LONDON: Arsenal fans opted to stay away as their team slumped to another humbling defeat by Manchester City on Thursday but, despite those in attendance voicing their anger, one man remains defiant in the face of scrutiny – manager Arsene Wenger.
The official attendance at The Emirates Stadium was 58,240, although the rows of empty red plastic seats suggested a far lower number had braved the bitter London cold.
Those who did turn up were forced to sit through a City masterclass, as the Premier League leaders stylishly completed a first league double over Arsenal in 42 years, with the hosts putting up nothing more than token resistance.
Trailing 3-0 at halftime, and desperately seeking points to stay in touch with the top four, Arsenal could only muster two shots in the second half, having managed eight in the first.
The humiliating defeat left them 10 points adrift of the Champions League qualifying places, with the fourth and final spot currently occupied by their bitter local rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Boos rang around The Emirates on several occasions.
“I feel sad because this is the club that I love and a man (Wenger) I have a lot of respect for,” former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry told Sky Sports.
‘Wenger Out’ banners have become commonplace around The Emirates as Arsenal have struggled to challenge for a first Premier League title in 14 years.
FA Cup success has been Wenger’s saving grace, with three triumphs in the previous four years, but the Europa League is Arsenal’s only chance of winning silverware this season.
They face in-form AC Milan in the last 16 of Europe’s second-tier competition this month knowing they must lift the trophy to book a place in next season’s Champions League.
“I think the time has come now for the people above to say: ‘Enough is enough – it’s time for someone else to come in,” Sky Sports’ analyst and former England and Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher added.
Despite fans, pundits and former players all calling for change at the Arsenal helm, Wenger himself is adamant that all is not lost.
“We want to focus on the next game and continue to put in the effort we put in tonight,” Wenger said after Thursday’s defeat.
However, time could be running out for Wenger. British bookmakers William Hill have priced him at 8-1 to be the next manager to go, having been at 16-1 earlier this week.
Wenger, who has a contract until the end of next season, is unlikely to step aside so the board would have to act.
As difficult a decision as it may be given Wenger’s past successes – including three league titles and seven FA Cup triumphs – more poor performances would leave them with little option but to bring the Frenchman’s 22-year tenure to an end.