Arsene Wenger admits Arsenal are struggling to win back their furious fans after thousands stayed away from the 3-0 Premier League win over Watford.
For the second successive game at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal played in front of vast swathes of empty red seats on Sunday.
Arsenal blamed heavy snow for the low attendance in their recent defeat against Manchester City, but the no-show against Watford could only be put down to a fatal combination of anger and apathy after another miserable season.
“Must be -4 and snowing again at the Emirates,” Manchester United legend Gary Neville, now a prominent pundit, tweeted soon after kick-off.
But Wenger, as he fights to keep his job, conceded he could understand why Arsenal supporters are so frustrated by their team’s wretched run.
“There is a lot of negativity. It is like rain in England, it is easy to get,” he said.
“Of course I worry because I want our fans to be behind the team, but after what happened in that week it is understandable.
“We want to have the fans on our side and we do everything to make that happen.
“I respect everyone’s opinion but I focus totally on my job.”
The stay-aways missed a solid Arsenal performance as goals from Shkodran Mustafi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan ended a run of three successive Premier League defeats.
But the win did little to improve Arsenal’s prospects of a top-four finish — which brings qualification for the Champions League — and won’t carry much weight with supporters who feel ending Wenger’s 22-year reign is the only way to get their club back on track.
Without a league title since 2004, Wenger is clinging to the hope that reaching the Champions League by winning this season’s Europa League will spare him the axe.
But the drab atmosphere at Sunday’s game gave it an ‘end of an era’ feel that will persist until Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke and chief executive Ivan Gazidis conduct the end-of-season review that will decide Wenger’s fate.
For now, all Wenger can do is focus on leading Arsenal on a long winning run, starting with protecting a 2-0 lead when AC Milan visit the Emirates in the Europa League last 16, second leg on Thursday.
Wenger is encouraged by the way his players have stayed united in a difficult time.
– Vindication –
“We suffered a bit at the start of the second half but after that with our spirit, we stuck together and in the end it was a convincing win,” he said.
“It gets us out of this negative spiral a little bit. We had a nightmare week. There is still some work to do, but overall we are in a good way.”
In a dismal year, there was a rare moment of vindication for Arsenal when Watford captain Troy Deeney saw his second-half penalty saved by Petr Cech.
Deeney had questioned Arsenal’s spirit after Watford beat them in October and Wenger said a desire to prove the striker wrong had motivated their performance.
“Cech had to wait a while to save a penalty. It’s quite fortunate that it’s against Deeney,” he said.
Watford boss Javi Gracia refused to blame the defeat on Deeney’s jibes, which came before he was in charge.
“Troy was concentrated on playing well and helping the team,” Gracia said.
“He had a chance to score the penalty but he didn’t do it.
“I don’t know what Arsenal were thinking, but I’m happy with him.
“I’m responsible for my words. I respect all the teams, Arsenal as well.”