Thursday 20 September 2018

Wenger's stay of execution almost over as players flop yet again

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Reuters
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Reuters

Paul Hayward

Unless Arsenal can win the Europa League - and AC Milan, their next opponents, will have other ideas - this was surely the last big match of Arsene Wenger's 22-year reign.

The only way he could stay beyond this summer would be for Arsenal to dress regression up as some kind of rebuilding.

They would have to fictionalise and rewrite everything we witnessed in a disturbing League Cup final that saw Arsenal fans begin to flee after 64 minutes, when their side went 3-0 down.

For the last 10 minutes the red zone of Wembley was only half-full as the beaten tribe traipsed out more in resignation than anger.

For there to be more finals for Wenger, Arsenal would have to lie to themselves.

"Who knows?" was all he would say when asked if the summer would bring regime change.

He is good at presenting his own future as a guessing game, but the fun has run dry, because Arsenal's fans can see their club sliding fast.

To them, Wenger's abdication is not about preserving his dignity, or timing it so he can leave on some kind of high. They see a hollow team not even fighting to win a cup final.

The end of Wenger's stay in the red part of North London has been predicted, demanded, debated and, above all, postponed, for nigh on 10 years.

As a talking point, it is football's Brexit - a topic you can never escape, and one without a resolution. Just when the flames rise highest, Wenger comes along with a bucket of cold water to partly put them out.

The FA Cup, especially, has kept him in power, but that competition's kid brother, the League Cup, has dealt a potentially mortal blow to his authority.

The 3-0 scoreline was the least of it. Anyone can lose 3-0 to Manchester City, who won their first trophy of the season without engaging top gear.

It was the nature of the defeat that tells the story: the negligent defending of a rearguard who seemed not to notice they were facing the best attack in the country, and snoozed for all three City goals.

Arsenal were so bad they made children cry. This will be the viral reaction after television showed a young boy sobbing at his team's demise.

Strictly, children should be allowed to weep at football games without being turned into news stories and symbols of a team's haplessness. But this lad's sadness came over as an indictment of Wenger's players, who were bizarrely timid, as well as mediocre.

In his commentary, Gary Neville called them an "absolute disgrace" and "spineless".

The worst Arsenal team of Wenger's reign started the game 27 points behind City in the Premier League, three days after losing 2-1 at home to Ostersunds, though they had beaten the Swedes 3-0 in their Europa League first leg.

The FA Cup holders had already been knocked out by Nottingham Forest in another game that raised doubts about their appetite.

At the City Ground in a 4-2 third-round defeat, Wenger's understudies went through the motions. And, yesterday, all three City goals undermined Arsenal's claim to be a team who treat defending seriously.

Arsenal's attacking play, meanwhile, was a non-event, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang easily handled by Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi. Aubameyang must be questioning the wisdom of choosing this route out of Germany.

The individual quality of Arsenal starting XIs has been falling for several years. Callum Chambers, Shkodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny are just four players whose presence in an Arsenal jersey could be questioned.

© Daily Telegraph, London.

Telegraph.co.uk

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