After the second 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich, I thought things couldn’t get worse for Arsenal. Then I remembered that there was the potential for the Gunners to be further humiliated by losing to a non-league team in the FA Cup. Mercifully, that was avoided with a 5-0 win, but on the return to the Premier League, things did get worse. 3-1 defeats to Chelsea and Liverpool away from home were bad, but to lose by the same score-line to West Bromwich Albion was truly dreadful.
In pure numbers, it is four defeats in five league games for Arsenal, but it is the manner of the defeats that is most worrying. After the international break, there are still matches with Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United to come this season. There are games in hand so it remains a possibility for Arsenal to get into the top four, but any win is looking like a challenge at the moment.
Obviously a lot of blame is being apportioned to the manager at the moment, and as the man who is ultimately responsible for the team, Arsene Wenger has to bear the brunt of it. But when he said in the build-up to the trip to the Hawthorns that set-pieces were going to be crucial, I can’t believe that he’d have set the team up to be as passive as they were in those situations on Saturday. The players themselves are clearly not getting the messages properly or, if they are, choosing not to take them on board and not put the effort in.
For all the talk from some of the players about them wanting Arsene Wenger to stay, they are doing nothing on the pitch to back that up. When that’s the case, it makes it extraordinarily difficult to justify a new contract for the manager. There is quality throughout the Arsenal squad but it isn’t a functioning team at the moment. I’d love nothing more than for Arsene Wenger to stay and get the team playing well again, but I can’t see how he can fix the problems and make that happen. With a run of form like this and the humiliating defeats that this has included, the board can’t justify having a new contract on the table at this point.
As with the recent situation at Leicester City, when the players aren’t able to take anything on from the manager and start letting him down so badly, it’s the way of football that it is the manager that has to fall because of it. As much as there could be a big turnover of players this summer with key ones leaving, all the players can’t be sacked. The manager can be. Arsene Wenger obviously won’t be sacked before his contract runs out at the end of the season, but it shouldn’t be the case that the club allows him to make the final decision on if he stays or goes. As much as the players need to look like they care on the field, the owner and the chief executive need to look like they actually care about the future of the club by making a difficult decision. It’s easy to sit back, hang Arsene Wenger out to dry and then hope he signs a new deal. But if they have any interest whatsoever in the footballing side of the club, and ultimately that is the point of a football club, actions have to speak louder than their current silence on the situation. Until they do, things will only get worse with a group of players that aren’t responding to the manager and a fan base that is increasingly fractured.
As for the game on Saturday itself, the only thing more embarrassing that Arsenal’s defending from set-pieces were the banners flown in the sky, one demanding for the manager to leave and the other one wanting him to stay. People complain that Arsenal are becoming a laughing stock on the pitch but then some decide to spend actual money on things such as that. It is genuinely baffling.
Despite having the majority of possession in the game, Arsenal didn’t get enough shots on Ben Foster’s goal as they lacked imagination and ambition to break down the opposition. The passing was too safe and the service to Danny Welbeck, and Olivier Giroud when he came on in the second half, was almost non-existent. Alexis Sanchez was lively before being fouled by a nasty challenge from James McClean, something encouraged by the referee following his inability to punish the constant fouls that were committed on the Chilean in the first half, but carrying the injury he disappeared from the game in the second half before eventually being substituted.
It was a dreadful performance and result to take into a two-week international break, which will now feel even longer because of the negativity surrounding the club at the moment. Either the board or the manager have to make a decision on Arsene Wenger’s future sooner rather than later and then announce it to have any chance to uniting the team and fans before the end of the season. After saying in his press conference that he has made a decision on his future and that people will know soon, it’d be good of Arsene Wenger to say what the decision is. The uncertainty isn’t doing anyone any favours at the moment. Things may get even worse before they better if he does announce a decision either way, but it’s got to be worth doing as something has to be done to stop this alarming slide away from the top four.