By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger’s career has disproved the notion that nice guys finish last in football.
The Frenchman is known a gentleman of the global game, fashioning stylish sides that win more than their fair share of silverware.
Gianfranco Zola was one of the most popular players of the Premiership era. Not only skilful on the pitch for Chelsea but gracious and generous off it.
But Wenger believes, having recently taken the managerial reins at West Ham, the Italian will soon develop a ruthless streak.
The pair go head-to-head for the first time at Upton Park on Sunday.
Zola was appointed in mid-September after the somewhat surprising dismissal of Alan Curbishley. As ever, Wenger is asking for a new arrival in the managerial fraternity to be given the opportunity to have a genuine influence on his side.
“He has to be given time because he has just come in,” said the Frenchman at Friday’s press conference. “There is massive pressure in the Premier League now but you have to feel first that you have been given time.
“I am sure he will do well. I liked him as a player, as a man, and I am sure he will be a good manager.
“I don’t think [he’s too nice to be in charge]. Will he develop a nastier streak? I think time will give him that don’t worry.
“When you want to be successful you have to do what it takes,” Wenger went on. “You always think about ‘how can I be successful, what is the shortest way to get there?’ Then you do it.
“And, to be fair, I don’t really know what it means ‘to be nice’. You always just want to be fair and be honest with yourself.”
On Thursday, Wenger told Arsenal TV Online that William Gallas (hamstring) and Kolo Toure (shoulder) had recovered from injury and would be in the squad for Sunday. On Friday, he also suggested that Bacary Sagna (knee) might have a small chance of being involved too.
The return of the duo (or trio) is timely as Arsenal need a little defensive stability right now. Having kept five clean sheets in their opening six games, Wenger’s side have obtained just two in their last eight appearances. Tuesday’s tie in Turkey is a case in point. Arsenal tore through Fenerbahce, scoring five goals but they could have easily conceded as many themselves.
“I do not deny we did not look very sound defensively in our last game,” said Wenger.
“Ideally you want to be fantastic going forwards and fantastic defending. But sometimes you have a price to pay. When you incite your team to go forwards, like we did against Fenerbahce, then you will also be a bit vulnerable defensively as well. If you encourage your team to never get out of their position, it is easier to be sound defensively.”
Zola won his first two Premier League games at West Ham but has lost his last two. The honeymoon period has been short.
Arsenal’s results have been much better since a four-letter word entered the vocabulary of their season – Hull. However the defeat to the Tigers at Emirates Stadium still enters every conversation about the early-season aspirations of Wenger’s side.
Three wins and a draw has set the ball rolling again for Arsenal since then, leaving them just four points off leaders Chelsea. A win at Upton Park would be another big injection of confidence.
“It is always a good atmosphere when you play against West Ham,” said Wenger. “The supporters always get behind their team when you go there. It is always committed and interesting.
“But we have created a momentum after the Hull game,” the manager concluded.
“We beat Porto and Fenerbahce in a convincing way, had a draw with Sunderland then beat Everton.
“We just want to keep that going now.”
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