A gruelling season of transition and attrition for both Chelsea and Arsenal will culminate in an all England Europa league final.
Right across the English media websites the polls are up and they are all asking the same thing – is it time for Arsene Wenger to step down as Arsenal manager?
The Frenchman’s future is the biggest topic in English football this week after he saw his side get knocked out on penalties to Bradford City in their League Cup quarter-final.
Coming in such a difficult period for the club – Arsenal are currently sitting in seventh position in the Premier League standings and 15 points off first placed Manchester United – it’s not exactly a one off result which has led to such widespread frustration among the club’s fans.
In fact, last week, despite having already secured Champions League qualification, Wenger was criticised for not putting out his strongest team against Olympiakos. The argument being this was as good of an opportunity as any to get the team back on track with a positive result.
Well it now appears the Frenchman’s plan was to rest the majority of his strongest team in Greece so he could play them against Bradford City in the League Cup on Tuesday evening.
A win would leave Arsenal just 90 minutes from another cup trophy and the chance at silverware. There was only one small problem – Bradford City.
Wenger was right to reject assertions this was a hugely embarrassing result for the Gunners.
“I think we lost on penalties to a team who defended well,” he said.
“I cannot fault the effort we gave for 120 minutes. You have to give credit to Bradford on the night. That’s part of the game.”
It was an awful result in a bleak period for the North Londoners, but as Wenger said they were knocked out to deserving opposition.
It’s worth noting that the Arsenal manager was a lot more gracious than some of the club’s fans, including some high profile broadcasters and journalists, who took to twitter to reveal they felt bad for scoring against their plucky fourth division opponents. How patronising.
The worse bit for Arsenal fans, and this is where I can sympathise with them, is losing to such lowly ranked opposition isn’t really all that shocking anymore.
This isn’t a crisis the club find themselves in – only fans who’ve enjoyed continuous Champions League nights and a team going through a season undefeated in recent memory could think such a thing – but as David Hytner put it in The Guardian on Wednesday, “Arsenal are not so much on the back foot these days as mired in ever-decreasing circles of anxiety and frustration.”
The question of whether Wenger’s time at the Emirates should be brought to an end can only be tackled by first considering whether Arsenal are in fact playing at or about their level.
Could this just be a difficult start to a season for a club that over the last few years has realistically and justifiably turned aspirations down from the Premier League title to Champions League qualification?
Certainly the finances hint as much.
Money spent on wages – which is a much clearer indicator of a team’s ability to challenge for titles than the amount spent on player transfers – shows in 2011 Arsenal’s tally had them in fourth in the Premier League, a whopping AU$75 million behind spending leaders Manchester City.
Nonetheless frustrated Gooners are right over an extended period of time to expect the team to be going in the right direction.
And so as Arsenal slipped back from Premier League and Champions League contenders to the inconsistent mire they now find themselves in, this hasn’t happened.
Wenger and the Arsenal board must draw a line in the sand and accept from this point onwards only forward momentum is acceptable. Even for the man who helped to modernise the English game at club level.