Wednesday 8 March 2017

Arsene Wenger Under Pressure After Bayern Munich Defeat

Arsene Wenger

The worst home result for 19 years. Arsenal's worst ever at this ground.

But this was no League Cup tie against Chelsea, a game in which the Gunners fielded David Grondin at left-back and called for Fabian Caballero from the bench. Arsene Wenger explained that one away as a result that had to be expected when selecting a second string.

Now it is just a result that Arsenal fans have to expect.

Even so, this was 5-1. Again. A 10-2 aggregate defeat. No English side has ever lost a Champions League tie by such a margin. It is the joint second heaviest by any team in the competition and also a record fifth consecutive home defeat for Arsenal in a knockout tie.

It is three years ago now since Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis spoke of competing with Bayern Munich. But Wenger's side have not only exited the Champions League at the first knockout stage for a seventh successive year, but the gap is widening.

When Bayern eliminated Arsenal in 2013 it was on away goals. The following year there were two goals separating the sides over 180 minutes. Last year Barcelona beat them 5-1 over two legs. This time Bayern managed to do that in each of them.

All of which made for a strange atmosphere at the Emirates Stadium. Protesters had marched from Highbury before kick-off urging the board not to offer Wenger a new contract and somewhat less convincingly claiming that the manager was killing the club.

Such overstatement lends itself to polarising the debate. So while small pockets directed their ire at Wenger once they had given Stan Kroenke the treatment, others opted for defiance by chanting their love for Arsenal and the under-fire coach.

The more vocal fans settled for that last refuge of the disgruntled fan - black humour - with chants about losing the ball and being like Tottenham in disguise. In truth, the vast majority had long since left by the time a pitch invader added another dollop of levity to proceedings.

Wenger's biggest problem was that, mentally, it appeared as though some of his Arsenal players had checked out too and were drifting along somewhere down the Holloway Road.

For all the talk of refereeing decisions and the brief encouragement offered by Theo Walcott's wonderful first-half goal, it was Arsenal's complete disintegration in adversity that was the most enduring memory of another miserable night for the club. Mentally weak.

Wenger, however, chose to focus squarely on the official and, in particular, the decision to award Bayern Munich a penalty and send off Laurent Koscielny early in the second half after initially electing only to administer a yellow card.

Arsene Wenger

"The referee I think was very powerful for Bayern tonight," he argued in his press conference afterwards. "Today they must also say thank you to the decisions of the referee in the second half." Decisions he described as "absolutely unexplainable and scandalous".

Given that the officials were jeered from the pitch it is fair to assume Wenger was not alone in his anger. However, his trademark defence of Arsenal's players is surely less welcome. He spoke of "pride" and "spirit" and "commitment" and of showing they could compete.

When specifically asked if the players had let him down, he replied: "No, I feel the referee has let us down. I felt that we played very well. It was more the decisions of the referee that killed the game. It's irresponsible from the referee.

"At the end of the day, that is the reason for tonight's result."

Taken in isolation that is a tough sell to an already agitated audience. In context, it's absurd.

Other teams are simply not so prone to fold in this fashion. Arsenal were down to 10 men against quality opponents but their attempt to deal with that predicament was a nonsense as they coupled a high defensive line with zero pressure on the ball.

The result was that Xabi Alonso and the rest were invited to loft balls into the vast expanse between David Ospina and his makeshift back-four. Time and time again it happened and yet Wenger and his players did nothing to prevent it, appearing resigned to their fate.

Five goals were conceded in just half an hour.

Ultimately, the second-half beating that took the aggregate score after the interval to nine goals without reply had little bearing on which team progressed to the quarter finals.

But neither did the red card decision that came with Lewandowski preparing to re-establish Bayern's four-goal lead from the spot. Arsenal went into the night knowing that the damage had already been done but somehow contrived to compound it instead.

<>p"It was difficult in the final 20 minutes when you have no hope any more to qualify," said Wenger. "If you go forward you know that you can get caught on the counter-attack. If you don't go forward people will say you should at least try to score goals.

"It is an impossible situation."

That's certainly how it feels for Wenger now.

There is a framed photo adorning the wall of the media room that shows the celebrations following Arsenal's 2014 FA Cup final win over Hull. The newspaper headline reads 'Back on Top' in reference to the end of the club's nine-year wait for a trophy.

With Arsenal hosting non-league Lincoln in the quarter-finals of the competition this weekend, a repeat win certainly cannot be ruled out. But the mood has changed even since three years ago. The gulf between Arsenal and the best is bigger than ever and the prospect of being truly back on top feels forlorn.

Bayern's superiority underlined that. And after the worst home defeat in 19 years, sadly, it is becoming impossible for many Arsenal fans to believe Wenger is the man to change it.



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