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This was Arsenal's Groundhog Day, our annual reminder that Arsene Wenger is a busted flush

March 8, 2017 2:37 PM
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This was Arsenal's Groundhog Day, our annual reminder that Arsene Wenger is a busted flush

"It [the decision] killed a promising, fantastic match. If it's a bad tackle, OK, but frankly it is embarrassing. We have many regrets because we didn't expect to lose the game like that. I feel sorry for the people who watched the game."

Those are the words of Arsene Wenger, not after Tuesday’s humiliating Champions League exit, but from six years ago when his Arsenal team crashed out against Barcelona.

It was the same in 2012 when Wenger’s excuse was not the referee’s performance but fatigue: "We have many regrets because we didn't expect to lose the game like that. I feel sorry for the people who watched the game."

And the same in 2013: "The ref was a bit difficult for us but it is like that. We went close and I’m very proud of the performance of the team, but as well very disappointed for everyone who follows Arsenal."

And the same again in 2014: "Tonight everything went against us because I think we should have been three up before they got a sniff in the game. After we were down to 10 men and had one player injured you cannot change anymore."

And again in 2015: "If you look at the number of shots on target they had you will be surprised. Every defeat hurts. The overall situation is very disappointing."

And again in 2016: "I felt, at 1-1, they were wobbling and insecure. We could not take our chance to score the second goal to put ourselves in a good position."

And AGAIN last night: "Overall it's difficult to understand what's happened. I still must say my team has produced a huge effort and played very well."

And it is that tedious repetition of failure that has become too much for Arsenal fans to bear.

Take a 5-1 defeat against a team of Bayern Munich’s immense quality in isolation (particularly given the complication of the red card) and it’s an understandable result – hugely disappointing for the supporters, yes; but understandable.

A simple glance at Arsenal current status doesn’t point to a club and a manager in crisis either. After all, they are just two points outside of the Champions League places and still in the FA Cup at the quarter-final stage.

Yet it is the numbing predictability of Arsenal’s annual collapse that has finally ground down the goodwill towards the manager from the majority in the club's fan-base and the nation's media.

The question of whether Arsene Wenger should be considered to blame for Arsenal’s malaise was debated throughout the club’s trophy-less decade. And the recent FA Cup successes haven’t done much to stifle those debates.

But by now the answer is surely unequivocal. Arsene Wenger is a busted flush.

Wenger's first decade in the Premier League sparked a welcome evolution of the way football is played and talked about in England. His tactical understanding, innovative techniques and vast knowledge of the game outside of the British Isles helped Arsenal build a ground-breaking creative game to go alongside the club’s established defensive identity.

But Arsenal’s rivals caught up; Wenger’s USP became something to target for a new wave of European managers; and slowly but surely that defensive identity that Wenger inherited faded away. The resulting downturn was unfortunately inevitable, but the manner in which it has occurred has highlighted the Frenchman's weaknesses and blindspots.

An ideological switch in the mid 2000s (inspired by the Spanish style that dominated domestic and international football) was commendable but poorly executed. A reluctance to replace Gilberto Silva with a genuine defensive midfielder hindered the club’s title challenges for many years. And a lack of ruthlessness when trimming the fat has led to a squad with clear technical weaknesses and damaging physiological shortcomings.

For supporters of lower division clubs (or even lower Premier League teams) Arsenal's is not a position that's easy to sympathise with. But the monotonous regularity of Arsenal’s failings has helped foster an environment around the club that is at best unhealthy, at worst poisonous.

Every year it’s the same: Promise big things, struggle against the bigger teams, flirt with a title challenge, and then fall away in spectacular fashion at home and abroad. That ‘crisis’ is typically followed by a strong run of form when chances of winning the major honours has gone, leading to a positive vibe at the end of the season and hope for a better things through the summer. But all that ultimately achieves is setting the club up to start the miserable cycle all over again.

Arsenal should be better than this. They’ve got spending power, high wage possibilities, huge support and players of world-class quality. Settling for a cup run and a push for top four should not be the ceiling.

But Wenger has created an environment, either through stubbornness or an inability to change, in which that is very much the ceiling; an environment where players who challenge authority and refuse to accept mediocrity are shunned. And for that reason it’s time for him to step aside.

It’s a sad way to end such an illustrious career. Yet in truth the end didn’t come against Bayern Munich on Tuesday night, but many years ago. And season after season, failure after failure, we are served up a painful reminder that Wenger’s Arsenal are long past their sell-by date.


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