Wenger must win a trophy, or else...

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger walks off the pitch following their English Premier League soccer match defeat to Stoke City at the Britannia stadium in Stoke-on-Trent, central England March 1

Former Arsenal striker Alan Smith says that Arsene Wenger might have to win the FA Cup if he's to stave off criticism from impatient supporters.

Speaking to The New Paper in an exclusive interview just before Arsenal's 1-0 defeat by Stoke last Saturday, the 51-year-old said that if he were a supporter, he'd reserve judgment on the boss until the end of the season.

"They're still in the FA Cup," said Smith.

"If they were to lose to Everton in the quarter-finals in poor fashion, then people will ask, 'Where does the future lie?'.

"But if you can win that competition, which is not going to be easy, then you're looking forward rather than over your shoulder. "A lot rests on the next few months. There are supporters who feel that the board are a little too in awe of Arsene (far right), that they don't ask enough questions.

"But then again, Arsenal are a team that have been top of the table for much of the season, so I don't think you can call it a crisis."

"It was all sweetness and light until a few months back and then we had the Manchester City defeat and that Liverpool defeat and then the crowd get restless again. "There are those who doubt that Wenger can take the team that extra mile and compete with the best.

"I think a lot depends on how he goes for the rest of the season. "He looked like he'd won them over, but now there's a faction sitting on the edge of their seats wondering which way it's going to go.

Obviously, winning a trophy will do him a world of good."

Given that Arsenal trail Bayern Munich in the Champions League and face an uphill battle to regain ground on leaders Chelsea, the FA Cup is Arsenal's last realistic chance of a trophy.

But why do Arsenal keep faltering?

"Having gone all those years without a trophy, it does require a certain amount of mental strength to break that duck and they need to show that in the next few months," said Smith.

 

HUGE GAME

They've City at the Emirates coming up and that's a huge game. I do think they need a landmark victory against one of the title-chasers. "They need to climb that barrier and, if they do get a good victory against the likes of City, then all of a sudden, the belief will increase."

Smith won two league titles, both domestic cups and a European Cup Winners' Cup at Arsenal, but his generation was forced to learn how to win trophies on their own.

"When we first got together, there weren't many of us who had won too much," said Smith.

"One or two had won a domestic cup but, in terms of winning the league, we didn't have any experience to call upon, apart from our manager George Graham. "You do need big characters in the dressing room and I think Arsenal have got bigger characters now than they have had in the past.

"The likes of Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta, they'll speak their mind.

Even Jack Wilshere has got good leadership characteristics about him."

Smith left the club before the arrival of Wenger, but he said that the Frenchman has never been a manager too obsessed over tactics. "Wenger has never really been a coach in the tactical sense and that's what makes his success quite unique," said Smith.

"He's not one for tweaks or tactical substitutions, he usually makes changes because players are tired. What he's achieved has been done by earmarking good players, getting them right physically, sending them out allowing them to express themselves.

He's certainly not a man who ever shows signs of changing because he has full confidence in his methods."

Smith, who scored 115 goals for Arsenal in eight years with the club, believes that Mesut Oezil could still have a major part to play in the remainder of the season. "We haven't seen his best so far," said Smith. "I think back to the Napoli game when he played so well, but it hasn't happened anywhere near enough.

"Maybe the pace of the game has caught him out. He's got this style of running, this body language that makes it look like he wants all the time in the world on the ball. "I think that sometimes, when you're not playing well, that can look like you're not trying or that you're being lazy.

"I think his confidence is low. It might be next year that we see his best. But you would hope that in the remaining months he can contribute. He's good player, he can play a part.

But without question, the Arsenal fans haven't seen the best of him yet." Smith admitted that there had been lots of occasions during his own career when his form had deserted him.

OPINION

"I would talk to the manager and he would offer his opinion and I'd get my head down on work on it," he said. "I think when you go a few games without scoring, you start snatching at things. It happens to every footballer at some time or another.

"It's a horrible thing. You go out on the pitch and you don't go with a clear mind, you go with a pessimistic outlook.

"That's when you grit your teeth, get your head down, try and do the basics right and hope that things come good."

Alan Smith will be attending the London Football Legends Awards on Thursday that will recognise London's footballing heroes. The annual Awards will raise funds for Willow - a national UK charity providing special days for seriously ill 16- to 40-year-olds, founded by fellow Arsenal legend Bob Wilson. For more information, visit willowfoundation.org.uk/londonfootballlegends.

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