By 90Min
April 22, 2018

The more things change, the more they stay the same. What could and should have been the start of an emotional send-off for Arsene Wenger on Sunday afternoon ended up a drab, lifeless affair, with neither teams nor fans getting the memo. 

People turned out on a sunny Sunday afternoon, to pay tribute to Wenger and to see a cross-London battle. But not all of the people, and not with the willingness to say anything with their chests. Just as Arsenal have increasingly failed to raise their game at important moments, so the fans have followed suit. 59,422 people (allegedly) turned up to witness an occasion, an atmosphere, a bona fide moment...and then forgot that they were the ones supposed to be providing it. 

The atmosphere at the Emirates was far from toxic, and fans at the Clock End duly piped up when their West Ham counterparts started taking a crack at north London's most faithful servant, but the efforts felt token. 


Despite the club announcing the biggest change at the club this millennium - bigger than the move to the new stadium, even - Arsenal are still locked in stasis. Shkodran Mustafi is still being beaten over the top and missing tackles. Alex Iwobi still looks like a good footballer until he has to produce an end product. Danny Welbeck's only finishing technique is the scuff. 

It's going to take some time for anything meaningful to improve with the atmosphere around the club. Whatever Wenger's legacy, and it's hard to argue that it isn't an overwhelmingly positive one, the atmosphere he's leaving is one where the smallest failure is met with bile and vitriol, and success is met with the barest of celebration - if not a feeling of muted frustration that it'll merely prolong the inevitable. 

The club have some deep-seated problems in its fanbase to consider while they look to sort out their managerial future. No team in the country have more famous supporters at the moment, 'European nights at Anfield' finally toppled by 'ArsenalFanTV after an Arsenal loss'. That's a problem. That's the problem with a prolonged spell of apathy like the one which has built around the club - after a while, people snap. 

Whoever comes in will be by far the most scrutinised new manager in a generation of English football. More, even, than David Moyes coming into Old Trafford after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, because of the situation which has - through inactivity of mismanagement - been allowed to develop inside the fanbase. 

It's hard to imagine more perfect conditions for this current Arsenal side to be supported by their fans. A huge Europa League semi-final in midweek, sun shining, and the chance to celebrate the man who brought their club to the top of the English game just two days after he announced that he'd be leaving...and nothing. The second half started with an entire ring of empty seats around the second tier. 

If one man's performance summed up Wenger's Arsenal reign, it was Joe Hart's. Two brilliant, one-handed saves had him looking like a world beater, until he forgot what hands were meant for, let an Aaron Ramsey cross drift past him at the far post and then watched Alexandre Lacazette beat him at his near. Hope, promise, brilliance, failure and mockery.

In the fans' defence, they weren't given much to work with beyond the intangible sense of occasion. Until Nacho Monreal prompted a chorus of '1-0 to the Arsenal' - punctuated, obviously, by cries of 'WHAT ARE YOU DOING?' and 'IDIOT' as the match got back underway - there was a dearth of on-pitch action to shout about. 

Those chants lasted about 30 seconds - 40, tops - before silence fell again. Arsenal produced a genuine spell of pressure for a solid two to three minutes, then faded back into themselves. Everything was flat. The silenced lengthened, the empty seats multiplied. A trio of late goals did nothing to bring things back to life for more than a few seconds at a time.

Unless something drastic changes in the 24 days until the Europa League final (for example, Arsenal actually being there), Wenger's reign will end with a whimper and not with a bang. He is far too great to disappear without one last performance from team and fans, but perhaps it was always inevitable. 

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