There was a great deal about last night’s humiliation at Bayern Munich that felt like the beginning of the end.
The way in which the team capitulated under pressure, their inability to respond when things started to go against them, and the palpable frustration on the pitch as things fell apart around them smacked of a dressing room that knows the game is up.
Like the legions of battle-weary fans who have suffered defeat after crushing defeat, the team was crestfallen, dejected, and utterly out of ideas. At the end, the players couldn’t even get the basics, the fundamental tenets of the game, right.
Such was the gulf between the two sides by the end that Bayern players were laughing with every chance that went begging – it had become a meaningless training session for them. They knew missing a chance had no consequence because another would come along minutes later. That hurt.
This result was, for so many fans, the final disgrace. It was the undeniable evidence for the oft-touted theory that Arsenal choke when it really matters. Worst of all, it was, in all likelihood, the final throw of the dice for Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager.
He has said many times that he will step down when he feels he can no longer do the job. Last night’s result and, in particular, the manner of the performance, must surely convince Arsene that his time is coming.
The man has achieved so much for the club – transforming it from domestic challenger into European powerhouse – but there can be little doubt that Arsene’s 20-year tenure, however great it has been, is at an end.
Even he, who lives and breathes football, must now that things just aren’t working anymore. The way he sets up his team, the ethos he instils in his players, the tactics he employs, they simply don’t work in the biggest games anymore. Last night was testament to that.
Bayern pulled us apart in the second half. They sensed weakness and they utterly exploited it. They battered Arsenal into submission with the sort of pace and movement you would expect from a top European side. The Gunners had no answer.
And while, sometimes, you have to accept that another team is better than yours, what fans can’t accept is seeing their team surrender.
The fourth and fifth goals were especially feeble. By that point, any plan that had been hatched to stay in the game had gone out of the window. Any sense of collective responsibility was gone. There was nobody on the pitch able to pull them together, they were going through the motions in the most pathetic, abject way.
As a group of professionals, they must all take a long, hard look in the mirror at themselves. No proud footballer should ever allow themselves to fall so low. But, ultimately, the manager must carry responsibility for how things played out last night.
For weeks we have been playing poorly, making simple errors in defence, allowing teams to pressure us into submission, and only responding when the game was more or less over.
If we were to take anything from last night’s match, we had to have a change in attitude and application and yet, despite that fact being obvious to everyone, absolutely nothing changed.
The team continued to skate by doing what it has done for the entire season; playing as a collection of individuals while organised, disciplined teams rip them to shreds.
When you look ahead to the weekend and the trip to Sutton in the FA Cup, you can’t help but feel that things are about to get a whole lot worse. Whatever the gulf between the teams in talent, the non-league minnows will be up for it and will thrash themselves for 90 minutes to achieve their dream. Can we be confident the Arsenal squad will do the same?
After matches like these I often pose the question ‘where do we go from here?’ In light of last night’s performance the answer is clear – we must start the search for a new manager.
The end is nigh.