Arsenal dealt another crushing blow as season heads towards bleak end
We’ve become used to watching embarrassing Arsenal performances, but it’s been a while since we saw one in a cup final. Could Sunday’s humiliation to Manchester City be the final straw for their manager Arsene Wenger? By Jamie Braidwood
Where might Arsenal be now if they had performed as badly as this in a cup final a few seasons ago?
For years the club have consistently disappointed under Arsene Wenger, but their saving grace has been their recent record in the domestic cups.
Underwhelming seasons have been somewhat saved by memorable days out at Wembley, with three FA Cup wins in four years.
But it is now as clear as ever that those days have masked Arsenal’s glaring decline.
On Sunday, Manchester City strolled to a comprehensive 3-0 victory in the Carabao Cup final, in a game where all of Arsenal’s flaws were once again brutally exposed.
At the heart of it, a soft-centred defence, a lack of desire in midfield while upfront, an absence of guile or creativity. Sure, Manchester City were good, but they didn’t need to be anywhere near their best to win.
David Silva effectively settled the game, and with it Pep Guardiola’s first trophy at the club, with City’s third on 65 minutes. From there, City kept possession as Arsenal’s fans turned to the exits in their droves. There must have only been hundreds left at the final whistle.
The most heartbreaking thing for those fans is that they’d seen this performance before. This is, after all, a side that has lost seven of their 14 Premier League away games this season.
And yet, despite this season’s record, and despite Manchester City’s imperious form, there was genuine hope for Arsenal going into the game.
Their record at Wembley in cup competitions in recent years had been excellent. They had won their last nine cup matches there, including an FA Cup semi-final win over Guardiola’s City last season.
That record is now over, and with it, finally, maybe, Wenger’s reign might be too.
Humiliating defeats in the Champions League didn’t finish him off. Neither did weakly-surrendered title challenges, nor did failing to finish in the Top 4 at all.
They didn’t because in recent years there’s always been a trophy to save the day.
In 2014, Arsenal spent the longest time out of any team at the top of the Premier League table, but conceded five at City, another five at Liverpool and six at Chelsea on their way to finishing 4th. They did, though, beat Hull in the FA Cup final.
A year later they were knocked out of the Champions League by Monaco, but beat Aston Villa to retain the FA Cup.
Then last season, Arsenal finished outside of the Top 4 for the first time in Wenger’s reign, but won more silverware than three of the teams that finished above them by beating Chelsea for their third FA Cup in four years.
Imagine what would have happened if, in any of those seasons, Arsenal folded in a final with a performance such as Sunday’s. If, instead of having a trophy to salvage a disastrous campaign, there was a performance, such as that one, to compound it.
Maybe then Arsenal would have made a change. Maybe then we would be seeing a progressive Arsenal, one that can, at the very least, compete away from home. One that learns from its mistakes, rather than neglects them.
But in order to change, Arsenal have to make the change, and end a relationship between manager and club that has existed for more than 20 years. Amongst their fans, support for it now appears to be unanimous. Even the football under Wenger, which traditionally was free-flowing and easy on the eye, has gone stale.
There is one final chance, however. Arsenal are one of 16 teams left in the Europa League and while they remain 10 points outside of the Top 4 in sixth, qualification for the Champions League by winning the competition seems by far the easiest route.
It’s what Manchester United did last year and it is what Arsenal must now do too. It won’t be easy though, with teams such as Borussia Dortmund, Red Bull Leipzig and AC Milan, their opponents in the next round, still involved.
So Arsenal and Wenger will continue to do what they do. They’ll put Sunday’s crushing defeat behind them and fight on, knowing that redemption and forgiveness can be salvaged by lifting a trophy at the end of the season. It’s saved them before, can they do it again?