When the banners saying telling Arsène Wenger to leave, saying ‘Wenger out’ first appeared, many football fans who didn’t support Arsenal were perplexed.
The Frenchman was a legend of the club, having taken them to their invincible season and leading Arsenal to the Champions League finish every campaign since he arrived.
But last season changed that. They may have won their third FA Cup in four years, but they also finished fifth, meaning there is no Champions League football at the Emirates, instead having to settle for Europe’s second-best competition, the Europa League on a Thursday night.
The truth is the FA Cup wins had hidden a downturn at Arsenal.
They were nowhere near title contenders anymore, and they had only just hung on to their Champions League spot by the skin of their teeth.
While North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur evolved to become one of the most exciting teams in the country, the Gunners have wilted in recent years under Wenger.
It wasn’t helped last season by his contract indecision, not revealing he was staying until the end of the season, which also meant players’ futures were in limbo, and that has affected Arsenal’s future.
A shadow of the team they once were
It’s all a mess. And it’s not just off the pitch, but on the pitch too now.
Arsenal have just one win from three league games this season, and they were 3-2 down with less than ten minutes left to Leicester City too before turning it round.
The 1-0 defeat to Stoke City wasn’t ideal, but the 4-0 humiliation to Liverpool showed just how far Arsenal have fallen from Wenger’s fear-imposing invisibles.
Paul Merson summed it up in his Daily Star column.
“I think the players have lost all respect for him. But I think the fans are losing all respect as well.
“They are playing for Arsenal and they are turning it into a mockery. They are embarrassing the football club.
“It’s becoming one of football’s also-rans because they are a million miles from winning the league and that’s pathetic.
“I’m disgusted. It’s just an embarrassment from top to bottom. It frustrates me. And it will get worse too.
“There will be plenty more games like that to come. Yeah, there will be games when you look at Arsenal and think: ‘Wow, they’re a good team.’
“But there will be times when they get absolutely battered as well. This club should be playing for the Premier League title, not just trying to get into the top four.
“So if anyone should be under pressure it’s Wenger, who now has to deal with a moody Sánchez for the next few months after his deadline day move to Manchester City collapsed in yet another farce.”
Time to take responsibility
He was once great, there is no doubt about it, but Arsenal now need a change.
Wenger has to take responsibility for the Sánchez, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Özil contract situation.
The England international left just a week after Wenger claimed he wanted to build the club around him.
“In all the conversations that I have had, I say that I want him to stay and be one of the big players of the future of this club,” Wenger said on August 24.
“He is one of the players this team has to be built around in the future. Personally, I want him to commit to the club and be one of the carriers of the values of our team.”
Yet, Oxlade-Chamberlain clearly didn’t believe Wenger was the man to take his career to the next level.
After working with him for six years, that’s damning.
The Frenchman also has to take responsibility for the poor performances on the pitch.
He is setting the team up like that, and although some players don’t track back, that is because Wenger allows them to do so.
That wouldn’t happen under his nemesis José Mourinho.
Wenger may once have been the most innovative manager in English football, but time has moved on and he is no longer at the top of his game.
It won’t be an easy goodbye, but it will be best for Arsenal and Wenger if the two go their separate ways as soon as possible – the two-year deal handed to him in the summer already looks like a mistake.