It is one of the great dramas of our time, not the latest tweet from the 45th President of the United States nor the ramifications of Brexit, but the possible denouement of Arsène Wenger’s career at Arsenal Football Club. In the fullness of time and at the right juncture, Wenger, OBE, will inform the global footballing community of his future plans. For now, a 2-2 result against Manchester City may temporarily appease his detractors.
On a bright day in London the French coach shed his duvet coat for a suit with jumper and red tie combo, a less than suitable armor for the ‘No New Contract’ army that had marched on Emirates Stadium, distributing leaflets, requesting Wenger’s resignation, and even demanding £4 donations for the cause. Cue the repurposed advertisement van outside the stadium.
At least, the protests were not as grotesque as a small airplane, trailing a banner, circling above The Hawthorns at West Bromwich Albion a fortnight ago. The leaflets were a bit petty, and a further deluge of opposition to Wenger by a howling mob, who argue that the current, deplorable status quo can’t be perpetuated and may conscript the progress of the club up to a point of widespread north London atrophy and general paralysis in the Arsenal cosmos.
At times, the dissent and demurral has been vituperative in Islington. Is Wenger the Robert Mugabe of Arsenal? A despot with fascist tendencies at a London club? Wenger is idiosyncratic, belonging to a class of purist coaches, who ideate and then stick to their dogma, forever shackled by an idealogical straitjacket. The method and style trump the result.
Critics have lambasted Wenger as Arsenal’s season collapsed yet again with farcical defeats against both Chelsea and Bayern Munich, a season in which, or so goes the argument, Arsenal have crossed from the realm of the puzzling into football’s netherworld of self-parody. The accusations run deep: Wenger and his failing grand plan, Wenger and his blindness in the face of countervailing evidence, Wenger and his impenetrable stubbornness. Arsenal always offer and proffer the false promise of a renaissance. It is ‘history repeating itself, first as a tragedy, second as farce.’
For now, amid all the tribalism and existential angst around Arsenal, the ‘Wengerocracy’ still stands. The rebellion and its simmering revolution haven’t toppled the long-standing coach yet. Neither did Manchester City, the burgeoning nouveau riche club from the UAE.
Booming, indeed, but, perhaps not truly flourishing under spangled coach Pep Guardiola. At times, Pep has demonstrated a propensity for the gloriously insane, fielding six out-and-out attacking players against Arsenal in a nigh throwback to football of the late 19th century when 2-3-5 formations were in vogue. His formation was slightly more conservative, with Jesus Navas deputizing at right-back and Fernandinho marshaling the midfield.
Kevin De Bruyne was another pawn in Guardiola’s grand chess game: from a deep position, almost alongside Fernandinho, the Belgian sat in acres of space and passed Arsenal’s midfield out of the game, seeking the runs of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling. It was a masterstroke. City were rampant and rambunctious in their football, at least in the first fifteen minutes.
The Londoners were reduced to a collection of mannequins and cones. The projection of a rugby result or a tennis score wasn’t unsubstantiated: 0-34 or, after Laurent Koscielny’s half-time retreat, perhaps 1-5? This was to be another tenebrous 90 minutes of utter despondency and desolation, perhaps, at last, warranting that Copernican revolution at Arsenal in the form of Wenger’s resignation from the club. But then, when both Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin had demonstrated too much rash tackling, when the ever-aloof Mesut Ozil withered in the game’s periphery and when Alexis Sanchez drowned in a morass of mediocre football, and when all substance and hope had been sucked from the universe, Arsenal decided to not ‘Arsenal.’
They showed mettle, grit and resolve. Arsenal were not heroic. This was not a return to yesteryear with the magnificent Patrick Vieira bullying and bulldozing opponents or the effervescent Gilberto Silva reading the game and recovering possession. In fact, Arsenal were fabulously disjointed in their rearguard action. They were erratic, spasmodic and totally skittish all at once. In short, Arsenal were utterly unexceptional and yet they neither collapsed nor imploded.
The 2-2 scoreline was a just result and perhaps, in spite of Arsenal’s and dear, old Arsène’s many flaws, not the signpost of a moribund future.
Updated Date: Apr 03, 2017 11:16 AM