Arsene Wenger might be losing more games than ever before, but there’s one thing he hasn’t lost. That’s his lyrical turn of phrase. Of the fragile confidence that has proven so ruinous to Arsenal, and been responsible for so many collapses, Wenger said the following: “You go up by the stairs, you go down by the lift, that’s confidence”.
There are many fair questions over whether this issue of confidence more pointedly reflects the flaws in Wenger’s management than anything else, but the line also reflects the flaws of the last few years – especially regarding the time to call it a day.
The French great’s tenure has really been in decline since at least 2008 but that difficult last decade has still seen him get the team to defy so much criticism and fight towards trophies like those last three FA Cups. They all offered ideal times to bow out on a high, but the confidence gleaned from them only saw Wenger decide to stay on… and ultimately keep getting bowled over; knocked down. Those successes have been followed by worse failures, new depths.
That was what was so galling about this particular 3-0 defeat by Manchester City. We’d seen collapses like this before, but the cumulative effect of them led to an even worse setting, an even worse atmosphere. Arsenal had been battered like this by half-time before, but never at home, never in front of such a low crowd, never leaving them 30 points behind the leaders.
This is also what no-one wants to see. No one wants to see a proper football legend like Wenger have to eventually leave the job on a low, rather than the high he deserves, but it is now real prospect.
That’s how bad it’s getting.
Sources say Wenger is being completely honest and is determined to stay this summer, but that itself raises the worse prospect – however faint it is – that the club may have a difficult decision to make.
What is particularly concerning is how Arsenal seem to have lost the idiosyncratic self-correction mechanism that saved so many seasons. It used to be case that Arsenal would win a game just when they seemed on the brink of a crisis, and lose a game just when they seemed on the cusp of a proper breakthrough. Now, there are no breakthroughs, and it is as if the bottom has fallen out.
This is why they failed to finish in the top four for the first time under Wenger last season, this is why they are set to do so for the second time this season, but in a very distant sixth.
This is why there should be genuine fears about their Europa League situation. That is the thing about this season, the goal there in the background. As bad as this campaign is getting, it could still have the best high since 2006, as Wenger could finally win that first European trophy of his career while also returning the club to the Champions League.
It’s just that they really don’t look in the kind of form, or the kind of mood, to do it.
Wenger naturally insisted he could go back up the stairs, raise the confidence again, but we’ve heard that before.
We’ve never seen one of his Arsenal sides as beatable as this before. It's going to take much more than a turn of phrase to turn this around.
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