This post was written before the game against Bayern Munich on 7 March.
Four weeks ago, after a short illness, I lost my grandfather.
It’s been a rather horrible start to 2017 and one which has seen me stepping back from column duties here at DCHQ as me and my family regroup and begin to try and come to terms with our loss.
I used to wonder if the only thing keeping my grandfather or, as everyone else knew him, Ronnie alive was the prospect of Arsenal without Arsène Wenger. He was a keen golfer until cruelly cut down by a broken leg just before his 91st birthday (oldest playing member at West Middlesex golf club). The physical injury manifesting itself in a mental decline, Ronnie had spent a large part of the last five and a half years forgetting things. And so he forgot about the two doubles won by Wenger, or the unbeaten season of 2003/04.
And he would therefore ask me things like, “Don’t you think it’s time they sack Wenger?”, or “What has Wenger ever done for Arsenal?”
And it was always “Wenger”. Never Arsène, never Mr Wenger, never the manager. I think that was just part of the formal way my grandfather had been brought up to make his own way in the world. As for my grandfather’s questions, I understood where they came from. Perhaps not when he first started asking them more than a few years ago, but over time.
I mean, when you know you’re in the injury time of your own life, it must lend an urgency to the things you’d like to see happen. I’ve sort of taken it for granted that Arsenal are bound to win the Champions League at some point before I die. But what if they don’t? What if 2004 was as good as it’s ever going to get for us all as Arsenal fans? That very notion would have seemed bonkers as we watched our team cavort around White Hart Lane on April 25th, 2004.
Thirteen years later, how do you feel about such a thought?
Thirteen years… that’s a lot of golf, played and/or watched. Therefore, I can’t claim surprise that a man who probably forgot more than I’ll ever know in the last six years of his life had forgotten what once made Arsène Wenger such a revered figure.
In truth, it seems like Ronnie wasn’t alone. I can read Arsène’s comments and watch flashes of wit in his interviews and think, ‘Ah, that’s the man I remember and love’. Increasingly, though, what I do when I see Arsène appear to deliver his latest sermon to the great unwashed is… well, I turn him off.
You see, I don’t believe in Arsène anymore and I don’t think the majority of the playing squad he – and he alone – has assembled do either. It’s not an understatement to say that the majority of the Arsenal blogosphere have turned against him either. And I don’t think that this has happened because there is some sort of master plan that we can’t see and, even if we could, wouldn’t possibly understand. Nor is it some sort of hate campaign, driven by the agenda of a small minority of disaffected fans.
The man who runs this site was once as staunch an Arsène Wenger advocate as you could ever hope to find. Yet the calamitous Bayern Munich match moved Lee to this:
Its time, and he realises it tonight. You can see it in his eyes [watch to the end]https://t.co/QpAzQsRaWo
— Daily Cannon (@DailyCannon) February 15, 2017
People are, correctly, using the evidence of their own eyes and returning a judgement that finds Arsène Wenger incapable of delivering us the Arsenal we all want to see – an Arsenal competitive at the top of the game. An Arsenal that goes away to our rivals in the newly christened “Big Six” with more than a puncher’s chance of winning the game. An Arsenal that goes away in the Champions League and doesn’t get torn to shreds by the first good team they come across.
Today, as I type this, I’m thinking that I’d quite like to see an Arsenal team that were capable of defending a long, straight, ball properly. Or that were switched on enough to realise that perhaps leaving Sadio Mané with the freedom of Liverpool might not be the best idea. Or even just switched on – you know, from the first minute.
The players have all been pretty vocal in their backing of the manager, yet they don’t seem capable of putting in a performance for him. How weird is that? The one player who seems to have a problem at the moment is Alexis Sanchez. Arsène has nixed reports of a training ground bust up with the Chilean, but I’m not sure how many people believe that. Particularly in the context of Alexis being dropped at Liverpool. Whatever about the Chilean’s poor form, he is still our man most likely. Dropping him in favour of the statuesque, injections up the bum, Giroud was a move that that was never likely to go down well.
“Jaw dropping” Jeff Stelling called it.
“He better be in plaster” said the Magic Man.
The only justification for this move would have been Arsenal winning the game on Saturday. Instead, we were 1-0 down after ten minutes, 2-0 down by half time and Alexis was summoned to dig us out of yet another self created hole. And what do you know if he didn’t set Danny Welbeck up for a very well taken goal shortly afterwards?
To be clear, I’m all for a manager clamping down on bad behaviour and it’s obvious that Alexis has become an angry, frustrated figure at the club. But I don’t blame him for that. Nor would I blame him for wanting to leave. He signed for Arsenal, presumably, on the basis that we would mount a challenge for major honours. Yet, typing this today, we feel as far away from them as we did three years ago.
The blame for that lies with the manager. His players, his tactics, his recruitment. But it also lies with a board who are apparently happy to tread water in their 60,000 seat cash machine. I’ve said it before, I make no apology for saying it again; I harbour genuine doubt that the board will anoint the right successor to Arsène.
I just don’t believe that’s reason enough to stick with something that’s clearly not working anymore.