Although I’m aware that I need to keep an unbiased mindset here while writing on this site but I’m not ashamed to say that Arsenal is my life. I’d go a long way to watch them even in the most pointless of pre-season friendlies, my yearly calendar literally starts in August and ends in May, and I’ve even told my girlfriend that the Gunners have and always will be the first important love of my life (thankfully she accepts and hopefully embraces it). That being said, on Tuesday night I had never wanted an Arsenal game to end as quickly as it unfortunately didn’t. The last half an hour of the second leg tie against Bayern Munich felt like half a year, as I watched my team, a man short and at an all-time low in confidence, gaze as Douglas Costa, Arjen Robben and Arturo Vidal skipped past our defence to create a third successive 5-1 hammering against the German champions. It was a strange evening for me; it didn’t start with much optimism as we needed to score four goals without reply to qualify for the next stage, and the pre-match build-up was marred by ‘Wenger Out’ protests, a march which culminated in a section of supporters hounding the directors box wishing to remove the contract offer to club legend Arsene Wenger. It’s always eventful at Arsenal, but this took matters to a whole new level. There are more signs heading towards Wenger’s exit this summer than to him signing a new deal, and that scares me as a Gunners fan. I’m not afraid to say it, and while the Boss hasn’t been perfect in the last few seasons, not even a five-pronged German counter-attack can terrify me more than the prospect of this legend leaving the club with the club in this state.
The damage in the Champions League tie was evidently done in the first leg. Whatever came in the second half of the tie would have either been catch-up or collateral damage. Now it’s easy to point fingers at the manager for a 10-2 aggregate loss, but a closer analysis at the 180 minutes of football shows that Wenger can’t solely be held accountable. For fifty minutes at the Allianz Arena, Arsenal looked in very good shape. They had recovered well from an early setback to get a then-tie-changing away goal through Alexis Sanchez. The loss of captain Laurent Koscielny proved to be the catalyst of the capitulation of the Arsenal defence, with the Gunners looking feeble as Bayern scored four goals in thirty-five minutes. What could Arsene Wenger have done there? For me, he set the team up perfectly; we were looking well balanced and fairly solid at the back, and it looked for a while that we’d take something substantial back home to London with us. But there are times in this sport, when the players have to step up to the situation. From the moment Koscielny left the field, there should have been a new loud voice carrying on the good work, yet nobody stepped forward and Arsenal were rolled over. All the manager can do at this particular point is keep the motivation going, and the players’ confidences up. This isn’t a game of FIFA where you can control each player one by one. These are top-level players, who should know how to take care of themselves and stick to a game plan, and not be headless chickens that need guidance from their manager every time something goes wrong.
An identical issue happened in the second leg. With the Gunners a goal up and looking increasingly likely to get a second goal to up the pressure a little on their German opponents, Koscielny was dismissed leaving the already insurmountable challenge definitely impossible. Uncertainty amongst the defence then followed as Arsenal once again collapsed, but it was the manager who ended up with the blame. And while it’s typically Arsenal of me to do so here, but the officials ruined were appalling and ruined the game completely. Not only did they fail to award a stonewall penalty in the first-half for Arsenal, made worse by the fact that the additional official on the by-line was a couple of yards away from the incident, but for Koscielny’s dismissal, the referee changed his decision from only booking the defender to sending him off under the influence of the same seemingly-blind official. From that point it became a training game for Bayern Munich, and the eventual 5-1 score line came from the German side’s ruthless and professional attitude; they were relentless and showed no mercy. Is all of the above Wenger’s fault? Not for me. Perhaps the Frenchman could have gone more defensive in the second period, but then the same critics who are lambasting him for this result would have still shown no sympathy for him for not attacking enough if he shut up shop and got a 1-1 draw. It was a lose-lose situation for him and is being used as the obvious scapegoat for a combination of the players letting him down and poor refereeing. The capitulations aren’t necessarily all Wenger’s fault.
Before the dreaded encounter, fans took to the N5 streets to protest against the current manager with the hope of forcing him out of the club. But to me, just like the game against Norwich last season, this was a very poor attempt of a protest. Quite frankly, I’ve seen bigger crowds in my local chippy. Once again, this summarizes what the Wenger Out Brigade (WOBs) are in the Arsenal community; a minority. The protests in April last year were drowned out by ‘One Arsene Wenger’, which stunned even the manager himself at the large support he still had. This led to fighting amongst fans from then on until the end of the season, but culminated in the same chant ringing round the Emirates at the last game of the season against Aston Villa. I shouldn’t be too critical of the WOBs; they have the right to voice their opinions in the same way that I have the right to voice mine, but they should be respectful to the man. Yes, Arsenal was a big club before Arsene Wenger, but he somehow managed to make it even bigger, and has given us some brilliant memories at the expense of him moving on and trying other challenges in his own career. Since winning the Invincibles, he’s been offered the Real Madrid, Paris St. Germain and the France national team jobs numerous times, but has chosen to stick with the Gunners because of his love for this club. Throughout two decades of managing the Gunners, the worst achievement he’s made has been finishing fourth, while all the big clubs, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and even Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, have fallen out of the top four at some point in this period. Yet the protesting fans chose to sing “Arsene Wenger, You’re Killing Our Club”. If he was really killing the club, the finances would be detrimental and the Gunners would be sitting in mid-table with an empty stadium and no world-class talent. An invalid accusation if you ask me.
With every Arsenal disappointment, there’s always Arsenal Fan TV. First of all, let’s give credit where it’s due; Arsenal Fan TV is a fantastic idea as it has given the fans a voice which is being heard. It has been extremely successful since it broke onto the scene a few years ago, and I was not only a regular follower of the channel, but have also contributed to it via post-match interviews a handful of times. But recently, I’ve stopped watching and unsubscribed from it, as it’s not balanced enough for me between the AKBs (Arsene Knows Best) and the WOBs. As previously mentioned, the people who want Arsene Wenger to leave the club are a minority but AFTV has given the WOBs so much screen time that you would think that it was the opposite. If you look at the channel closely, while they do what they should do in interviewing different people every week, the regulars on the show are majority WOBs. On top of that, the regulars who are AKBs, Ty being a prime example, have extreme opinions about Wenger staying and give off the impression to all fans who watch the channel that those who want Wenger to stay are deluded. One fan, named Chris, chose to not come on the show anymore (via a charity fundraiser named ‘Get Chris Off Arsenal Fan TV’) as he was receiving so much abuse from Arsenal fans who watch the show. I wish I could be more positive about the channel, as it’s such a great idea, but this is the way that people are starting to view the show. Anyway I’m not sure why these fans are ranting about Wenger as much as they do; is it all that bad? While I’ve already mentioned why the Champions League failure wasn’t down to the manager, the failure to win the Premier League this season isn’t all Wenger’s doing either. One of the main reasons why Arsenal aren’t sitting on top of the Premier League is because Chelsea have run away with it at the top. Even if Arsenal had won some of their big games that they have lost in recent weeks, they would still be behind Antonio Conte’s men. There’s no shame in losing the title to Chelsea this season; they’ve won practically every game and fully deserve to lift the title in May. All Arsenal have to do now is to qualify for the top 4, which they should do as they do that every year, and try and win the FA Cup. In my opinion, this season should not be considered in the critics’ ‘List of things that Arsene Wenger has done wrong’, but it hasn’t all been his fault.
So what now for Arsenal and Arsene? A home tie against fifth-tier Lincoln is the perfect game to get the Gunners going again, as a win (even on this form it’s hard to see them losing this one) would get the fans singing of Wembley and provide some excitement for the club again after a difficult period. In terms of the manager, I hope that he signs a new deal, as like I’ve mentioned throughout this entire piece, he’s not entirely to blame and the criticisms of him are harsh. Not only the players, but also the board have to take some responsibility for the clubs’ failings as well. With an owner who can’t even be bothered to turn up to games, a chief executive with no backbone in the transfer market, and not a single person in charge of the club with any footballing experience, the way that the club is set up has forced Wenger to play the role as chariman, CEO, director of football, accountant and manager all at the same time. While I’m open to Wenger leaving the club in the near future, as it has to happen some day, with no real ready made replacement for him, for me, it would not be beneficial to the club to part company with Arsene Wenger