SWANSEA, WALES – MARCH 16: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on prior to kick off during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Arsenal at Liberty Stadium on March 16, 2013 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
It may not be officially over but Arsenal are limping along on life support while coaches like Pep Guardiola demonstrate what’s required at this level.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal will exist – officially – at least until the end of this season. But there’s no life there. It’s gone; all over. Anyone can see that now.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came in January but they are CPR signings. There’s no plan for them. Under this man, this club is limping along on life support. Please, someone, come in June and have enough humanity to pull the plug and let it die. Then the club can rise again.
People like Raul Sanllehi, Sven Mislintat and Huss Fahmy were originally brought to the club to ease the transition from the Wengerian times to the post-Wengerian times. But it’s too late. It’s no longer a transition. It’ll have to be a reincarnation; a ‘phoenix from the flames’ job.
The great irony, though, is that Wenger deserves all of the credit for modern Arsenal but – perversely – all of the blame. It was Wenger who delivered the trophies, the stadium, Henry, the invincibility, the history. But it was Wenger who oversaw this inexcusable decline.
He was – in title terms – always second-best to Sir Alex Ferguson, the odd double aside. But one area in which Wenger has thoroughly out-performed his Scottish rival is how to run a club into the ground.
Manchester United are five years into their post-Ferguson era and are no closer to being restored to their perch at the top of English football. Some of the blame for that decline lies with the man himself and his failure to prepare the club for the day he would no longer be there.
Most of the blame, though, belongs to the Glazers, who, for too long, trusted him to pump the club’s chest and give it mouth-to-mouth. When he walked away, it flatlined.
Well, United, if you want to see how to botch a handover, just have a look at what’s currently transpiring in north London.
Thursday night’s 3-0 loss at home to Manchester City may not mark the end of it all but it’s certainly a sign of the times. Yes, it’s cold out, yes, the roads aren’t in great shape but just look again at the number of vacant seats inside the Emirates.
This ground wasn’t built with half-full in mind. It wasn’t designed to be a cold, cavernous bowl where fans would come to abuse and make sure the team and Wenger knew how unhappy they were.
But this is Arsenal now: a total laughing stock. Opposition fans chant that they want Wenger to stay. Is there a sadder indictment on one of the most transformative figures English football has ever known?
Arsenal couldn’t lay a glove on City here. For the first time ever, they conceded three first-half Premier League goals. City, under Pep Guardiola, ruthlessly demonstrated what the expected standards of a top team should be.
Yes, there’s Abu Dhabi energy wealth in the difference between the sides but that shouldn’t count for much on a night like this.
Four days ago, Arsenal were exposed to a type of humiliation in a cup final which would make them wish they hadn’t qualified in the first place.
Give something, anything, just to show the people you care or that you learned something. They got more of the same. City were good, really good, but it was an occasion when you wanted Arsenal to show they wouldn’t roll over again.
The quality of City’s goals showed what they were up against; the gap Wenger would have to breach if he was even to pretend that he had the wherewithal to turn this all around.
Keeping the ball, one-touch passes, assassin-like finishes: City gave everything at a stage of the season where they could probably afford to give nothing and still win the title.
It seems like talk of the top four is irrelevant with Arsenal right now, even if the Europa League is still there as a Champions League failsafe. But it’s not like Manchester United last year.
Whether you liked it or not, Jose Mourinho had a plan. He chucked the league and went for the Europa instead and it paid off. But you can’t trust Arsenal to follow the same path. You can’t trust Arsenal to beat AC Milan. You can’t even trust them to beat Ostersunds.
But what can be relied upon is their relentless consistency in living down to expectations. Would we get a reaction to Sunday? Would Wenger show he’s got the fight left inside? Would Arsenal surprise everyone and give Manchester City a game?
It was 3-0 by half-time and even those who don’t support them might have finally had enough. Pointless.