The crushing defeat to Everton has left the Gunners clinging on to a Champions League spot but an absence from Europe’s top table might do them good
By Greg Stobart
Just when Arsenal look set to finally end a nine-year trophy drought, they are also creeping towards the nadir of Arsene Wenger’s reign in north London.
The Gunners have rapidly descended from title contenders to Champions League hopefuls and now face the prospect of missing out on a place in Europe’s elite competition for the first time in 17 years.
Everton sit just one point behind Wenger’s side with a game in hand following another humiliating Merseyside defeat.
It is not just the 3-0 scoreline that will stun Arsenal supporters, but the way that their side were so comprehensively out-fought and out-thought, the mocking ‘ole’ chants in full flow with more than half an hour still to play.
Arsenal were beaten by the kind of progressive and aggressive attacking football with which Wenger’s greatest teams used to destroy opponents.
Once the revolutionary, Wenger has been left behind and is struggling for answers. Arsenal have now conceded 20 goals this season in away games against the rest of the top five.
Arsenal face Wigan in the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday but a first trophy since 2005 will barely paper over the cracks this season.
Wenger’s side could yet finish in the top four and they have a kinder run-in than Everton, but the Gunners look shot to pieces at the moment.
The fans are not stupid. Wenger cited a lack of confidence as the reason behind the Gunners’ poor results on the road against their rivals this season, but the Frenchman has shown no sign of learning or finding any answers.
Not this season, not over several years of repeated mistakes. A season in the Europa League might be exactly what Arsenal need to finally jolt someone into action.
Something to break the tedium of this perennial cycle in which the Gunners appear happy simply to edge into the top four every year.
It’s not like Arsenal are any longer reliant on the money from Champions League football and a fifth-placed finish will force the club to finally confront some home truths.
The main issue will be whether Wenger stays in charge. He has agreed a two-year contract extension for when his existing deal expires this summer, but why is he yet to put pen to paper?
The celebrations that accompanied his 1000th game in charge of Arsenal last month already feel a lifetime away.
The calls are once again growing on social media for Wenger to gracefully step aside at the end of the season and make way for a new man with fresh ideas.
The ideal scenario would see Wenger himself show an ability to learn from the past and adapt.
He has changed his approach to the transfer market in recent years, bringing in more proven players rather than youngsters while Mesut Ozil arrived for a club record €50 million fee.
But Wenger still made a mess of last summer’s transfer window. The failure to sign a top striker was criminal and the squad is ill-balanced, especially once the annual injury crisis hits in the second half of the season.
Wenger needs to find the answers to Arsenal’s constant injury problems, the mental fragility of the squad and their tactical naivety, particularly against the better sides.
If he can’t, he should step aside as a club legend this summer rather than risk destroying his legacy by hanging on for too long.
LIVERPOOL PROVE MENTAL STRENGTH
It was interesting to see sports psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters suited and booted with the Liverpool squad and staff at West Ham on Sunday.
Peters, who will be travelling to Brazil with the England squad this summer, has been highly praised for his work with the Liverpool players by Steven Gerrard.
He has been working one day a week with the Reds this season but his appearance at Upton Park suggests he will be working some overtime during the run-in.
Liverpool certainly showed they have the mental strength to win the title year as they fought past West Ham, returning to Merseyside battered and bruised but three points closer to a first league triumph since 1990.
Gerrard kept his cool again to accept responsibility and score twice from the penalty spot to set up next weekend’s clash with Manchester City at Anfield as the most important game of the season.
And with Peters on board, Brendan Rodgers can be confident that his players will be ready for the challenge.
HUGHTON SACKING NO SURPRISE
Chris Hughton is a true gentleman and one of the most genuine people in an industry full of deceit and agenda, but the outrage over Norwich’s decision to sack Hughton following the home defeat to West Brom on Saturday is foolish.
Hughton himself knew that his time at Carrow Road was coming to an end and for months it has simply been a matter of when chief executive David McNally would choose to pull the trigger.
On three occasions this season, Hughton found himself one defeat away from the sack only to win the next match.
It was no working environment for the manager to get the best out of his squad and it was reflected in turgid football – just 26 goals scored in 33 matches – and poor results throughout the season.
Clearly the Canaries board had lost all confidence in Hughton and they have taken a punt on youth coach Neil Adams for the final five games of the season.
Adams will take Norwich to a relegation clash against Fulham before facing Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Hughton would have struggled to keep the Canaries in the Premier League with that fixture list and so much negativity around Carrow Road.
It’s a gamble but the Premier League strugglers have thrown Adams in at the deep end hoping that the change can coincide with a brief upturn in results before they appoint a new man in the summer.
Whether they’re in the Premier League or the Championship, however, will likely have a major bearing on the calibre of manager they can attract.