Every year, Barcelona and Bayern Munich play a game of duck hunting.
The ducks are Arsenal.
This is the story of the UEFA Champions League for you.
I’ve always liked Arsenal. They are a club with an identity. I have admired their footballing model, the Invincibles, and the talents they have showcased over the years. Arsène Wenger has been a great manager and faithful servant. I also understand that Arsenal are not among the European elite. Gooners, that’s the reality. Somehow Arsenal lose their identity when they come up against a top team. Just like they did last night. Wenger walked his team into a slaughter house. In 10 minutes, the Gunners’ were butchered by Bayern Munich. In the face of adversity, Arsenal crumbled. Again. Yet nothing changes.
Three things are sure in life;
1. There is Day
2. There is Night
3. There is Arsenal, who gets pummeled in the Round of 16
The memes kept coming, the tweet count kept running as misery piled over Arsenal. Camp Wenger is under siege. Again. But nothing would have stung like the defeat. Perhaps this was the lowest point in Wenger’s journey.
I will tell you this. Modern football will not throw up another Arsène Wenger. He is an icon. ‘Le Professeur’ has built teams from scratch. When finances were limited and rivals poached his best talent one after the other, the Frenchman stood tall and rebuilt.
But that story has run its length.
Where Lies The Progress?
The coffers at the Emirates are stocked. It’s at Arsène’s disposal. Yet Wenger has been notoriously Wenger. For seven consecutive years, Arsenal have been dumped out of the same stage of the Champions League. The team he creates from scratch, coaches and motivates were slaughtered. Year after year, the plot remains the same.
It was certain when Arsenal botched the title to Leicester last year, there wouldn’t be a more glorious opportunity for Wenger to get his hands on the Premier League trophy. I wonder what is the objective the board gives Arsène Wenger at the start of a season.
Clear the group stage of the Champions League. Qualify for next year’s. Repeat.
If that is it, then Wenger is doing a great job! I don’t see any other reason why they continue to back the manager. Yes, the stability is there. But surely, there is greater ambition at the club. Right? The thing is there are holes in the team. Wenger can’t/hasn’t/refused to fill it. It’s a matter of how you look at it. Any surprise Arsenal haven’t progressed?
In persisting with Wenger, you have to question what exactly is the club’s ambition? Right now, it not a pretty picture out there. Arsenal are painfully inching towards that stage where they will no longer be attractive or satisfying to world class talents. That’s what Arsenal fans fear the most.
Take Alexis Sánchez for example. The forward is by miles the best Arsenal have in their ranks. Last night, he was the only one that stood out, while those around him flopped. Sánchez is a fighter, a winner. Perhaps it’s that Latino mentality. When he looks around him, he sees mediocrity. He will question why he should be here. The South American has one more big club move in him. At the prime of his career, Arsenal will have a tough time to convince Sánchez that their ambitions are on level with his. Good luck negotiating that contract!
Even the most ardent supporter of Wenger would have been stunned and silenced by what unfolded last night. In the last few years, there has been uncertainty over Wenger’s future at the club. Pundits have come with their knives out. There have been fan revolts. Then there was Piers Morgan. But the management have stood by the Frenchman. But now things might change. They should. Wenger and his beloved Arsenal are in a rut. Its time to part ways. Staying further would only hurt his legacy and hinder the club’s progress. There has been rumors of Max Allegri taking over the mantle at Arsenal by the end of the season. After last nights debacle, I’m pretty sure those odds have shortened. For better or worse, Arsenal need a new direction. Surely, Arsène realizes that. If there are any fans that still don’t see it. Then I feel sorry for you.
As much as I put a chunk of criticism on the manager, I will lay the same, if not more at the feet of the players. Last night was shambolic to stay the least. It was not men against boys. Rather men against babies! You gotta ask, what the heck is wrong with the players? Are they not buying into Wenger’s tactics or are they not good enough? Arsenal have talent, yes. But barring Sánchez, they don’t have players with the bite and fight. If anything the game has showed us, it that the Gunners lack character. And they definitely have a big game block. More Sánchezs’ are needed. I’m not talking about talent here. But determination. Right now there are some soft feeble ones who fold easily. Mesut Özil has been a virtual passenger when ever the club needed him most. He looked nonchalant. Almost as if he didn’t even try to play football. It was the same against Chelsea. I tell you what there will be a lot of angry fans out there calling for him to be dropped. At this form, he looks a dead weight, dragging the team down. Do you know that Özil attempted just 20 passes in the match? It equaled the least by a Bayern player. That played was Manuel Neur. After Koscielny’s injury, that Arsenal defense was schmuck! It very well might have been a cricket score line had it not been for David Ospina.
In the past, Gooners faced flak for booing their team off the pitch or popping up with ‘Wenger Out’ banners. This morning, I saw some fan rants on YouTube. It wasn’t pretty. But now nobody will fault them saying they lacked gratitude or that it was a knee jerk reaction.
Its time to walk, Arsène.
Yet a part of me wishes that Arsenal can turn this around to give Wenger one of the greatest moments in his life. He deserves it. It would be a more fitting gift than the FA Cup. But come the end of the season, Arsenal must think long and hard about their future.