Wenger finds defeat hard to swallow
Arsenal did not cover themselves in glory as they slipped tamely out of the Carling Cup at Manchester City - a defeat compounded by the post-match attitude of manager Arsene Wenger.
Wenger has had better weeks after watching both his team and football philosophy take heavy punishment as Chelsea brutally exposed his senior players at the Emirates and his youngsters were brushed aside at an atmospheric Eastlands on Wednesday.
But there was no excuse for his churlish refusal to shake hands with opposite number Mark Hughes at the conclusion of a quarter-final deservedly won by City, or his later public belittling of the tournament.
Wenger has lavished many gifts on the game since his arrival at Arsenal, but grace in defeat has not been one of them. This was the latest example of a darker side to his football personality.
City deserved all the praise and the spotlight after progressing to their first major semi-final in 28 years, and yet Wenger managed to offend Hughes and claim headlines by refusing to observe even the basic managerial protocol at the final whistle.
Hughes and Wenger had a difference of opinion on the touchline during the game
Hughes is not exactly behind the door when it comes to the finer points of technical area combat, but he had both the result and the moral high ground to himself thanks to Wenger turning on his heel and marching off in high dudgeon without acknowledging his victorious opposite number.
The dismissive and ironic wave Hughes aimed in Wenger's decision as he swept down the Eastlands tunnel only highlighted the pettiness of the Arsenal manager's gesture.
Wenger had already raised eyebrows with a refusal to accept Chelsea's supremacy in Sunday's 3-0 win at the Emirates, threatening to produce some form of statistical spreadsheet to confirm his theory, while insisting Didier Drogba had done little - apart from actually winning the game for Carlo Ancelotti's side.
Here, there was no statistic to turn to or refereeing error to debate - so sadly this most intellectual of managers and men was simply reduced to the status of a sore loser and, rather like his youthful and well beaten Arsenal team, it was not a pretty sight.
Wenger was spectacularly unrepentant under questioning later as he said: "I'm free to shake hands with who I want after the game."
And when asked whether it was not simple professional courtesy to do so, he responded: "I had no professional courtesy." Shoddy stuff.
Hughes believes what he regarded as a minor technical area spat in the first half was at the root of the rancour - but Wenger's reaction, like watching a fine wine turn sour, did him no credit.
Wenger was in equally unequivocal mood when I asked him about the worth of the Carling Cup to a manager who has not won a trophy since 2005 and yet appears happy to sacrifice the chance of a Wembley appearance for the sake of giving his young players experience.
He said: "We have not won a trophy since 2005 but I don't concede that if we win the Carling Cup we can then have a parade with the trophy. It is a competition for our young players. To play the quarter-final of the Champions League, or the semi-final or final, is 10 times more difficult than to win the Carling Cup."
The trouble is Arsenal have not won the Champions League either. Their supporters might actually enjoy the opportunity of a major Wembley final and Wenger's supply of silverware has not been so lavish recently that he can afford to be as picky. He is not exactly a beggar when it comes to winning trophies, but he has not had enough recent success to be a chooser either.
If Arsenal were to win the Carling Cup there is little doubt Wenger would produce it as a prime exhibit in the vindication of his devotion to developing young talent, so he should not denigrate it when they get knocked out.
Arsenal cannot live forever on promises of potential or jam tomorrow. By dismissing the Carling Cup in such a cavalier manner, Wenger is training his sights even more clearly on the Premier League, Champions League and the FA Cup and recent evidence suggests at least two of those trophies are beyond the compass of his current squad.
Wenger has his methods and will not be moved from them, but recent performances suggest that while his principles hardly require consigning to the dustbin, they need a rethink if trophies are to return to Arsenal.
As I have written here before, I am a huge admirer of Wenger as a manager who wants the game played in a purist manner and has principles he adheres to fixedly. He is also a hugely engaging figure when dealing with the media, declining to dodge questions and with a great sense of humour.
He has, however, developed a reputation as someone who simply cannot take defeat and this was a particularly poor example.
Sir Alex Ferguson, to name but one of many we could identify, detests the very thought of losing and often reacts badly, but he can still bring himself to shake hands with the opposition manager. Imagine how Hughes himself must have felt when confronted by Ferguson after losing the Manchester derby in the sixth minute of stoppage time this season, but he still sought out his old manager.
Hughes was rightly delighted with City's performance, a positive and bristling effort that was in sharp contrast to the negativity and timidity of their recent display at Liverpool. And how they made a nonsense of Wenger's downgrading of the Carling Cup.
Vladimir Weiss celebrates after scoring City's third goal against Arsenal
Forget the placing of flags on seats - City's hierarchy should be aware their wonderful fans do not need props to provoke their passion for the club - because there was no need for artificial stimulants. This was a night to savour for City as they saw a Wembley final come into sight once more.
The dimming of Eastlands' lights while a "Blue Moon" illuminated the stadium in the seconds before kick-off was a clever touch though, and had the desired dramatic effect.
City, in reality, had little trouble dealing with a young Arsenal team that showed little of the quality that Wenger hopes will mark them down as the new golden generation of the Emirates.
Craig Bellamy was in the sort of mood where he could cause a fight in an empty room, but harnessed all his emotion to the good. Shaun Wright-Phillips terrorised Arsenal down the right-flank and Emmanuel Adebayor set aside his personal differences with his old club to strain every sinew in his effort to provide a focal point for his new one.
Carlos Tevez's brilliant solo opener knocked the stuffing out of Arsenal and further strikes from Wright-Phillips and Vladimir Weiss gave the scoreline a flourish City deserved.
And then came the added bonus - or at least that is what Hughes said it was - of a two-legged semi-final meeting with Manchester United.
Dare Ferguson risk fielding a youthful side and risk giving the club he called "noisy neighbours" even more reason to have a party on his doorstep?
There was a lively bash at Eastlands at the final whistle on Wednesday - but Wenger left without even offering his best wishes to the host and in doing so did himself no favours.
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