Wednesday 18 January 2017

Swansea defeat is the final straw for Arsenal fans and the beginning of the end for Arsene Wenger

Published 02/03/2016 | 22:19

Arsene Wenger Manager of Arsenal gestures during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Swansea City at the Emirates Stadium
Arsene Wenger Manager of Arsenal gestures during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Swansea City at the Emirates Stadium

A manager knows his time is up when the majority of a club’s supporter join the noisy minority in a mass protest and we are getting very close to that tipping point for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

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On a night when Swansea’s pre-match preparations were disrupted by the absence of their manager Francesco Guidolin after he was taken to hospital with respiratory problems, this fixture appeared to be set-up for Wenger’s side to launch their final push towards what could be a final great triumph for their iconic leader.

Instead, it turned into an occasion that converted a plenty more to the camp calling for managerial change at Arsenal sooner rather than later.

It was always going to take a huge leap of faith for Gunners fans to turn against a manager who has been at their helm of their club for most of their lives, yet Swansea’s 2-1 win at Emirates Stadium appears to have been the final straw.

In fact, the wave of popular opinion may have switched against Wenger the moment his side turned in such an inept performance in their 3-2 defeat against an injury-hit Manchester United last Sunday, but there was always hope that their latest ‘blip’ would be followed by a glorious crescendo to their campaign.

Wenger’s insisted in his pre-match briefing ahead of this latest title test that he did not deserve to receive the venom flowing in his direction from TV pundits, celebrity Arsenal fans and the #WengerOut club that has had a rising membership in recent days, but now there is nowhere for him to hide.

His players needed to respond in the grand manner following their Old Trafford humbling at the hands of Marcus Rashford and his youthful pals last weekend and instead, they do what Wenger’s Arsenal sides tend to do when the pressure is applied. They crumbled.

The first half an hour of their latest game played before an increasingly bewildered Emirates Stadium audience was as one-sided as you might have expected, with the early goal provide by Joel Campbell just reward as they moved into position to edge back into the Premier League title race no-one wants to win.

Yet from the moment Wayne Routledge equalised for Swansea against the run of play after 32 minutes, you sense that the Arsenal fans were preparing for another night of misery. This club has got used to expecting the worst is about to happen when opportunity knocks for them, with Wenger the recurring character in a narrative that has barely changed over the last decade.

While FA Cup wins over the last two seasons have papered over the cracks for Arsenal, the suspicion that the manager who revolutionised English football following his arrival back in 1996 has long-since passed his sell-by date has been floated for many a long year. Eventually, the man himself will have to accept the reality that his time is up.

Ashley Williams’ late winner fro relegation haunted Swansea was the final indignity for Wenger, with his generally reliable keeper Petr Cech guilty of a rare mistake to hand the Welsh side a famous victory, but there can be no more excuses from Wenger now. We have heard them all before and in truth, we don’t believe them at this stage.

Those of us who have the good fortune to cover Wenger’s jovial Friday press briefings over the last two decades may be among the last to declare that the time has come for him to go, but in a way we are reluctant to plunge the knife in as so many Arsenal fans are now doing.

It would have been nice to see this great gentleman of our sport bow out of the game on his terms, to leave Arsenal as a winner in a season that has seen all the top Premier League clubs conspire to hand him a golden chance to win his final big title before he heads into retirement.

Yet on a night when title rivals Tottenham lost at West Ham and fourth placed Manchester City were hammered by Liverpool, Arsenal and Wenger confirmed yet again that they no longer have the winner mentality you need to win the top trophies.

Such is the unpredictable nature of this season’s Premier League title challenge that Wenger and Arsenal could yet be hosting a title winning party at their Emirates Stadium in mid-May, but anyone who was present for their latest calamity would consider such a prospect impossible to imagine.

Jeers rang around Emirates Stadium at the final whistle and they were entirely justified. Wenger’s annoyance saw him give an ironic thumbs up to those taunting him as he made his way down the tunnel in a scene that provided further confirmation that the moment is coming for the last great managerial dynasty of English football to come to an end.

Sport is rarely a stage for those who dream of fairytale endings and what looks set to be Wenger’s final few weeks as Arsenal boss could prove to be as uncomfortable as he has endured in his time at the club.

No one wanted it to end like this, but #WengerOut will soon become a reality.

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