If that doesn’t do it for the Arsène Wenger era at Arsenal, I’m not sure what will.
For a club that specializes in tragicomic European failure, the two-leg tie against Bayern Munich that concluded Tuesday was its masterpiece: back-to-back 5–1 losses, the second-worst aggregate blowout in Champions League history, and the seventh straight season with a round of 16 exit.
Now, Arsenal were a little unlucky. They won their group, but got drawn against arguably the best team in the world after Bayern finished second to Atlético Madrid in Group D. They played Bayern straight-up in the first half of the first leg in Germany, only to lose Laurent Koscielny to an injury and then get run over by an 18-wheeler in the second half. The tie was essentially over before Tuesday, but Wenger’s side took a 1–0 lead into halftime and could have had a second if the ref would have awarded a penalty for a foul on Theo Walcott in the box. Then they lost Koscielny again, this time to a red card, and the rest of the team transformed into a 10-piece set of traffic cones:
(If this were basketball, Koscielny would’ve somehow left this disaster with a positive plus-minus.)
Arsenal were unlucky and terrible. They were outshot, out-possessed, out-passed, and out-everything’d by a massive margin over both legs. This was an all-too-familiar type of performance by Arsenal against the best competition. Put Arsenal on the field against a team they’re more talented than, and they’ll do their positionless, slick-passing thing and win the game. Put them against any of the top six teams in the Premier League or any of the top teams across Europe, and they look like a family of aliens who’ve just been dropped on the field and told they have to play soccer but haven’t been briefed on the rules.
Wenger’s team plays one way — his way — and it works against most teams, and it works enough to get Arsenal into the Premier League’s top four, where they’ve finished for the past 20 seasons. But this decade, Arsenal has had basically the same season every year. The team has hit its ceiling. Now it’s trending down.
Last weekend, Wenger benched Alexis Sánchez for the first half of Arsenal’s 3–1 loss to Liverpool. He claimed it was for tactical reasons. The next day news leaked that the benching actually came after Sánchez stormed out of training. The club’s other best player, Mesut Ozil, didn’t play against Liverpool, and didn’t start against Bayern. Neither Ozil nor Sánchez has signed a new deal, and their contracts expire next season. If Arsenal can’t sign one or both, they’re going have to sell them or risk losing them for free in 2018.
On top of that, Arsenal is currently in fifth in England, with underlying numbers suggesting that they don’t belong any higher.
After Tuesday’s loss, Wenger was asked if he’d manage in the Champions League again. He responded: “I don’t know.”
If he somehow survives this and comes back next year, he might not even get the chance.