when I visited the place a couple of years ago I was really surprised that the town sign said just “Wigan”. I thought the place was called “Struggling Wigan”) his teams have always tried to play proper football.
They do daring things like passing and moving, playing the ball on the ground, that sort of thing. They employ clever tactics to counter their opponents.
So Monday’s defeat (and the previous Wigan victories over Manchester United and Chelsea*) have led to speculation that Martinez could be exactly the sort of man to replace Arsene Wenger.
Apart from the way he gets his side to play, he shares with Wenger an ability to pick up talented players on the cheap and that’s not the only similarity. Like Wenger, Martinez had an unspectacular playing career and has found his real calling as a manager.
And, like Arsenal, Wigan are one of the few clubs in the EPL who can show a “credit” line in their transfer dealings. In the five years up to the end of 2011, the ‘Latics made a net profit on transfers of £3.5 million. (It should be noted that Martinez did not start managing the club until the 2009/10 season).
So far so good.
But are the “Martinez for Arsenal” promoters really seeing the full picture?
Is Martinez as good as they think he is?
Since joining Wigan his win-lose-draw statistics look like this:
|P: 123||W: 31||D: 36||L: 56||WIN %: 25.2|
I know that Wigan are a small club with small support and little money, but a 25% win ratio is not great by any standards.
Last season they avoided relegation, but were in danger of the drop until the very last day of the season. They finished on 42 points. The season before, they finished six points above the drop zone, but amassed a total of only 36 points.
Martinez is showing himself to be something of a magician when it comes to pulling an end-of-season rabbit out of the hat every year.
His teams struggle for most of the campaign, then get their mojo together for the run-in, just in time to narrowly avoid finishing in the bottom three. A sort of poor man’s Everton.
That survive-against-the-odds quality is not to be sniffed at, but isn’t it a little worrying that, across three full seasons, Martinez has not been able to get his teams performing on a more stable and consistent basis?
By that measure, you would have to say that the likes of Norwich, Swansea and West Brom have all done better – and none of those clubs is awash with financial resources.
There is one final area where Martinez does not live up to the high standards of Arsene Wenger. Arsene is famous for never breaking a contract. When Martinez was at Swansea (from February 2007 to June 2009) he repeatedly said he would only ever leave the Swans if he was forced out. He also criticised Swansea players who left for money or to move to bigger clubs.
But as his reputation grew and bigger clubs came calling for him (Celtic and Wigan), Martinez showed no hesitation in dumping the Swans and joining Wigan.
It’s not a particularly heinous crime (it happens all the time in football), but the element of hypocrisy involved does not reflect well on the Spaniard. If he were to join Arsenal, could we ever feel secure that he wouldn’t up and off the moment he was tapped up for a national team job or to run one of Spain’s Big Two?
In conclusion, Roberto Martinez is clearly a clever manager who has a football philosophy that would sit well with the traditions Arsene Wenger has established at Arsenal. He also seems articulate and personally likeable.
But on the down side, he needs (in my opinion) to do more than mount a spirited fight against relegation every season to prove he can manage a club like Arsenal. If he can turn Wigan into a successful mid table side over the next couple of seasons that would be a fine achievement with the resources available to him. Maybe then he would be worth considering.
But for now? No gracias, Señor.
What do you think? And if we were to lose Arsene, who would you want to take his place?
* Officially Chelsea beat Wigan 2-1, but since both the Chelsea goals were offside, I count it as a moral victory for Wigan.