Respect Arsene Wenger! Hong Kong-based fan group calls on fellow Arsenal supporters to protest without ‘abuse'

James Benge
Evening Standard
Respect Arsene Wenger! Hong Kong-based fan group calls on fellow Arsenal supporters to protest without ‘abuse'
Respect Arsene Wenger! Hong Kong-based fan group calls on fellow Arsenal supporters to protest without ‘abuse'

A group of supporters who funded a plane fly pass in support of Arsene Wenger have called for their fellow fans to respect the Arsenal manager amid mounting speculation over his future.

The fan group in Hong Kong, known as Gooners20 and numbering around 100 fans, funded a plane bearing the banner “In Arsene We Trust #RespectAW” in response to plans from a rival group of supporters calling for Wenger to leave.

Both planes flew over the Hawthorns during the first half of Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat to West Brom in a match that culminated in visiting supporters chanting that Wenger didn’t know what he was doing after he substituted the injured Alexis Sanchez for Alex Iwobi.

Not for the first time supporters also held banners demanding Wenger leave at full-time.

The planes hovering above the Hawthorns represented the most dramatic moment in a series of protests by Arsenal fans which have encompassed several hundred marching to the Emirates ahead of home games against Bayern Munich and Lincoln City.

However there has long been a sizeable proportion of Arsenal fans who believe that Wenger, a three-time Premier League and six-time FA Cup winner, has earned the right to dictate the terms of his own exit, though until Saturday they had been less vociferous in making their views visible.

A spokesperson for Gooners20 told Standard Sport: “Everyone has the right to express themselves. And it was our intention to show people there was not only one voice.

“It’s always better to get to know different sides of a story, right?

“People have the freedom to say whatever they want but abusive manners should not be tolerated.

“We want to support not only the manager but also Arsenal Football Club. There are so many things that we can do to support the club in a constructive and respectful way on and off the pitch.”

Rumours spread on social media that the banner may have had the support of individuals close to the Arsenal board but Gooners20 categorically denied the claim and funded the banner themselves.

The “No New Contract #WengerOut” banner was similarly paid for by supporters, with a crowdfunding initiative launched last week exceeding its initial £2,500 target on its way to raising over £3,000.

Amid high winds of 15 knots around the Black Country both groups exercised their option to fly having been made aware that their fan rivals might take to the skies.

Saturday’s protests may not be the last time Arsenal supporters to take to the air to make their case for change or continuity.

Simon Moores of Airads banners, the company who flew both planes over the Hawthorns, revealed to Standard Sport he has received enquiries over performing a similar mission for the Gunners’ home game against Manchester City on April 2. However to replicate the display over London airspace would require a significantly larger – and more expensive – aircraft.

The protests have, however, been good for business for Airads, who also provided the banners for Manchester United fans’ protest against David Moyes in March 2014.

“I'm somewhat overwhelmed at the tens of thousands of impressions and retweets of the last 24 hours,” Moores said.

“I've had to turn my phone alert off every time I have a Twitter notification because the buzzing is almost constant.”

Asked by Standard Sport whether an announcement over his future might quell the conflict between fans Wenger revealed that he had made a decision as to whether to sign the new two year contract on offer from Arsenal and would make an announcement “very soon”.

Despite this it is understood that he remains torn over his future, but Gooners20 want to ensure the decision remains in the hands of Wenger and the club.

“Personally, we hope that Mr. Wenger can stay with Arsenal for more seasons. But it is Mr. Wenger and the club’s decision to make. And we would respect whatever decision is made mutually by the club and the manager himself.

“It has never been our intention to stop anyone from expressing himself. We only want more respect for the manager on and off the pitch. Respect Mr. Wenger. Respect each other including people who do not share same values with us.”

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