The immediate future of Arsenal Football Club could well hinge on the outcome of Thursday’s trip to Milan in the Europa League.
After Saturday’s fresh debacle at Brighton, it feels more and more as though the Frenchman’s days at the club are numbered and a heavy defeat in the only competition that still offers Arsene salvation will surely spell the end.
We have all been led to believe that Champions League qualification was the only target for Arsene when he signed a new two-year deal last summer and that feat is almost certainly unobtainable by conventional means, that is to say via the Premier League.
It would seem, therefore, that everything now rests on victory in the second-tier European competition.
Should they win, Arsene will more than likely be allowed the chance to see out the remaining year of his contract. Should they lose, however, even Stan Kroenke could be left with no option but to pull the trigger on the man he has shown so much faith in over the years.
For many fans, even waiting for next Thursday’s first leg is too much to ask. There is a growing clamour for Arsene to be shown the door now, and a caretaker manager brought in, thereby giving the club time to begin its recruitment process ahead of what is sure to be a busy summer.
In truth, it is difficult to argue with that view. As destabilising as it could potentially be, there doesn’t seem much to be gained from keeping Arsene in the job. He has done everything he can to turn around the team’s fortunes this season and he has failed. There is nothing more he can do, no trick or change, no signing or mind game left to him.
The players are running on professional pride alone and that, sadly, is not enough to see them through.
A change of manager now and a quick-fire appointment will give everybody around the club a lift. It would be naïve to believe it will solve the problems that beset this team but, if nothing else, it will give everyone a fresh start, lift confidence and create a sense of optimism and urgency once more.
To continue to hope Arsene will turn things around could create even more damage than has already been done. We are in danger of sinking without trace in the league and nothing the Frenchman can do seems to be able to arrest that decline. There is no sense in prolonging the agony of everyone involved, not least the manager himself, who simply will not accept his race is run.
After conceding two shoddy goals against Brighton on Saturday, the team fought back admirably and, should they have fashioned an equaliser, it would have been difficult to begrudge them it. But it seems clear they were fighting by sheer force of pride alone. It was more embarrassment that drove their second-half efforts, shame at being humbled by such an average Brighton side rather than any tactical masterstroke from the manager.
That is indicative of a dressing room that has been forced to take matters into its own hands, amidst a dearth of ideas and inspiration from the coaching staff.
In this age of micromanagement and a laser focus on the minutiae of the game, Arsene Wenger and his team are a wooden club and, now more than ever, it has been exposed on the pitch in ruthless fashion.
Once, we all feared what would happen if Arsene decided to leave. We fretted at the void of gaping proportions that would be left in his wake.
Now, most can’t wait to see him gone, his proud legacy eroded steadily away over years of failure.
You can’t help feeling that the Europa League, a competition that used to draw such sneers from us all, is all that stands between the club and the abyss.