Things could not get much worse for Arsenal’s long-serving supremo, Arsene Wenger, after he watched his side limp to a 3-0 away defeat to a Crystal Palace side that were still fighting for their Premier League survival.
The loss leaves Wenger’s position hanging by a thread, with a top-four finish now looking increasingly unlikely. Nevertheless, the club confirmed the morning after the Palace horror show that there would be no formal announcement on the Frenchman’s long-term future until the end of the campaign.
Certainly in seasons gone by, Arsenal would not have been priced at 11/2 in the Premier League betting with the likes of bet365 to finish in the top four in early April; but this year, it’s looking like the Europa League is the best they can hope to salvage from this dismal term.
Former Gunners fans’ favourite, Mathieu Flamini, found himself on the opposite side of the pitch to his old Arsenal teammates, coming off the bench to help Palace see out their surprisingly comprehensive victory at Selhurst Park. The French holding midfielder could not hide his sadness during the post-match chatter, having spent two great spells with the Gunners.
“It is painful to watch what is happening at the moment because I am still an Arsenal fan,” Flamini told the Evening Standard.
Flamini was arguably part of the Gunners’ last successful squad during his first spell at the club between 2004 and 2008, when Wenger’s men reached the Champions League final for the first time in 2006, losing 2-1 to Barcelona.
To many outsiders looking in, Arsene Wenger has criminally failed to rebuild the spine of the team that earnt the nickname ‘The Invincibles’ following an unbeaten Premier League campaign and a European run culminating in coming within 90 minutes of Champions League glory.
Too often Wenger has sought cheaper foreign imports and blooded inexperienced academy prospects in critical positions throughout the spine of the Arsenal side. It took Wenger more than five seasons to end the persistence with Manuel Almunia and Wojciech Szcezesny as the Gunners’ first-choice keepers, both of whom lacked the presence and nous to marshal a creaking back four.
Similarly, within that back four, Wenger has experimented all too often with bargain basement French imports: namely Sebastien Squillaci, Pascal Cygan and an ageing Mikael Silvestre – all of whom could not hold a candle to the watertight defences of yesteryear including Kolo Toure, Sol Campbell, Tony Adams and Steve Bould.
During Arsenal’s undoubted success in the early-to-mid 2000s, Wenger also relied on a solid and dynamic core in the middle of the park. Patrick Vieira remains one of the Gunners’ most iconic midfielders of all time, but it’s still mystifying that Wenger has not yet adequately replaced Vieira more than a decade since his departure.
In fact, when you consider the embarrassment of riches Wenger has had going forward in recent years, it’s unsurprising that many Arsenal fans have torn their hair out in frustration at his inability to invest heavily in two or three defensively-minded marquee signings. These would indefinitely provide a better platform for the likes of Sanchez, Walcott, Ozil and Giroud to cut apart Premier League defences at will.