Should Arsene go? I don’t even know what to think any more.
To be clear, for me that’s a massive change. I’ve always been a “defend him to the hilt” Wengerite, recalling his sacrifice and achievements during the stadium move, and championing his right to enjoy the fruits of his labour now that we have a bit more cash in hand.
But recently, I’ve found myself pondering a pair of “what if” scenarios. What if we broke with the only manager I’ve ever known? What if we end up “doing a Man United,” crashing and burning down the table for years? Increasingly the possibilities from scenario one are allaying the fear from scenario two.
I’ve watched too many games recently where our intensity hasn’t been at the level required for the competitions we play in. The Watford game was criminal, Bournemouth not much better. The five points lost in those two games would put us hot on Chelsea’s tail, and may even have made a difference to the result of the game at Stamford Bridge by cranking up the pressure.
After all, we’d have been going into that game just six points behind, the Blues knowing that a win would leave us within touching distance. Funny things happen to teams when they are put to the test.
But these are all what ifs, and instead we sit ten points off the summit.
Underperforming or overshadowed?
There is part of me which also thinks our current plight is exaggerated as a result of Chelsea’s consistency in the last few months, and small margins. After all, we’re two points off the much-feted Guardiola’s City, level with Spurs and a point or two ahead of Liverpool and United respectively. Right in the hunt, you might say.
The problem is that Chelsea are ten ahead.
What if Chelsea hadn’t managed to scrape three consecutive 1-0 victories at the back end of last year against Crystal Palace, Sunderland and West Brom? Certainly there was an element of fortune in each of the games, and the table would look very different if they had drawn them.
But they did, so the gap is ten points.
But are we doing so badly, or are Chelsea just doing seriously well? If they continue at their current rate of points accumulation, the West Londoners will smash the 90 point ceiling – more than the Invincibles. Meanwhile, we’re on for 76 points, above average since our last title win, but still lower than any total which has seen us win the league.
Perhaps a bit of both.
It’s the lack of progress than irks many Gunners, and that ten point gap just feels too much like déjà vu. So if you want Wenger to depart come May, be my guest. I don’t know what I think just yet, but I can see why you might hold that view.
But I do have one bone of contention.
Don’t hold that view because of Bayern
On Thursday morning, three Arsenal fans stopped by my desk to dissect the Bayern game, and all three separately said that they had been on the fence on Arsene’s future, but that the result had tipped them over the edge.
We’re all Arsenal fans here (I’m assuming at least, since you’re on an Arsenal site!). So we’ve all seen this game 1,000 times give or take. 70% possession, no cutting edge, no chances created, and the very real possibility of being caught on the counter attack. Except this time it wasn’t Arsenal with the domination of possession.
In the first half, we had the three best chances through Alexis (x3!), Ozil and Xhaka. Meanwhile it took a worldie from Robben to get Bayern on the scoresheet.
For 52 minutes, we had the perfect gameplan. The manager is responsible for that gameplan, and the players for its execution. For more than half the game, both were impeccable.
Arsene has form for this too – while we seem to always fall at this hurdle in the Champions League, we’ve still had some impressive results against possession hogging teams. Remember the 2-1 against Barcelona, or the 2-0 at the Allianz in 2013?
The manager has many faults, and there is always room for improvement in preparation, but once the players cross that white line, there’s very little he can truly do to affect the result.
This one was on the players
All four goals Bayern scored in that second half were decent, yes, but we allowed them to play well in a manner that we comprehensively prevented in the first half.
The second goal saw Gibbs left two-on-one and helpless to prevent the cross that Mustafi was ultimately caught under. The third was a result of a great bit of skill from Lewandowski yes, but Gabriel neither closed him down nor stood back to react to his touch. It’s hard not to think Koscielny would have been more touch tight and not allowed him to get that flick off.
The fourth goal was a kick in the teeth coming via a deflection, and of course the final nail in our coffin was a total self-destruct from the Ox after the game – and the tie – had essentially already been thrown away because of our attitude.
There’s no doubt that losing your captain and defensive leader is a blow. We might have coped with it if we’d managed to hold strong for a little while and maintain our belief. As it was, we conceded the second goal just four minutes later, and the third goal quickly thereafter. I would have taken a 2-1 loss before the game, and even 3-1 wouldn’t have been a terrible result – we’ve won 2-0 at the Emirates before.
But when that third goal went in, it was as if the players no longer believed that we could keep it at three, or have a chance of turning the result around even over two legs. Heads dropped, belief evaporated, and the result was a pathetic final half an hour. A half an hour that not only ended our Champions League challenge for another year, but also gave the gleeful media the opportunity to use words like “thrashed” and “humiliated”.
History is written at the final whistle
There were poor performances all over the pitch in that final half hour. Iwobi looked hopelessly out of his depth, increasingly failing to track back and allowing Robben and Lahm to become rampant, while offering nothing going forwards. Ozil’s performance could probably be described in three words: “second touch tackle”. And with no Koscielny alongside him, Mustafi decided to step up as leader of the defence – admirable if done at the right moments – but ended up being distracted from doing his own job at crucial times. I could go on…
Our players allowed our hitherto excellent performance to be overshadowed by a disastrous collapse.
Yet I’ll say it again. No-one will remember, but for 52 minutes, we were not only in the tie, but in control of it.
So don’t blame the manager
Wenger has many faults, ones which may lead you to decide his time is up.
His style of management is what it is – he isn’t going to turn into a Klopp or a Conte being mobbed by his own fans. That style is also why we love him on our good days – his class and dignity is unparalleled in the modern game.
He’s stubborn, and ultimately he recruits the players who let him down against Bayern.
Maybe he’ll never be able to lead us to success again. Maybe he will. Everyone will have their view, and increasingly the “time to go” opinion is moving from a vocal minority to a quieter majority, rightly or wrongly.
He’s been responsible for some, or even many of our poor results this season.
But against Bayern, he sent the players out with a plan which could have seen us come away from the Allianz not only in the tie, but with a famous victory under our belts. And he was let down.
If you do think his time is up, that’s ok.
But let’s not use every single result as a stick to beat him with when it’s not his fault.
We owe him that, at least.