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 By Ian Holyman

Ex-Arsenal stars like Henry, Keown should lay off Wenger - Grimandi

ESPN FC's Julien Laurens believes that managing Arsenal is so ingrained in Arsene Wenger he'd be lost without it.

Former Arsenal defender Gilles Grimandi has hit out at ex-teammates such as Thierry Henry and Martin Keown for criticising manager Arsene Wenger.

Three successive Premier League defeats have left Arsenal sixth in the table, 13 points behind North London rivals Tottenham and seeming likely to have to win the Europa League to qualify for the Champions League next season.

Wenger, who has been at Arsenal since 1996, has been criticised by some of his former players who now work as pundits.

But Grimandi, who made more than 100 Arsenal appearances and is now a scout for the club, told L'Equipe that disappointed him.

"It makes me sad because guys like Thierry or Martin, I like them, I have a good relationship with them, but some of them take a sensationalist path and I don't like that," he said.

"I want to say three things to all the former players who have become pundits. Firstly, you mustn't have a short memory -- they owe a lot to Arsene, and they have sometimes done all they can to get back into the club after the end of their playing career.

"Also, they should respect Arsene's commitment to the club, the fact that he works like a madman every day.

"Arsene takes strategic decisions for Arsenal every day. Finally, I want to say to them: 'Get stuck in! Today, you're in a judgemental role, but commit yourselves to a club and you'll see it's not simple.'"

Wenger and Arsenal continue their Europa League bid at AC Milan in the first leg of a round-of-16 tie on Thursday, and Grimandi said that although the recent run had been difficult he could see cause for optimism.

"What's happening right now is tough, it's hard to take for those of us at the club," he said.

"There were mistakes made this season but people mustn't target Arsene, especially as the situation is difficult, not dramatic.

"Yes we're sixth in the league, but we're still in the hunt for the Europa League. And between winning that competition and finishing fourth in the Premier League, I prefer to win a trophy knowing that -- in both cases -- you have a Champions League place."

Arsene Wenger is under pressure as Arsenal's form slumps.

And Grimandi said that although football was changing, those who said Wenger could not move with the times were wrong.

"What's true is that possession guaranteed you results in the Premier League and today it's no longer true. So you have to adapt," he said.

"But a coach is judged over the long term. People have called Arsene an avant-garde coach for a long time, because he was able to identify a clear style of play at Arsenal, and now he's supposed to be all at sea in that area? That makes no sense."

Another former Arsenal player, Mathieu Flamini, told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he backed Wenger to find a way to steer the Gunners out of their current difficulties.

Flamini, now at Getafe, said the manager's experience would get him through the situation.

"All I say is not to forget what he has done for Arsenal and how much he has contributed to the development of the club," he said.

"It hurts me to see him in such difficulty because he was so important for me. It was he who picked me up in France and he who brought me back after my experience with Milan."

Flamini also backed Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso to emulate Wenger and build a legacy at his club.

"Why not? He knows the club like the inside of his pockets and he's managed to change the direction of their season in such a short space of time," he said.

"I'm not surprised to see him coaching -- he was already studying a lot of tactics and opponents as a player.

"He knew the game well and he told me he'd like to coach one day. I would be delighted if he would stay for a long time. I like the idea of a coach lasting a long time at a club because this is the secret to being a great club."

ESPN FC's Italy correspondent Ben Gladwell contributed to this report.

Ian is ESPN's French football correspondent. Twitter: @ian_holyman

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