Things at Arsenal have become bleak. After a 3-1 defeat at West Brom, the Gunners have lost six of their last seven in the Premier League and Champions League. Five of the losses were by multiple goals. That included “six-pointers” against Chelsea and Liverpool and a 10-2 aggregate massacre by Bayern Munich.
Arsenal has fallen to 6th place in the Premier League, six points behind Liverpool (with two matches in hand). The Gunners have never finished below fourth under Arsene Wenger. It’s no given Arsenal bounces back. They have a tough stretch remaining. Six of their last 11 matches are against teams in the Top 10. Arsenal still has second fixtures with Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham.
That would be bad if it were just this season. It isn’t. Arsenal last won the Premier League in 2003-04. They have finished second only twice since. The loss to Bayern Munich was Arsenal’s seventh straight defeat at the Round of 16 level in the Champions League. They last reached the quarterfinals in 2010.
Arsenal is not competing with the top-tier teams in Europe. Not every club does. But, more should be expected from a club that has ranked in the Top 10 in revenue every year since 2001. Arsenal did freeze ticket prices. They still charge 33 percent more than the next highest club.
Matters appear to have reached a critical point. Fans are protesting in the stadium. Reports over the weekend suggest Arsenal at least made a preliminary inquiry about Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel as a potential replacement for Wenger. Though subsequent reports suggest Wenger will stay for another year.
Wenger has been, without question, a great manager. He has won three Premier League titles and six FA Cups. He brought Arsenal to the Champions League Final. While the consistency over the past decade has been maligned, it is also an admirable achievement.
Arsenal was hamstrung financially by its new stadium. The property development at Highbury did not pay out as expected to cover costs. The benefits from the Emirates did not provide the expected competitive advantage. The stratospheric rise in TV revenue negated the importance of expanding gate revenue.
The salient question for Arsenal is not what has happened but what will happen. Will Arsenal win a title as constituted? No. Will Arsenal make the investment to compete for a title? No. They are more likely to lose key players such as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil this summer than add them.
Is Arsenal operating at a superior capacity where one should ignore the obvious paper disparities? No. They have not been for a while. Other clubs have discovered that fitness is important and French players are good.
Fairness for Wenger is a concern. He has earned the right to go out on his own terms. But, Arsenal and its fans have been fair and patient with him for a decade. They have put up with a lot. Multiple generations of young players have come through. The club’s fortunes have not been improved. Arsenal’s new dawn was postponed to the point it’s no longer even being discussed as one.
Rooting for a sports team is supposed to be fun. It should entertain and interest you. Some level of hope is required to generate that interest. At Arsenal, there is no hope. There’s no reason to believe in the project. In the present sports climate, continued fan support should not be taken for granted.
Perhaps Arsenal will close strongly and qualify for the Champions League. That would be a very “Arsenal” thing to do. But, the only debate right now is how long the inevitable with Arsene Wenger should be delayed. That means it’s time for Wenger to go. He should realize that. And there should be someone within the club’s hierarchy able to tell him that.