There are very few things that we know for certain at Arsenal at the moment.
We don’t know if the manager is in danger of losing his job. We don’t know if whether a plethora of first-team players are good enough to justify the manager’s faith in them. We don’t know whether we should be looking at who’s above us in the League or below. But after losing to Barcelona last night, we now know for sure how many games Arsenal have left to play this season.
The end is near
It’s never a nice feeling when we know when the end is coming. A lot of the appeal of following a football team comes from being able to let yourself get carried away with the thought of winning a cup at the end of May, that the season isn’t over because we haven’t been beaten. But now that Arsenal have been knocked out of all this season’s knockout competitions, that ability is now lost to us until August.
The only thing left for us to do now is look at the League table and work out all the permutations required for us to win it, or at least finish fourth. Math, for all its importance in the world, doesn’t lend itself too easily to romanticism and daydreaming. We like to spend our time wistfully thinking about epic winning goals and open-top bus parades, not looking at a website or newspaper trying to figure out how many points we need to finish ahead of West Ham.
Of course, it would be far different if Arsenal were ahead of 19 other teams in the league, instead of 17 as it stands now. Then everyone would be carrying around a copy of our run-in, taking any opportunity to glance at it and figure out if it was possible to stay ahead of our rivals. But at the moment, there just isn’t any reason to get our hopes up, or be worried.
Arsenal are currently 11 points behind the leaders, and unless they win at least seven of the remaining nine games, then all hopes of winning the title are gone. And with Arsenal in a run of form that consists of four wins in fifteen games, a stretch of seven wins in nine seems pretty implausible.
But as for not finishing at least fourth, things are a little more hectic, but not worryingly so. Yes, Arsenal are only three points ahead of West Ham in fifth, but with Manchester City falling apart at the seams and Manchester United facing an injury crisis that resembles a World War II battlefield, there is little to suggest that, even with a tricky run-in, Arsenal can throw away Champions League qualification.
So where does that leave us? At the moment, there is nothing to dream about, and nothing to fear. We have nine games left to play, and the prospect that none of them could have any meaningful significance. It’s only the middle of March, yet already we’re at the point of looking for a ‘Sim to end of season’ button somewhere to save us the hassle of going through the motions during the next two months.
What this all means, is that fans are going to get very restless, very quickly. With little to concern themselves in regards to winning, or indeed losing, something is going to have to fill that void. The team hasn’t given them anything to get their hopes up for, so a lot of their focus will turn to the board in the hope that they will be given something to be hopeful about.
Now, a sporting franchise making a token gesture to its fans with the aim of generating positive feelings towards the board is a daily occurrence around the world. But Arsenal currently has a board that has precious little experience in making decisions that affect a football team. We have an owner who loves the fact that he has a manager who will run the team on a budget, and a chief executive who has never hired or fired a manager in his career. We have people in charge who don’t have a good track record of making proactive decisions when needed.
Should he stay or should he go?
In essence, we have a fan base who at the moment are crying out for any sort of action that will give them hope for the future, and a board who would prefer that they didn’t have to do anything other than praise the manager. This is not a good combination. For the last 18 months, we have had a fan base split between those who think Wenger should go and those who think he should stay. Now, we could end up with a fan base that is split between those who want the board to sack Wenger and those who think the board should force Wenger into spending big.
Instead of arguing against each other, it won’t be very long before all Arsenal fans start pointing their fingers at the board and demand something be done. Arsenal have five home games left this season; Watford, Crystal Palace, West Brom, Norwich and Aston Villa. None of those are exactly glamour fixtures, and you couldn’t blame fans if their attention wavered from the game in front of them and instead focused on chanting at the board instead, especially if the result of the games became meaningless.
It may be the beginning of the end of Arsenal’s 2015-16 season, but in terms of fan protests, banners, and everything else that comes with a disenchanted fan base, we may only have seen the end of the beginning.