London: Manager Arsene Wenger has urged fans to look at Arsenal's season "in perspective" ahead of a planned protest by supporters' groups during Saturday's Premier League match at home to Norwich City.
Black Scarf Movement, RedAction and the Arsenal Supporters Trust want Gunners fans present at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday to show placards saying: "Time for change. Arsenal is stale, fresh approach needed." Last week's goalless draw with Sunderland ended Arsenal's title hopes.
It is now 12 years since they were last crowned champions of England and the patience of many Gunners fans has snapped in a season where unheralded Leicester City are on the brink of taking the title. Meanwhile Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal's bitter north London rivals, are second -- and all this with Wenger's men failing to take advantage of the lapses in form suffered by usual contenders Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.
But Wenger, Arsenal's manager since 1996, has suggested fans are being "manipulated" by external critics and that supporters need to look at the club's "evolution" since they moved from Highbury to the nearby Emirates. "We have to put things a little bit into perspective and see how the club's evolution has gone over the years," Wenger said on Friday.
"It was not always easy. The quality of the work we've done at the club has got us into a strong position where expectations are very high, but we are frustrated when we don't get what we want. "When you build a stadium, we had five to seven difficult financial years where we had to pay back -- we had (to qualify) for the Champions League three years out of five and have an average (gate) of 54,000 people (to finance the new stadium).
We didn't know we would be capable of that," the 66-year-old Frenchman added. "We had to sell our best players every year to survive, but we didn't do three years out of five in the Champions League. We did five out of five. But during that time, it was very difficult." Former Tottenham midfielder turned Sky television pundit Jamie Redknapp said Wenger had "brainwashed" Arsenal fans into thinking fourth place and qualification for the Champions League was "good enough".
But Wenger responded Friday by saying: "The best chance (Arsenal supporters) can give our team is to be behind our team. "Some groups of people try to manipulate our fans, and I believe apart from an agenda, a personal agenda, a big ego, there's not a lot behind it.
"This team has character and attitude. Some people question them. I know them well, and they have less character than this team have. I saw them play and I know them very closely, and they shouldn't question this team's character. "When a club cannot enjoy anything any more, it's in trouble. In football you go down very quickly and come up very slowly. We have to stick together."