“I am ready to go to the next level. The next level up” said Arsene Wenger ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Anfield on Saturday.
The 90 minutes that followed demonstrated the opposite, as the Gunners were again out-thought, out-fought and outplayed in another big game. Losing 3-1 to Liverpool.
In the last five years, Arsenal have faced the current Premier League top-six 21 times, winning three, drawing six and losing twelve of those matches. They’ve scored 26 goals and conceded 47, winning just twice away from home in 13 attempts. It’s clear that Wenger not only lacks the drive to take Arsenal, and himself, up to the next level.
It was said after the defeat to Everton. It was mentioned following the spineless performance away to Manchester City. It was referred to as Chelsea picked them apart with ease and it was spoken of once the annual collapse had taken place in Munich.
Yesterday just felt like another day closer to the inevitable end of Wenger’s reign at Arsenal. With Liverpool low on confidence, this was a chance to win back some fans who are beginning to lose faith in him, to prove that he can still get his side to do it in the big away games – but all he did was cement their doubts and reservations further.
ALEXIS SANCHEZ SHOULD HAVE STARTED
The decision to start yesterday’s game without Alexis Sanchez was as strange as they come. Having endured such a torrid time in these fixtures of late, maybe the 67-year-old wanted to switch things up a bit. But that could’ve seen a change in system, or being bold with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield alongside Granit Xhaka. Even starting the Chilean behind Olivier Giroud, ahead of Alex Iwobi who looks like he could benefit from a rest was a viable option. This is your best player, arguably the best player in the league right now, and he was kept on the bench for 45 minutes.
Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal in the league this season:
Most chances created (63)
Most goals (17)
Most assists (8)
On the bench… big call. pic.twitter.com/HiZohSlukY
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 4, 2017
You simply don’t go into a game of this magnitude without your top scorer and the man who has created the most assists for tactical reasons. So what could’ve lead to such a decision being made? Is this a manager making a statement to Sanchez and the rest of the squad? Has something happened on the training ground?
Whatever his reasons for it, it was a massive gamble, and one that massively backfired. The fact that he was willing to change things so quickly by bringing the player on at half-time, with Arsenal already 2-0 down, was a clear indication that he knew he got the decision wrong.
THE FANS’ FEELINGS
The most dangerous feeling that you can have around a football club is apathy, and around Arsenal at the moment, that’s all there is. Watching the same mistakes, defeats and storylines over and over again naturally becomes very tiring.
If you asked any fan how the Gunners’ season would unfold in the summer, they would be able to tell you. They’ve watched the same one for five years in a row. Going to watch your club every weekend should be somewhere to go and feel like a kid again, or to be transported to a different world for 90 minutes. Empty seats at the Emirates signify otherwise.
The divide amongst the supporters is unhealthy, the animosity towards the manager is sad and the players are one misplaced pass away from getting an earful from 60,000 people. This type of mood is only counter-productive and it will not change until the manager is changed.
There is nothing to feel excited about at the moment because everybody already knows what is going to happen. People just want to be excited about their club again and a different view, a different outlook, a different style would mean so much more than just securing the top four again. Even if short term failure occurred.
WENGER NEEDS TO MAKE A DECISION
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Wenger making a decision and announcing it would be the best thing for Arsenal Football Club. Right now, he and the players are drifting towards the end of the season, picking up points here and there with an FA Cup run lurking in the background.
A conclusion and the clear insight into the future that comes with it would unify everyone massively. Despite a minority who dismiss his achievements, the Frenchman is the club’s greatest manager and he deserves to be treated with respect. However, the longer he continues to wound Arsenal for his own sense of worth, the easier it is for people to turn.
There was a moment during the coverage on BT Sport where the camera switched from an ecstatic Jurgen Klopp to a distraught looking Arsene Wenger, unable to watch the match as his players were battered by Liverpool’s. That’s not how this story deserves to end, nor should it, but the sad truth is that his legacy is in danger of being tarnished.
A summer departure would give the fans, the media and the players a send-off he warrants, and everyone would undoubtedly be behind him for one last charge at a piece of silverware.