“As low as it gets for Arsenal right now” was how one Gunners favourite described another humbling defeat by Manchester City, as the feeling grew around Emirates Stadium that one of football’s longest managerial reigns is drawing to a close.
There were tens of thousands of empty seats – and a toxic atmosphere from those who braved the weather – as the Gunners were beaten 3-0 by the runaway Premier League leaders for the second time in five days.
BBC Sport pundit Ian Wright called Sunday’s Wembley defeat in the Carabao Cup final an “insipid performance” and former team-mate Martin Keown went even further on Thursday.
The Gunners won three Premier League titles in Arsene Wenger’s first eight seasons in charge – but none in the following 13. Sitting sixth in the table, they are closer to bottom-placed West Brom than City in terms of points.
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‘A sad evening… outplayed and outfought’
Keown, who played in those three title-winning seasons under Wenger, was scathing in his BBC Radio 5 live analysis.
“It’s turning into a sad evening for Wenger. They’ve been outplayed and outfought,” he said.
“The ingredients were put together by Wenger in 2004. Everyone was at boiling point and they had that desire to win games. You could see it with a player in midfield that controls the ball and demands the ball from the defenders. There was Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira.
“Wenger inherited a defence but he worked with that platform. They didn’t have any of that defence in 2004 but still had the same desire. People have been in the comfort zone too long in the this team.
“I was calling for more desire and intensity from Arsenal. The problems have been there all season and you can’t suddenly turn it on. They’ve looked good going forward but they always look like they could concede.
“They used to say it was like watching Brazil. I’m not sure what it’s like watching now. It’s been a very tepid and sad evening.”
‘Not seen it this bad since Neill left in the 1980s’
Keown added: “Now the press conference almost becomes more important than the actual game for Arsene. He felt there was an over-reaction after the final. He hoped there’d be a response but they’ve been totally outplayed.
“I don’t think I’ve seen it this bad for Arsenal since maybe [former manager] Terry Neill left in the 1980s.
“I don’t think he’ll walk, but this will test his resolve. Big questions are being asked now – if these players are giving their all for Arsene Wenger.”
The game was over inside 33 minutes as Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Leroy Sane put City out of touch. The Gunners’ £56m record signing, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, had a penalty saved in the second half.
“I feel we put a lot of effort in tonight,” Wenger told BBC Sport. “We played with low confidence. You could see that at the start of the game and we paid for it.
“We needed the penalty to go in, but that was another negative. We lost to a team that is the best in the country at the moment.”
Asked about the size of the crowd, he said: “You cannot be euphoric after what happened on Sunday, and again tonight. The weather explains it as well.”
‘The end is surely coming for Wenger’
BBC Sport chief football writer Phil McNulty
Arsenal’s latest humiliation at the hands of Manchester City – played out before thousands of empty seats at Emirates Stadium – carried an ominous air of finality for manager Arsene Wenger.
The end may not be imminent but it is surely coming for the man who brought such glory to the Gunners after he arrived in October 1996.
Wenger himself, so enduringly optimistic against increasing odds even when he signed a new two-year contract at Arsenal last summer, must know himself the credits are rolling on a story that cannot possibly last beyond the end of this season. The final chapter is being written.
City were magnificent on Thursday night but the two 3-0 victories they have recorded over Arsenal in the last five days, this following on from the League Cup final win at Wembley on Sunday, barely scratch the surface of the gulf between the two teams, the two clubs and the two managers – Wenger and Pep Guardiola.
And this will be the crux of the matter for Arsenal’s hierarchy, especially owner Stan Kroenke, who have been so unfailingly loyal to Wenger even as they have drifted further from the pack and without a Premier League title since 2003-04.
The empty seats, the apathy and the anger, added to a seventh loss since the turn of the year, only underlines that Arsenal as a club have gone stale under Wenger.
The danger now is that unless they act soon a gap will develop that could take many years and many millions of pounds to claw back.
This means an exit strategy for Wenger, who has managed to offset failings elsewhere with three FA Cup wins in the past four seasons, must now be on the agenda.
Arsenal have appeared to be a club and an ownership in thrall to Wenger in recent years, his authority unchallenged even when questions needed to be asked. Now the most difficult of all must be posed – and the answer can only be that one of the great managerial dynasties is drawing to a close.
A man of such stature, a true Arsenal great who revolutionised the domestic game when he arrived in north London, deserves a dignified departure but football does not offer up those sort of happy endings too often.
Wenger has looked a beaten man in the past few days and it may be the manner of these losses, plus the reaction of both the fans who turned up and those who stayed away, has finally sealed his fate.
It will be a sad day when Wenger leaves Arsenal – but it is one that cannot be avoided for much longer.
The stats which sum up Arsenal’s travails
- The Gunners have lost more matches in all competitions in 2018 than any other Premier League team (7).
- Arsenal suffered their joint-heaviest home Premier League defeat, having also lost by three-goal margins to Coventry (1993), Middlesbrough (2001) and Chelsea (twice in 2009).
- This was Manchester City’s biggest away win at Arsenal in any competition since a 4-0 triumph in November 1912.
- Arsenal are now on their longest Premier League run without a clean sheet (10 matches) since February 2002 (11 matches).
- This was the first time Arsenal conceded three goals in the first half of a home Premier League game and the first time they have done so in a home league game since March 1989 against Nottingham Forest.
We also asked for your thoughts on #bbcfootball and 81111 on text. Here’s a selection of what you had to say.
John: Watching here in the US, and I am done! Why should we support Arsenal if they don’t care? Out with Wenger!
Robel: I still support Wenger to get back Arsenal to the level he brings. But he must act quick and get rid of the midfield passengers.
Ethan: All this what nonsense about what Wenger has achieved? He’s won three titles in 21 years, name another ‘top club’ that would allow this? He’s underachieved and his refusal to invest adequately into his squad over the year has caught up with him
Ricky, Bristol: Even as a Spurs fan, it’s hard to watch Arsenal like this. It’s pitiful.
Dan, Kenilworth: Bring in Thierry Henry until the end of the season and maybe beyond if successful. Less of a risk now this season is a complete write-off and might even install some passion back into the team.
Mark: I’ve defended Wenger for years now, as I feel that he doesn’t get enough respect for what he achieved at Arsenal but even I’m saying it’s time for a shake up at the Emirates! Time for a change?
Paul: I didn’t think Arsenal were too bad, however City have gone up another level since Sunday. Sane has been amazing
Helles: Arsenal are the laughing stock of the football world, at barely any club there’s this discrepancy between aspiration and reality. Wenger needs to be FIRED asap. Tuchel for example would be available right now!
Dave: Arsenal should look decent going forward given the money they’ve spent in that area. But even a fat armchair fan like me can see that the defence has long needed surgery. Aubameyang must wonder what he’s let himself in for.
Sean: Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Xhaka are consistently poor. There’s one thing buying Xhaka – it’s another starting him every single game. Clearly our defensive training is NOT intense enough. Toxic from board to management. Look at Kompany. Leaders bring victory
Michael: It’s a bit harsh to judge Arsenal and their coach when they’re undone by this extraordinarily talented Man City team