ofAs I sit writing this, I’ve just witnessed what I would describe as one of the most humiliating defeats for any club in the history of English football. Take the first leg or second in isolation, or the tie as a whole. It really doesn’t matter – they were individually and collectively embarrassing for everyone at Arsenal Football Club. Beaten 10-2 on aggregate by German champions FC Bayern – 5-1 in each leg – they have exited the Champions League at the Round of 16 stage for the SEVENTH consecutive year. The phrase ‘dumped out of Europe’ is often used unfairly but in Arsenal’s case, it couldn’t be more applicable.
I know what many, including the commentators on BT Sport tonight, will say – that the sending off of Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny at around 52 minutes didn’t help the Gooners’ cause. It certainly didn’t and, on paper, some may say it changed the tie. They were 1-0 up on the night at the time the Frenchman saw red, after all. But looking a little deeper, any sensible observer of the game would realise it was of little consequence. Even though they were in the lead on the night, Arsene Wenger’s men were 5-2 down on aggregate at the time, so it’s unlikely they’d have pulled back the tie from there. And that’s completely ignoring the fact that the sending off was well-deserved for the foul that was committed, making any discussion about it’s impact on the game a bit of a moot point.
Arsenal crashed out of Europe this week in embarrassing fashion
It would be unfair to perform on an intricate post-mortem of any kind on Arsenal’s performance tonight. They went into the second leg arguably already knowing the tie was over. More than that, they were facing what I believe is the strongest club side in Europe at the moment. FC Bayern currently occupy their all-too-familiar perch atop the Bundesliga, 7 points ahead of second-placed RB Leipzig, having lost a solitary game all season. With an incredible goal difference of 44 goals in 23 matches and, having been equally free-scoring in their Champions League group stage, goals were never going to be an issue for Carlo Ancelotti’s men and, sending off added, this certainly proved to be the case.
The real question in the aftermath of this Arsenal annihilation, however, is this – what now for Arsenal? At present, they sit 5th in the Premier League table, having lost 3 of their last 5 matches. Out of Europe, their only real chance at silverware for the season is the FA Cup. Even if they do beat lowly Lincoln City in the quarter-final this coming Saturday, they will likely have to face one of Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur or either Manchester United or Chelsea. Given the strength of each of these potential opponents , the chances of Wenger and Co overcoming all of them to lift the trophy at Wembley in May look slim at best, given recent events.
And even if the Gooners did manage to do it, would it really be enough for fans of the North London club? It would be only their fifth major trophy in 13 years. Their last league title came in 2003/04, a result of the endeavours of the magnificent Invincibles side that featured the talents of players such as Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp. They have enjoyed more success in the FA Cup, though, winning in 2005, 2014 and 2015.
The last Arsenal side to win the league was the great ‘Invincibles’ side of 2004
Not bad on paper, you might think. But I’m sure most Arsenal fans reading this would agree that, for a club deemed one of the most illustrious in England, it simply isn’t enough. In the same 13-year period since 2004, their rivals have fared considerably better. Chelsea have won 13 major trophies, including four league titles, while Manchester United boast an impressive 12 major trophies to their name. Significantly, however, both United and Chelsea have conquered Europe in that time, while Arsenal have failed to. Even Manchester City, who have only really been able to compete with Arsenal in financial terms since their takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, have amassed 5 major trophies in that time, including 2 Premier League titles.
So, what is it that is making Arsenal seemingly stand still while all around them keep moving? Yes other clubs, most notably United, have had struggles in recent years, yet still, there seems enough dynamism and purpose elsewhere for fans to retain hope when times get tough. At the Emirates, there seems to be a prevailing attitude, from the boardroom and manager at least, that the status quo is just fine. As long as the books are balancing, the money keeps rolling in and there is no imminent crisis afoot, then everything is hunky-dory, right?
I’m not so sure – and I don’t think Alexis Sanchez is either. The former Barcelona front man was dropped for Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat by Liverpool, amidst rumours of a bust up with his manager and fellow players. The Chilean was seen publicly lambasting his team-mates for their performance in the 5-1 defeat to FC Bayern in the first leg of their Champions League tie and the fall out is said to have happened after relationships remained strained in the aftermath. Wenger was said to be unimpressed with the forward’s attitude.
Alexis Sanchez and Arsenal teammates had a rumoured bust up
If I were an Arsenal fan, though, I’m not sure it’s Sanchez’s attitude I would be questioning. This is a man who has won multiple titles with Barcelona, as well as the Primera Division in Argentina with River Plate, a Copa Sudamericana (the South American version of the Europa League) with his first club Colo-Colo and two Copa Americas with Chile.
If Sanchez is questioning the attitude of those he plays with and they respond badly, I think it would be THEM I’d want to take a closer look at. Sanchez, after all, knows how to win. He knows what it takes to bring home trophies and, for a lot in the Arsenal squad, the same can’t be said. When someone with a winning track record speaks, you need to listen. Ok, Sanchez may have acted unprofessionally in the manner in which he has handled himself, but I’ve no doubt any concerns he has about the mentality or ability of his team would be valid. If Arsene Wenger, his backroom staff and his other players aren’t willing to listen to those concerns, then more fool them. This is all conjecture of course. We don’t know the real truth behind the stories involving Sanchez and those behind the scenes at the Emirates but, with the Chilean appearing to stifle laughter during his club’s defeat in the second leg against Bayern, and rumours abound he may be off to PSG in the summer, it looks like bridges are burning fast between the striker and Arsenal.
If Sanchez did go then, regardless of the real reason, it would only further confirm Arsenal’s lack of ambition. At the moment, they look like a team who will fold at the merest hint of pressure. Losing undoubtedly one of the world’s best players, in Sanchez, would not help and would surely only leave Gooners fans bereft. How likely would they be to find someone to replace Sanchez and, even if they did, would one player of that quality be enough to lift this team?
Many feel it’s time for manager Arsene Wenger to go
I don’t think so. Arsenal come across as a team lost and completely devoid of direction. Arsene Wenger cuts a drab and deflated figure on the touchline, barely seeming to care these days whether his team win or lose. Arsenal fans are, no doubt, grateful for all the Frenchman has done in his time at the club. He is arguably their greatest ever manager and, with 20 years service at the club, is probably the last of his kind we’re ever likely to see when it comes to loyalty to one team. Yes, there’s the old adage of ‘be careful what you wish for’. Arsenal could get rid of Wenger and find themselves in a worse position, out of the top four and losing their incredible run of consecutive years appearing in the Champions League. But I’d argue that, even with the risk of that happening, most Arsenal fans would take the plunge. They know something needs to change to stop their club becoming soulless and rudderless. Even a few years below their current level, to recoup and rebuild without Wenger, might bring back an unpredictability and excitement that has been sorely lacking at the Emirates in the last decade.
As one fan protest poster read before the second leg of the FC Bayern tie, every great story has an ending. For me, and I’m sure many Arsenal fans, Arsene Wenger has reached his.