Exit sign looming large for Wenger

A shoddy display in the Champions League could be the last straw for the Arsenal coach.

TIME TO GO? Arsene Wenger has struggled to find success in recent times.

Arsene Wenger’s once magnificent, now forlorn, course with Arsenal is almost run.
After his team capitulated to a 4-0 Champions League defeat against AC Milan in the San Siro last Wednesday, even the urbane Frenchman could not find excuses. “What is more difficult to take,” he said, “is the performance we produced tonight.

“It’s a big shock. We were never in the game. Very poor offensively and defensively. Slow to read the game, slow to respond, beaten in the challenges.” And his eyes, red around the edges, told the story.

Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player often derided by professionals and experts in the English game, was far and away the most effective man on the field. He overpowered Arsenal’s meagre defences. He bullied them with his height, outwitted them with his touch, made them pay for all the taunts of the past.

The contest, in theory, is unfinished, with the second leg still to come. But even Wenger knows that his long attempt to win Europe’s most coveted trophy in his 16th season with Arsenal is dead and buried.

So, alas, might be his time with the London club. In the beginning, and for the first seven years, he gave Arsenal a style and a beauty that was rare to behold on English fields.  He imported talents, some barely out of school, and blended them in a fashion totally contrary to the old, grindingly efficient, Arsenal.

However, when the club moved to a new stadium, with double the seating capacity and more than double the financial income from corporate boxes, the nature of Arsenal changed. It went up-market, it sold out to Russian and American shareholders. But it did not compete in the transfer market the way that big clubs, like Milan, like Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Barcelona and Real Madrid do.

Thierry Henry’s presence on the field last Wednesday was a sorry reminder of his former glory. He was hired for a short stay, from his New York sinecure with the Red Bulls. 

Although Henry had produced match-winning goals in two of his brief appearances, this was no longer the young Thierry who could outpace almost any defender. It was an elderly soccer player, lending his experience but making a desperate last appearance in a lost cause.

Arsenal lost Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri to clubs that would pay more last summer. It lost Jack Wilshere, its emerging Englishman, to injury that has so far lasted this whole season. That represents its entire midfield creative unit. Replacements signed in haste last summer are but shadows of the past greatness.

Henry produced one back-heeled pass that prompted the otherwise dormant Robin van Persie to force Milan’s goalkeeper, Christian Abbiati, into his one decent save of the night

The rest was embarrassing. Arsenal might not sack Wenger after the 16 years he has supervised. But he said himself, after the team’s 8-2 hammering against Manchester United last August, that he might have to go if his team was substandard by the end of the season. That call looks imminent.


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