How we were when it was great
Yesterday marked the beginning of the long farewell for Arsene Wenger. The substitution of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and, more particularly, the reaction of the crowd marks a sea-change in the relationship between Arsene and the supporters of Arsenal Football Club. I have NEVER heard this Manager's authority questioned so vocally by those in attendance at a game. Any number of keyboard dwellers have had their say on Arsene but, frankly, it is only the voices of those that attend that will ever really be heard. Up until yesterday the Club was able to be under the impression that the majority of Arsenal supporters (those that go to games, that is) backed Arsene Wenger's judgement implicitly. The vocal nature of the disapproval of the crowd can have left the Board of Arsenal with no illusions that things are reaching a crossroads. Regular readers, and those of you that know me personally, will be aware that I have been calling for Arsene to leave for a few years now. It gives me no pleasure whatsoever that more and more regular match day fans have now seen that it is all going wrong under Wenger.
The picture at the top of this post shows Arsene with the spoils of glory, and what amazing glory we enjoyed. It is because of such incredible success that Arsene is rightly regarded as the greatest Manager of Arsenal, alongside Herbert Chapman. It is also because of that success that the current malaise is felt so keenly. Arsenal had a long way to fall, and they are certainly doing it.
Taken in isolation the decision to substitute Chamberlain doesn't really mean a lot. Okay, it was a decision that badly backfired with Arshavin failing to defend properly for the winning goal. However, if it was just the one mistake by Arsene there would have been a bit of gnashing of teeth, but nothing more. The fact is that we have seen error after error from the Manager, in every facet of his job, since Patrick Vieira was sold in the Summer of 2005. The cumulative effect of the slide since then came to a head with the putting up of the number 15 on the fourth-official's board yesterday. It was very much the straw that broke the camels back for many of those watching. It was, quite simply, time to make voices of dissent heard. I have read in some areas of the press that the Arsenal fans were booing Arshavin on to the pitch. That is utter nonsense, and pure mischief making from the media. The booing was for the Manager and his decision to take off Chamberlain. I have to say that I believe it to have been Arsene's very own "Eboue" moment.
I am not buying the idea that Chamberlain was tiring, or had cramp. As I said on Twitter last night, there are certain symptoms of cramp, but skinning the opposition full-back time after time is not one of them. Arsene could have clawed some ground back had he simply admitted he had made a terrible mistake at a crucial point in the game. The fact is that Arsenal were suddenly on top, and The Ox was the man making all the running. The way in which Wenger killed that momentum (I remember the same thing happening at Tottenham a few years ago when a late Pires equaliser, and a Spurs on the run, was met with the introduction of Cygan in place of Super Rob, killing the game off as a draw), and the suddenly resurgent support of the team, was a gross and crass error of judgement. Perhaps a substitution wasn't out of the question, but Walcott and Ramsey should have been heading the queue to get to the early showers. Arsene is right to say to the press that he is not obliged to explain his decisions to them. However he is obliged to explain them to the supporters of Arsenal Football Club. After all, we pay his wages.
Many people contributing to the Twitter debate last night (particularly certain blog writers) were disdainful of the crowd reaction. Two of them actually described it as "moronic." They believe that, due to the past success of Arsene, he should never be subjected to this kind of reaction. According to them the fans were a "disgrace." One of them, as she told me, believes that it was "moronic chanting" and that the pen is a better weapon if people want to show their displeasure with the Manager. According to this individual you are far more likely to make your point to the Board by "writing in blogs, or to The Gooner." What a load of old pony. How can anyone honestly believe that the Arsenal Director's read rubbish like this, or The Gooner fanzine? Give me strength. She is obviously a bit too nouveau to have heard of Terry Neill and how he lost his job at Arsenal. I asked her, after a long to-and-fro, what is her opinion of Arsene and the job he is doing - I received no response.
Let me say that I am not an Arsene Wenger hater. I could never despise the man who took us to the success that he did. However, he is also the man that demanded we leave Highbury in order to "compete." Does anyone out there honsetly believe that we are in a better position after five years at the new place, than we were at our beautiful home? He is the man who sold Patrick Vieira too early. He is the man who effectively forced Gilberto Silva and Jens Lehmann and Robert Pires out of the Club. Yes, he is also the man who won two Double's, created the Invincibles, signed Thierry Henry and Robert Pires and Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars and Sol Campbell etc. In an ideal World the successes of Arsene Wenger would clearly outweigh anything that has happened since the trophies dried up. But this is not an ideal World. The plight of Nottingham Forest is the most extreme example of where sentiment, and living in the past, can get you. I don't want to see Arsenal going in to a similar spiral of ineptitude and despair.
As I said at the start of the post I believe we have now seen the beginning of the end. Every defeat, every tactical error, every goal conceded, is likely to be responded to by a vocal element (a rarity, I know) and the Board will be hearing it. A lot is being made of Robin Van Persie's reaction to seeing Chamberlain go off yesterday. He was, perhaps, unlucky to be caught on television, but it was a reaction that should scare us all. If the Club Captain is reacting like that, then what other players are questioning the Manager and his methods? (Incidentally, anyone who thinks this will see Van Persie not signing a new contract needs to realise that he wasn't going to do so even before yesterday - otherwise it would have been done months ago).
The title of this post states that yesterday was "momentous...for the wrong reasons" and it certainly was. I can only finish by, regretfully, linking to a song that sums up my feelings towards Arsene Wenger. Again, it brings me no pleasure or satisfaction, but you might just have begun to agree with me now. I'm just sorry that Arsene's glorious reign will end in such an inglorious and acrimonious way. I could write so much more, but I will wait until it finally comes to an end. Perhaps a book could be on the cards...