Football: Walk away, Wenger

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

ARSENAL 1 (Olivier Giroud 90+5)

MAN UNITED 2 (Kieran Gibbs 56-og, Wayne Rooney 85)

Several years ago, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg played a seniors game in Singapore. The occasion was heartbreaking.

McEnroe adored Borg. It was obvious. He propped him up. One of tennis' pioneering power hitters faced the last of the wooden-racket warriors.

McEnroe could have buried his old friend. Instead he carried him. He reined in the power long enough to avoid humiliating Borg.

The modern game had passed Borg by. The same is happening to Arsene Wenger.

Watching Wenger in the dying moments of Arsenal's home defeat by Manchester United yesterday morning (Singapore time) evoked memories of Borg against McEnroe. Everything played out in slow motion.

He was a little too late to react. His decisions were always slightly off. His feel for the game was just out of touch.

The occasion was also heartbreaking.

Wenger must consider walking away at the end of the season to preserve the legacy. Nothing deserves to sully his Arsenal sainthood.

Like Borg in his twilight, Wenger's box of tricks feels strangely analog in a digital environment that risks leaving him looking obsolete.

United did everything, absolutely everything, to make this contest a winnable one for the Gunners. By some distance, Louis van Gaal put out the scruffiest, most patched-up United line-up in the Wenger era.

The Dutchman has dealt with injuries to 40 different players in four months; a staggering statistic that forced the return of the dreaded 3-5-2 formation, which fits Man United about as much as the chorus of Blue Moon.

There is a case to be made that a back three of Tyler Blackett, Chris Smalling and Patrick McNair might struggle to replace many other Premier League defences, but Arsenal still failed to score until injury time at home.

Wenger clutched at that most transparent of straws by blaming luck, but Arsenal were lucky to see Luke Shaw go off after 16 minutes.

They were also lucky to keep Jack Wilshere on the pitch after butting Marouane Fellaini in the chest.

And still, the Red Devils threatened to roll over their dithering opponents.

They managed only one shot on target. Robin van Persie's name might as well be added to the missing persons list. Angel di Maria's erratic shooting suggested he'd smothered his boots in Vaseline.

Yet somehow, they won.


But this wasn't a smash-and-grab burglary for United. This was Arsenal leaving the door unlocked, rolling out the red carpet and handing over the combination code to the safe.

If anything, Wenger should be charged with criminal negligence.

United had no players. But Arsenal had no ideas.

Injuries weakened United's playing stocks. Transfer market incompetence weakened Arsenal.

They are at least two or three players from finishing in the top four (and perhaps half a dozen signings away from a serious crack at the title).

As Nacho Monreal proved in United's second goal, a couple of centre backs are essential, along with a fullback and maybe even a goalkeeper (see Wojciech Szczesny and Kieran Gibbs in United's first goal.)

And the inflated hyperbole surrounding Wilshere really must stop now.

English football's obsession with finding the "Next Big Thing" sees promising players stamped as practically perfect in every way far too quickly.

Unfortunately, Wilshere played like Mary Poppins (he certainly head-butted like her). The reckless, headless chicken was back, clucking and sputtering but offering no real danger beyond a single tame shot.

His erratic form continues to worry, but the injury streak is the greater concern.

He's out again and Aaron Ramsey's average outing hardly inspired confidence.

Despite the occasional flashes of sexy football, the Gunners continue to wobble with that unattractive soft underbelly.

They are less aesthetically pleasing and more of an exasperating punchline, like Kim Kardashian at the United Nations, pretty to look at but no real threat to anyone else in the room.

Seventeen points from 12 games are the lowest return for the club since 1982.

Arsenal are in irreversible decline, but Wenger emphasised their domination.

Once a magnificent manager, he now sounds like a proud man in denial.

Thanks to the unhelpful power structure at the Emirates, the manager finds himself in a unique position. The Arsenal board grants him full autonomy. He can determine his own future and that's the inherent problem.

Like Borg, Wenger is in control of his sporting legacy.

Unlike Borg, he will not walk away.

This article was first published on November 24, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.