As the night wore on at Selhurst Park and Arsenal’s humiliation was compounded, the spiteful chants grew louder. They were drowned out by the joyous Crystal Palace fans but the negativity could not be blanked. “Get out of our club", bayed the Arsenal fans who had made the short trip to south-east London. Arsene Wenger could only sink in his trench coat.
But whose club it is? Wenger could legitimately claim it as his home. He has built the structures on which Arsenal flourish or flounder. It is no surprise that he has stayed put despite the tetchiness surrounding the club. It is not just about envisaging a future without a daily job in football; it is also about finding a new home after more than two decades. Complacency is a limiting force. Wenger has too many memories and comforts attached to his current home to let it go.
If the departure comes to pass, it will be an emotional task that may overwhelm Wenger in his twilight years. Paris-Saint Germain or Barcelona could offer instant solace but it is the burden of painful history that he will be forced to carry. One can see why he defers, arguably, the toughest decision of his career.
Yet, at what point does it become excruciatingly hard for Wenger to stay at Arsenal? When does the Frenchman say that he has had enough and he can no longer bear the agony of his task? The breaking point feels close now. We have discussed the possibility of him walking away from the club in the past. It’s about time we entertain those thoughts seriously.
It is not about losing to Crystal Palace away for the first time since 1979, nor is it about conceding three goals in each of Arsenal’s last four games on the road. The worst league finish under Wenger’s leadership should also not be the reason which forces his exit, even though there is something to say for that.
The answer probably lies in Theo Walcott’s words after the humiliating loss to Crystal Palace. “That’s not Arsenal. Tonight wasn’t us at all.” But the bitter truth is, that was the Arsenal we have come to know. It is a side which repeatedly fails to rouse itself when it badly needs the adrenaline rush.
Wenger’s tactical failings have been much discussed and they have their merits. But one cannot put down the latest defeat to his characteristic inflexibility in the tactics department alone.
This was an Arsenal side outfought, outclassed and overpowered. The lack of courage was palpable. Not for the first time under Wenger, Arsenal resembled a smattering of footballers who had been bullied into submission.
An incident after the final whistle said a lot about the mental state of this Arsenal side. Hector Bellerin followed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the away fans’ stand but he did not complete the walk as the fans jeered him furiously. It has become a difficult task for everyone involved with Arsenal to face the detractors publicly.
Wenger, himself, did not want to entertain any discussion about his future. “Look, I face questions about my future all the time but tonight I’m not in the mood to speak about it. Honestly I’m disappointed tonight so much. To see us lose the game in the way we did … that’s very disappointing. It would be ‘inconvenient’ for me to speak about my own future tonight.”
It is an inconvenience which will chase him wherever he goes till the end of the season. With eight games left in the campaign, Arsenal is seven points off the top four. Although the Gunners have to play one more match than Manchester City and two more than Liverpool, it is difficult to see a return of the club’s famed resurgence in the final weeks of every league campaign. It is a task that looks severely beyond Wenger and his cohort.
But what of the detritus which remains? Is it only Wenger who has to go? Surely not. Although Alexis Sanchez once again cut a frustrated figure on the pitch, he still looks like the player most likely to make things happen for Arsenal. Whether he can bring himself to repose faith in the club’s ambitions is a moot point. It is not difficult to foresee a summer which brings the departure of Wenger, Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.
What of the rest of the squad? The defence, in the absence of Laurent Koscielny, is a train wreck waiting to happen. As clichéd as this demand has become, one cannot look beyond the absence of leaders at the back. Perhaps that may not be an issue when Koscielny and Petr Cech can play every week, it is obvious now that Arsenal held unrealistic expectations when the club signed Granit Xhaka. He may grow into a reliable figure in the centre of the pitch but he will not be the first Arsenal young star to fail to live up to his promise, if he fails.
Perhaps, the solution to this problem is the departure of Wenger. May be a new manager is needed for the players to move away from the path of frustration. One cannot say with certainty that a change is going to take place this summer but never has it looked likelier. Wenger’s reign is slowly drifting towards a disaster which can be foreseen but not helped. The Czech poet Miroslav Holub’s lines from The End of the World come to mind…
The bird had come to the very end of its song
and the tree was dissolving under its claws
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Updated Date: Apr 11, 2017 17:26:16 IST