Well, this is tough.
It’s a real mixed bag of feelings when you step up to write a post about a manager who is dying a painful metaphorical death in an undignified manner. Arsene Wenger looked like a stray dog tonight. One hit by two cars on a Spanish motorway, writhing in agony, hoping a juggernaut would make it quick and easy.
It took 180minutes, but the outcome was never really in doubt. In 2018, there was to be no fairytale ending for Wenger. Simeone controlled the both legs, like a cat with a mouse between its paws. The real torture was giving fans hope that there was a chance of escape.
At every level, Arsene-al were exposed.
Madrid survived the first leg through dogged determination, exceptional planning and an intense dedication to the gospel of the clean sheet.
The second leg was a little simpler. Make it all about Diego Costa. The Spanish/Brazilian picked up where he left off at Chelsea (pre-cup final). In the opening 6 minutes, he brutalised our backline, proving he was the alpha male. From an Oblak hoof, he won the first ball brushing Koscielny over, then swatting Monreal away with ease for a lash at our goal. It was humiliating to watch, I felt like a troubled parent seeing his kids decked on the playground, I wanted to run onto the pitch with a blanket and shout ‘you monster’ at Diego for bullying my babies.
Sadly, no one could intervene in the inevitable, Thomas Partey (who was excellent) won the ball in the middle of the park finding Griezmann, the Frenchman released Costa in behind Bellerin, the chipped finish evaded Ospina, and flatlined our hopes. So predictable he’d have that sort of game against a team that’s never really come to grips with his real-life boogeyman persona. Almost cruel he’d do that in Wenger’s last European match.
I’d be foolish to put it all on bad Diego juju, but his leadership from the front inspired a world-class Atleti defensive performance that limited Arsenal to 1 Xhaka shot on target all evening. Really poor considering our MO is apparently attacking football. I will give credit to Chambers who performed really well after coming on for Kos, who sadly looks like he’s in very bad shape for the future.
Outside that, Arsenal struggled with the usual issues. Jack Wilshere and Xhaka failed to impact the game under harsh pressing from Atleti, Ozil melted into nothingness showing the club have indeed made a huge mistake giving him a mega-deal under duress this year, Lacazette was easily absorbed by towering performances from Godin and co. We didn’t have many options on the bench, not that Wenger had done any sort of scenario planning to chase the game if things weren’t going his way against a resolute defensive team.
There was one moment when a ricocheted ball found its way into Ramsey’s path, I counted 4 Atleti players who were alert to the ball, it was unreal focus and animalistic determination to keep the clean sheet that muzzled the chance. I miss that sort of care for defending.
It was an ‘almost’ game. One that we’ve seen so many times over the years against teams that don’t really like possession. You’re convinced there’s a shred of hope, but the reality is Atleti had a next level, Arsene Wenger’s side absolutely did not. Men against boys. We were totally schooled in tactics, intensity and desire.
What this exit did prove is this: The campaign to remove Wenger was entirely correct. The people that fought for his continuation in the face of damning evidence were enablers of the rot. Martin Keown made a brutal attack on Ozil after the game that’s stealing a lot of headlines.
“And it’s almost like somebody needed to grab him a long time ago and give him a shake and say ‘we’re trying to get the ball to you, we are working for you but you’re not working for us’.
“I bet he doesn’t play again this season. He’ll have some emotional breakdown and won’t be able to play at the weekend.
“I don’t know how many illnesses he’s had this season. The fella is not kidding me. That is not a proper performance. He’s not giving everything and there’s much more under the bonnet. Somebody else will find it.
I’m game for digging the German out for another insipid performance, but let’s take a step back, where was Keown when Wenger was tanking the side over the last 5 years?
This was him in 2015:
“Arsene Wenger decides when he leaves Arsenal. The topic of Wenger comes up all the time and I think we should allow the great man to decide when he goes,”
This was him Feb last year:
“If he was to go at the end of the season I’m not sure the club would be ready. Which manager they would turn to?
“We’ve seen Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola arrive at Liverpool and City and they’ve not been successful either in terms of winning trophies.”
Arsenal has missed out on so many great managers over the last 6 years because of enabling comments like the above, along with the consistent drumbeat of ‘well, who else is there?’ from so-called experts. Now where are we? Our team is in tatters, we’re 6th in the league with Burnley breathing down our necks and our rebirth job is going to need £200m, but we only have £50m to do it with because we wasted £150m on a manager who has been a disaster with the chequebook.
… but here’s the thing. At least the Arsene Wenger chapter of our story is now over. I’d take any scenario over his on-going tenure. If the cost of him leaving is a stand in his name, so be it. I’ll carve the name plaque tomorrow and arrange the party to announce it.
Being predictably humiliated in major competitions will now be a thing of the past. I’m not saying we won’t have bad moments, but we’ll have less of them, and if we’re being beaten consistently in the same way, the manager will pay a price. We’ll be like a real football club again.
We’ll hire a manager who can build a defence, imprint an attacking philosophy and provide innovative answers for the issues that happen on the pitch. We’ll move away from thinking values trump results. It’ll be magnificent.
I’m not saying I want a win-at-all-costs scumbag in charge, I’m just saying I want someone at the helm who can offer up an intelligent path forward for a club desperately lacking an identity. I want an exciting philosophy, I want a disciplined pressing style, I’d like someone to bring joy back to the Arsenal.
A club of our size and reported ambition should be fighting to be the best. We should be an excitement cauldron everyone wants to be bubbling in. We should be challenging past March. We should have a chance of winning major trophies when we’re in the semi-final. We should never be beaten before the game has started.
Arsene going out of the Europa League a failure is sadly what he deserves, it’s what the club deserves. Why? Because sentimentality has no place in elite sport, and we’ve allowed the ‘thanks for the stadium’ tour go on for far too long. Our legendary manager had three chances of a glorious send-off over the past 4 years and he greedily middle fingered them all, with no one around him gutsy enough to tell him to quit while he had an open top bus parked outside Colney. Instead, he tried to make progress bend to his regressive whims, foolishly thinking the past was his future accountability. He treated the club like his own personal fiefdom and Arsenal became a weird lifestyle job for a rich old man no one could ask to leave. The ending was never going to be pretty, but now it’s well and truly over.
Wenger: 22 years in charge, 22 seasons of European football, 2 finals, 0 trophies.
A sorry return when all is said and done.
… but, I can promise you this, the next 22 years will deliver more.
We are The Arsenal, and things are about to start looking up. The future is bright, and now we can start getting truly excited for the next chapter.
See you in the comments.