There is a French phrase that goes ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’ Loosely translated it means, the more things change, the more they stay the same. For Arsenal, there isn’t a saying that suits their situation more.
In all of football, regardless of how bad a situation is, hope is the killer that will consume everyone at some point, for poor Gunners fans, it’s the same hope that has been building than up, before knocking them firmly back down, perhaps since 2004 when they last lifted the Premier League title.
There have been three FA Cups since then, but that’s not success the fans truly want.
On Tuesday night, taking on a very strong Bayern Munich side, Arsenal had the task of overturning a 5-1 first-leg defeat: difficult, but not an impossible task.
It’s the hope that kills you
It had been done before, Deportivo La Coruña beat Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan 4-0 in the same season that Arsenal last won the league, stunning the Italian boss with three first half goals.
To achieve similar, Wenger’s current team had to score quickly, and when Theo Walcott smashed a stunning shot beyond Manuel Neuer, the dream was alive.
There was obviously still a long way to go, but the atmosphere in the ground was different. The Emirates had come alive and there was belief.
Arsenal's 10-2 defeat to Bayern Munich is the worst defeat by an English club in Champions League history. pic.twitter.com/XMeh9BPKyO
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 7, 2017
After the game, the French coach pointed out the two decisions that changed the game.
First, Walcott was seemingly brought down in the area by Xabi Alonso – although from certain angles it looks like the Spaniard got a touch on the ball before making contact with the English winger.
If given, the game could have been very different. 1-0 at half-time, the comeback was still alive, but all hope was gone in the 56th minute.
Laurent Koscielny fouled Robert Lewandowski inside the penalty area, that much is clear, but with the striker coming from an offside position, then the decision from the fifth official to change the referee's yellow card and upgrade it to a red destroyed Arsenal’s will.
The rules of the game suggest that if the foul is a push, then it’s a red card, it’s easier to see on the replay that the Polish striker pushes himself off the French defender, but that is much harder to see at full speed – too often football fans and managers who have seen the replays forget this.
“It’s absolutely unexplainable and scandalous. You look at what really happened, and the guy behind the line gives the penalty and the red card when the referee had given a yellow,” Wenger explained to Arsenal official’s website after the game.
“Okay we have to take it on the chin and I have to stand up for it, and I will take a lot of criticism, but it doesn’t change my mind. We have to deal with these kinds of situations in this game but that doesn’t make them right.”
Arsenal 10-2 collapse
Arsenal have now been knocked out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage in SEVEN consecutive seasons.
Groundhog day. ? pic.twitter.com/ED9oGi5LIh
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 7, 2017
Then, smelling blood, Bayern kicked up a gear and scored three more times after Lewandowski’s penalty.
Incensed by the decisions that went against him, the French boss made some bizarre changes with the score still 2-1. That’s 7-2 on aggregate, a comprehensive beating in itself, so it’s a wonder why Wenger decided to bring on Mesut Özil and Lucas Pérez and not Gabriel.
Admit defeat, shore up the defence and try and reduce the damage, rather than concede five and go on to record the biggest defeat for Arsenal and any other English club in the history of the competition.
Another sour page to add to Wenger’s diminishing legacy.
Time for Wenger to go
Only the most ardent of Arsenal and disciples of Le Professeur will want him to continue at the club, the discussion now seems to be how and when he leaves the Emirates.
There’s not a chance he will be removed before the end of the season, but whether it’s his, or the board’s decision, his time at the club has drawn to a close this summer.
After the weekend’s game against Lincoln City in the FA Cup, the club will get back to league business and Wenger’s last challenge now is to do what he does best and get his time into the top four.
For the first time, this is a bigger challenge than he has ever faced.
Arsenal sit fifth on 50 points. Analysing the games they have left and the amount of points they have won per game on average this season and the Gunners have a very good chance of besting the 71 points that saw them finish second last season.
Last year, that would have been a massive success, building on what happened during Leicester City’s fairy-tale campaign.
The Foxes were always going to fall from grace, and everyone expected a reaction from the chasing pack, the problem for Arsenal is that Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs all progressed and pushed on, the Gunners have stood still.
Failure to improve, being left behind
Finishing with around 71-73 points this term, would likely see Wenger’s club finish fifth. That would be the final straw in the French coach's managerial coffin.
“You have to take a bigger picture and see if you can you take this club to the next level, take yourself to the next level. Are you ready to pay the price for that?” Wenger told BT Sport at the weekend. “But as well this decision is not necessarily linked with two weeks out of 20 years you know so that's basically…I don't feel I box myself in a corner.”
The truth is, over the past 10 years, Wenger has not taken this club to the next level. There has been no level of reinvention, no change in tact, no revolution and it seems, no club as how to elevate this potential great club.
Sir Alex Ferguson was famous for, like Madonna, reinventing himself and transforming his squad over a long successful career. From the Class of ’92, to the Rooney/Ronaldo era, to picking Robin van Persie from Arsenal and firing his club to a Premier League title, the Scotsman knew what the club wanted and he also knew when to call it a day.
United needed rebuilding again, Fergie knew this and passed on the torch. Arsenal have needed that level of change for the best part of a decade, but due to their ability to qualify for the top four, the belief suggesting that was good enough for the club let the Frenchman carry on.
It’s easy for outsiders to analyse the squad and pick out the positions that needed help, but the worry surrounds Wenger’s inability to do the same.
Left-back has been a problem position since Ashley Cole moved on. The Gunners have been screaming for a bit of bite, experience and leadership in the middle of the park and that’s been missing since Gilberto Silva left.
— Arsenal (@AFCvideosHD) March 8, 2017
There are no leaders, apart from Alexis Sanchez and Laurent Koscielny, there’s no one in the squad that the rest of the top six would be clambering over each other to sign.
The rot has set in, Arsenal under Wenger have been left behind and only once the Frenchman sees this, recognises this and releases the club from his clutches, will they be able to challenge once again.