The Anfield defeat feels like another big nail in the coffin of the Wenger years.
First things first. There is no shame in losing to Liverpool, particularly away from home. And particularly within days of a stinging defeat fresh in their memory and with Arsenal devoid of confidence and, as ever, undermined by absences.
But, as ever, it’s how you lose. With a limp capitulation in Germany still fresh in everybody’s minds, it was vital that Arsenal put on a fighting display, even it if was in defeat. Instead we got another massive tactical mess that only further undermined players’ low on confidence and a team selection that could have been designed to maximise the strengths of the opposition.
When explaining his selection, Wenger talked about the desire to be more direct, presumably to protect our weakened midfield from Liverpool’s high press. There is some sense in this, but not when executed so poorly and not when our player of the season by a country mile is left on bench, particularly when he is capable of playing effectively in any of the attacking roles.
This was compounded by not picking a team based on form. Coquelin has stunk the place out since returning early from his injury, and Iwobi desperately needs to be taken out of the firing line, before his current struggles destroy the confidence that he showed a year ago.
The Alexis issue seemed like some ill-judged power play, which reflects badly on both the manager and their relationship, but it is entirely possible that it was simply tactical idiocy.
Either way, not good news for a man who, fairly or not, is currently auditioning for the approval of both the supporters and himself when it comes to the prospect of continuing. Unless, of course, he has already made the decision to depart, which also raises more questions than answers.
It feels like something has to change and that that change is inevitable, be it manager, backroom staff, owners or a large part of the squad. It feels like the manager has lost the power to motivate and empower that so often covered for his tactical deficiencies. It feels like dropping Alexis was merely the latest in a growing number of illogical decisions that imply the man in charge is floundering. It feels like the manager appears increasingly haunted by every bad result.
It feels like this marriage is over.
But it’s felt like that before. Arsene’s ‘bounce-back-ability’ is legendary, as his stubbornness, and his willingness to be surprisingly ruthless with players once they have lost his trust. Top four and a cup final are still entirely possible, and with the decision about his future being left in his own hands, he could well pull through this to remain at the helm next year, regardless of public opinion.
Right now though, it seems almost implausible. The inanely identified divisions between the AKB and the WOB seem outdated ideas. We now have the angry, the pitying, the hopelessly optimistic and the bored. And right now the boreds are the majority.
The question is no longer whether or not the manager is achieving an acceptable level of performance given relative resources, but rather: “If it’s just going to be more of this, with the same good and bad every year, what’s the point?”.
Most fans still think that the manager has an eye for a player. Most fans still love the way we can attack at speed, and love the team when it is playing well. The problem is that the number of fans who think Arsene is getting more out of this squad than another manager/coach would is very much the minority these days.
Wenger revolutionised the club and English football. He kept us at the big boys table when we were being outspent by almost every other club in the division. He’s given us a global profile that we’ve not had since the 30s, and turned us into a second tier European Superclub. But since those extraordinary tasks were completed he’s largely made himself obsolete.
As a club builder he’s been one of the best, but now we just need a coach or manager who can make the best use of a decent squad at a big club. And there has been little evidence that Arsene Wenger is that man in quite a long time.