Already at this early stage of the season, is there anyone who still thinks Arsenal’s decision to bring back Arsène Wenger was a good idea?
That Wenger needed to go if Arsenal were to have any realistic hopes of becoming something more than what they’ve been during the disappointing back stretch of the manager’s career was glaringly evident by the end of last season. Arsenal had the same old problems—failure to compete against the best teams in England, failure to find tactical solutions to the team’s recurrent defensive shortcomings, failure to attract and retain world-class players, failure to push for the Premier League title—and the same old excuses: inopportune injuries, rotten luck in front of goal, two or three boneheaded and hurtful mistakes in big moments that nonetheless could be corrected, a lack of money to go after the kind of players their betters regularly sign.
The #WengerOut movement, which has bubbled beneath the surface of the club for years as the more demanding and ambitious fans agitated for drastic managerial change in hopes of drastic changes in on-field performance, finally spilled over into the mainstream and, alongside a pitiable fifth-place league finish that saw Arsenal fail to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in some 20 years, eventually came to define the season. Wenger’s exit from the club has probably been necessary for years now, but last season was the first time it felt like a genuine possibility.
Ultimately, as could’ve been expected, Arsenal again settled for more of the same and gave Wenger a new contract. The club sold this decision with the same old story Arsenal have been telling fans for years: this time things will be different. Finally dropping out of the Champions League would be a catalyst for change, they said. The widespread fan discontent was felt, they said, and they planned to respond by investing heavily in the squad. Wenger was tired of the slow-build and at last wanted to unload the financial barrels, bringing in the expensive talent needed to get back to the Champions League and challenge for the title. Reinvigorated and reinforced, Wenger would lead Arsenal to a charge at the top everyone has been waiting for.
So where are they now? Exactly where they were before. Liverpool knocked the snot out of Arsenal this weekend by a 4-0 score that, as lopsided as the scoreline was, still somehow managed to flatter Arsenal. This was a capitulation of the highest degree, an embarrassment by any reckoning, a performance so pitiful that not a single positive point could be surmised from it. What’s worse is the loss was as foreseeable as it was terrible.
At this point, there’s no real reason to detail all the things that went wrong for Arsenal. The flaws were the same then as they have been for ages, and if you’ve followed Arsenal at all for the past decade you already know what led to their downfall. The team played like shit in the same way they have so often over the years, and the team has thus far failed in its stated efforts to spend big and stock up on elite talent save on one player (Alexandre Lacazette, who started on the bench), and the team’s two stars, both of whom have entered the final year of their contract with no extension in site, look destined to flee the failure that surrounds them for free next summer. In short, everything is bad, and there is painfully little reason to believe things will get better.
While the club’s self-inflicted failure itself feels so familiar, what does seem new is just how much these seasons of predictable failure have worn down the fans. It has to be truly agonizing to throw so much of your faith and feelings into a soccer team only to be rewarded time and again with heartache, and to be treated with such callous indifference by the only ones with the power to enact the change you so desperately desire. It’s no wonder that even our favorite hyper-energetic Arsenal superfan, Troopz, can barely muster any passion when explaining how cold the team has left him:
As soul-crushing a loss as this weekend’s match was, the main question the match poses remains the same one the club has confronted for years: What kind of club do Arsenal want to be? By re-signing Wenger to a new contract, the club leadership’s answer is the same as it has been for so long: The exact kind of club we already are. Who knows whether the more aspirational fans will ever be able to change the minds of the powers that be, but what should be most worrying for those who want to see more from Arsenal is that many of the voices who have advocated for change seem to have grown so exhausted and disaffected that they’ve given up even trying.