The question was a good one, unintentionally. "Why do you look at me?" Arsene Wenger asked a reporter. Why look at Arsenal any more? This was a night for the great wounded animal of North London to rise and answer that doubt with the old verve and spirit.
The Gunners are not supposed to be a club of stagnation, regression, passivity or feuding. Timidity and mediocrity on the field of play are not their story. With the home FA Cup defeat by Blackburn came a wrenching of the soul: a moment of truth where the nonsense of cup exits and undulating league form could no longer be tolerated. So the fightback was all set up. But then Bayern Munich walked into town.
For the first half of this game the alarm bells were ringing as Bayern swept aside Wenger's slow starters. The question occurred: how much can Pep Guardiola do to improve Germany's No 1 team?
But all that can wait. Arsenal had enough trouble coping with the Jupp Heynckes-designed Bayern. Wenger's side were 2-0 down at the break and outclassed. Chasing a borderline lost cause, they finally summoned the necessary zeal and intensity, pulling one back through Germany's Lukas Podolski before Mario Mandzukic scrambled a third for Bayern after some fine work by Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm. That flattened a fractious home crowd all over again.
Supreme confidence and conviction is not unknown in these parts. It was a feature of the Herbert Chapman and George Graham eras. Wenger's Invincibles possessed it in abundance. Arsenal were a mighty, proud force. Whatever they could lay on by way of entertainment was underpinned by firmness of character. No team could expect to face the Gunners without a battle of wills.
How distant all that felt as Bayern, imperious in the Bundesliga and thrilled to have captured Guardiola for next term, took a chainsaw to an Arsenal defence in opening exchanges that only emphasised the shambles at the rear of Wenger's team, where balls across the box are not dealt with and predators are not tracked.
Any amateur scout might have warned Wenger's men that Toni Kroos, a superb talent, shares Frank Lampard's instinct for arriving at just the right time. Instead a cross from Arsenal's left was allowed to bounce to Kroos, who smashed the ball past Wojciech Szczesny with only nine minutes on the clock. Bayern's second, from Thomas Müller, was another product of dreamy defending by surely the worst back-four of Wenger's 17 years in charge.
By half-time there was already the sense of an ending: not of Wenger's reign, necessarily, but the policy of buying inferior players to replace top-class ones, and of allowing the squad to fester with passengers and has-beens. You cannot sell Robin van Persie and buy Olivier Giroud (who started on the bench here). It is plainly self-defeating to shop for a German international and come back with the languid Per Mertesacker in a league where speed of thought and movement are paramount.
With Andre Santos purged, mercifully, Mertesacker will be the lightning rod for Arsenal's inexplicable defending. But the problem runs far deeper. Wenger's players are not working as a collective, not covering each other's backs and not reacting to danger (hell, even coping with corner kicks is way beyond them). Part scattiness, part indolence, this pattern of responsibility evading is making every game an ordeal of mishap and recovery.
A brilliant judge of talent cannot mutate into Mr Magoo overnight, so there is still no explanation as to why a manager who bought Van Persie, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira for bargain prices has for years now been coming back from the market with the likes of Gervinho or Marouane Chamakh.
A child could diagnose the constant downgrading of Arsenal's median talent level, which has conspired with defensive mayhem and an acute shortage of on-pitch leadership to leave the club needing to win the Champions League to save their season. To reach this point in February after cup defeats to Blackburn Rovers and Bradford City is lamentable, and points to a need for mass culling this summer. In the Premier League, Arsenal are four points off fourth-place (occupied by Spurs) and are 21 behind leaders Manchester United.
Football is not media studies, so ordinarily the fuss around Wenger's tetchiness with the press on Monday would have no lasting significance, except that his hostility betrayed the distress felt by this cerebral and hyper-competitive sporting general.
Bayern are a pretty good approximation of how Wenger would like Arsenal to be, but in the same domestic league there would be 15-20 points between them. Jack Wilshere was one of the very few who carried the battle to Bayern in a way that Tony Adams or Vieira might have recognised.
There was no turning point, no relief for Wenger and very little hope of Arsenal overturning this deficit in Bavaria, unless they can summon the spirit of Chelsea in last season's Champions League final and somehow treble it. Currently, this is a hollow Arsenal side. (© Daily Telegraph, London)