Arsene Wenger is running out of friends among the Arsenal support and judging from the Gunners’ performance at West Brom, he has very few allies in his squad too. It was a quite diabolical display – on the pitch, across the bench and in the sky.
For as long as his future remains unclear, all the scrutiny will be on the manager, especially from the visiting support. But this defeat is on the players as much as Wenger. Regardless of what they think of their boss, it was a shameful display, lacking in every attribute required to win or even compete.
Equally as much as the absence of any bite in the second half, West Brom’s goals summed up the shambles that was Arsenal’s display. There was nothing sophisticated or clever about Craig Dawson’s double; both came from simple, straight runs to meet inswinging deliveries. Every other opponent would have known what to expect from the Baggies, as probably did Arsenal. But they are the only club where it is legitimate to ask: were the players briefed on what threat they faced?
We have to assume they were so the individuals must be scrutinised. For Dawson’s first, he was allowed an unchallenged run past Aaron Ramsey into the zone supposedly guarded by Granit Xhaka, while his second was even easier.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the guilty party on this occasion, almost ushering Dawson past as he strolled onto the end of James McClean’s delivery. Three West Brom players were literally queueing up to score, while only one of eight Arsenal players bothered even to jump.
Wenger and Steve Bould would almost certainly have drilled the players to defend corners and though the set up was highly questionable, those in yellow shirts have to take personal responsibility. The coaching staff can devise a plan but these players cannot be trusted to follow instructions – at least from Wenger.
It would be understandable if they are low in confidence – most teams who had lost their last three on the road would be. But Wenger’s players, who with 73 per cent of the possession managed as many shots on target as their fans had planes in the sky, looked bored and disinterested before appearing somewhat confused to be so comprehensively beaten.
They drifted away from the scene as if they were walking away from a car crash – one for which they were entirely culpable. They looked shellshocked and utterly broken. It is painfully clear that Wenger cannot fix this team.
Whether anyone can is highly debatable. But this Arsenal side resembles the Chelsea rabble that got Jose Mourinho sacked last season, and whether or not they were the ‘rats’ they were labelled, the Blues have shown what difference a change can make. As Wenger is now discovering, when the players turn on their manager, the outcome is inevitable.
Wenger says he has now made up his mind over his future and the decision will be announced “very soon”. It is difficult, though, to judge which outcome would be more beneficial for the players as they embark upon a run-in during which there is still much to play for. So mentally weak is this group that you would expect them to crumble, whether they are playing their final matches under Wenger, or out to prove themselves to a new manager.
Wenger, for all his faults, deserves far better than that from a group of players he has defended perhaps too often.