THE BLOG

Arsene Wenger Reaches Arsenal Nadir At Crystal Palace As Future Grows Increasingly Uncertain

12/04/2017 12:44 BST | Updated 12/04/2017 12:45 BST
Reuters Staff / Reuters

​When Luka Milivojevic converted his penalty to make it 3-0 to Crystal Palace on Monday night, it felt different. It felt like the end.

There was dejection, solemness, anger, a sense that Arsenal and particularly Arsene Wenger had reached their nadir. It wasn't the first humiliating defeat for the club in recent years, not in the slightest, but it felt more significant than any other.

The crowd echoed that. The 50:50 Wenger out/in split seemed more like 90:10, the players were informed they were "not fit to wear the shirt", and it seemed the slow building frustration and disillusionment amongst the fans had ascended to breaking point.

It wasn't a surprise; in fact it was predictable. The complaints have been that this season has been a repetition of the shortcomings of the last few, but it's been worse. Top four, normally a guarantee under Wenger, is growing increasingly unlikely, the annual Champions League last 16 exit was this year indicative of a side with no resilience, no confidence; a vulnerable team managed by a manger who, it seems, is growing ever more vulnerable to the criticism he faces.

Wenger has faced adversity and risen above it before, but this is different. Never has an Arsenal side under his control so blatantly underachieved, looked so bereft of any belief. Even in the days of Denilson and Nicklas Bendtner there was more fight, and even then there was a top four finish. With a competitive top six this season, Arsenal look some way behind. It could even be time to look over their shoulder, with an impressive Everton side waiting in the background, in seventh.

All of this comes in a season that started with optimism. Money was spent, the arrivals of Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi were met largely with encouragement.

There was hope that, this time, things might be different. Maybe there would be a prolonged challenge for the title, a rare Champions League quarter-final perhaps. It started well, as it so often does, then it collapsed, as it so often does. But it's continued to collapse, to the point where Arsenal are now a team, a club that need something to change.

There might seem a lot of exaggeration amongst Arsenal fans, as if their entitlement has gone to their head. Certainly, Wenger should still leave the club with his head held high. His achievements at Arsenal are unprecedented. He led the club through transitional periods after their arrival at the Emirates, after his prestigious, successful early years. But even the most ardent Wenger fan would admit it now seems like the end.

He looked visibly dejected in his post-match interview; asked if there was any update on his future, he responded simply "no", but there simply has to be soon.

Palace were rampant at Selhurst Park, and so were their fans. It was a cauldron of fear for the Arsenal players, under the most pressure they will have felt in their careers, and they crumbled. Palace were stronger, faster, just better in every aspect.

Whether Wenger's principles are outdated, whether he is simply too dogmatic, unwilling to embrace pragmatism, it's hard to imagine an Arsenal side under his control challenging at the top again.

And that's the main problem. Longevity is admirable, rare in modern football, but unfortunately, there's no more room for sentiment. Premier League football is relentless, the next result is what matters, and reflection and appreciation are given very little consideration.

In 50 years time, this debacle might be looked at as what ultimately tarnished a legacy, and it's sad to think that. But if Wenger opts to stay, it could get worse, such is the level of anger at the club's apparent stagnation, and decline this season.

Arsenal and Wenger have been ridiculed on social media, protested against outside the stadium; the chance to leave on a high, it seems, has come and gone - unless they can pull themselves together to win the FA Cup. That would probably be the best possible scenario, as unlikely as it seems now. Change is inevitably needed, though, and it's probably best that it comes sooner rather than later...for everyone's sake.