By James Hopper
What has happened to Arsene Wenger? Where is the man that used to command respect and authority, rather than laughter?
It is a thought that ran through my mind as I watched the seemingly endless loop of Arsenal fans giving post-mortems, following their loss to Watford on Saturday night.
The reality of a ‘catastrophic’ away defeat becoming normal for the Gunners should be enough to set off alarms – but there is a strong sense that none of this really matters to the man in charge.Embed from Getty Images
The brave and forward thinking, which the Frenchman brought to north London in 1995, undoubtedly propelled the English game –and the Gunners – to another level.
But things have become all too stagnant in recent years. The once amusing case of déjà vu has transformed into a frustration that transcends far beyond a single fan base.
Wenger’s demise is something to be saddened by – not roundly hollered by an increasing pool of frenzied critics.
Whether it is his questionable team selection or uninspired transfer activity – the Wenger we once knew has long departed north London.
Fielding two defensive midfielders in the form of Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny against Watford was his latest puzzling edition of a starting XI.
Rather than selecting Jack Wilshere, who he had so highly praised days earlier, Wenger was fortuitously handed an advantage rather than seizing one, as his side took the lead.
The sight of Per Mertesacker bulging the back of the Hornets net was a brief moment of respite for the travelling away support.
Forget the dubious penalty call that eventually allowed Watford to seize all three points. The incident merely provided Wenger with his latest excuse to bypass what had happened before his eyes.
Suffering three defeats in the opening eight games of a Premier League season is not the stuff of champions. It would be fanciful to expect a title challenge from a side who suffered their most damaging campaign in the best part of two decades.
But the acceptance of merely competing for a top-six finish by a once fearsome manager is hard to accept. Finishing outside of the top four last season could prove to be the start of something all the more frightening for supporters.
Wenger’s decision to sign a new two-year deal in the summer has left plenty of room for a further downward spiral and little hope of a return to former glories.
A figure, once defined by authority, has become the middleman of a club that lacks a sense of direction or a vision of greatness.
The embarrassing transfer saga involving Alexis Sanchez, and the ultimately failed pursuit of Thomas Lemar, provided all the insight one could ask for.
Wenger’s declaration that Sanchez would stay at the Emirates Stadium, despite being in the last year of his contract, never seemed convincing. And the scramble to secure a replacement on the final day of the transfer window showed the lack of planning for success that is carried out in north London.
In a roundabout way, Wenger kept his word. But the clumsy nature of his conduct added further doubts to his capabilities as a top class manager in an ever-changing Premier League landscape.
Eight games is a lifetime in the world of football and, if Wenger is to see out the entirety of his contract in north London, Arsenal fans may have become numb to the pain en-route to the summer of 2019.
The damage has been done. The legend is substantially tarnished.
One of English football’s most famous clubs deserves more. Wenger’s ego-trip should be curtailed for the sake of himself and the crest he once so proudly defended.