Another match, yet another dispiriting loss. This time Arsenal crumbled to West Brom, their fourth league defeat in 5 matches. What defined this loss was the flickering out of any spirit or fortitude. After Craig Dawson’s second goal and the Baggies third, a header scored in identical fashion to his first, again from a corner, you could feel the entire life force being sucked out. What we have now is a side dialing it in, a sign they know they are entering a death spiral. The mental side shuts down in a coping mechanism because the pain of loss is too overwhelming. The players have stopped believing in themselves and in a manager who has been on a vanity trip for a considerable period of time and has no answers to loss after embarrassing loss.
And yet, Arsene Wenger still has no real opposition. In the boardroom. In fact, he’s been assured of a two year extension on his contract. Apparently what looks like malignant inertia is passed off as stability. In that Wenger will lead the club to the Champions League and the round of 16 year in and year out despite all the fulminations. This stasis maybe admirable but the reality is with the larders of TV money available, it’s not just the big sides who can now afford good quality players and tactical coaches. Wenger’s problem is that the league has passed him by. Getting to fourth is an increasingly difficult ideal. He has had total control at the club and all the players are his buys. One cannot say this lightly because Wenger’s primary vision was one of player development within the ranks as key to the club’s future. But that initial burst of success has been followed by a gradual and protracted stagnation. This fallow period has been exacerbated by a club that seeks the transfer market in a reactive, economically naive, and often ill considered way for actual player needs. Arsenal now have an imbalanced squad to go along with well established tropes of mental fragility, tactical blindspots, and bad habits.
In the past, all these concerns were swept aside in the “In Arsene we trust” mantra. But it is increasingly a motto which does not reflect reality but used in a way to stifle dissent. Most fans in the support Wenger camp use this to brandish fear and anxiety. Without him, Arsenal could fall down the league and spend years in mid table wilderness. Their way of saying “look there” is to point to Man Utd. Yet another way to shut down those against Wenger is to contemptuously dismiss them as being part of the instant gratification culture who disrespect his singular devotion and many accomplishments. Where have we seen this fear of being uprooted and of dissolving boundaries? Oh yes, all the current populist, anti-immigrant political movements shutting down Western democracies.
Wrapping up oneself in this way of thinking is harmful. There will be a post Wenger era and living in crippling pusillanimity and denial just delays that inevitability. Meanwhile the pool of experienced and talented coaches is small and ever shrinking as emboldened and ambitious clubs offer improved salaries and a rosier vision. Wenger needs to go and if this does not happen through self realization which would be ideal, then the club needs to stop wallowing in its self imposed inertia and withdraw that contract extension. Whatever route is chosen is simplified by fans uniting in a common cause. “In Wenger we trust” is no longer viable. And it cannot be allowed to lampoon his legendary achievements.