Arsenal: Is It Finally Time for Arsene Wenger to Go?
The names and dates may have changed, but the circumstances were familiar, as were the disappointed looks on the faces of the Gunners faithful, packed into the stands at the Emirates Stadium.
After giving up a soft goal at the death of the first half, Arsenal had fought their way back into the game courtesy of a brilliant strike from their Dutch maestro Robin van Persie that had been set up by the rampant debutante, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Then just when it seemed that the momentum had shifted in the Gunners' favor, amidst boos from the crowd and protestations from team captain van Persie, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger inexplicably withdrew Oxlade-Chamberlain in favor of Andrei Arshavin.
The diminutive Russian, whose brilliant form early in his Arsenal career is now a fading memory, made the immediate contribution of a defensive error that gifted Danny Welbeck what proved to be Manchester United's winning goal.
Around the world football pundits, Arsenal supporters and even uninitiated American fans watching the EPL on network TV for the first time were left staring in open-mouthed disbelief, wondering: What was Arsene Wenger thinking?
Despite a brilliant second-half comeback that had seen Arsenal with several near misses and United pushed back on their heels, Wenger still managed to somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory—or at least a respectable draw against one of the world's top teams.
After the match, CNN host and British tabloid journalist Piers Morgan, sitting in at the Fox Sports desk, detailed the potential extent of the damage done: no chance of a league title and severely diminished chances of qualifying for next year's UEFA Champions League.
All because of one bad substitution.
It may sound overly dramatic, but Morgan was spot on in his assessment. Certainly, one could run down a laundry list of key Arsenal players missing due to injuries and national duty: Gervinho, Bacary Sagna, Mikel Arteta, Kieron Gibbs and Jack Wilshire, to name just a few.
Yet in this case, the blame must rest solely on the shoulders of the manager. Arsene Wenger threw the match by subbing off a player in the midst of a brilliant EPL starting debut to bring on a player whose form has ranged from inconsistent to dreadful this season.
Questions have hovered around this Arsenal team for several seasons: Why can't they close games out? Why haven't they won a major trophy for seven years? Why doesn't the team adequately spend in the transfer market for reinforcements?
These questions now seem to have been answered: It's the manager.
Arsene Wenger's first decade in charge of Arsenal was the most illustrious in the club's history. However, it now seems all too apparent that the Frenchman has lost the plot.
No amount of ref-blaming, citing injuries or lamenting missed chances can obscure the fact that Wenger derailed his team's chances of getting some kind of a result against Manchester United.
Obivously, they might have lost the match anyway.
But to take off a player who'd set up the equalizing goal and had been the sole bright light in a dismal first half, for a sputtering dud like Arshavin, reeks of bad judgement—if not incompetence.
However, if the club fails to qualify for next year's Champions League and loses out on more than £30 million in revenue, Wenger's penny-wise transfer policies will be revealed as stubborn, pig-headed and badly out of step with the realities of modern football.
With one week remaining in the transfer market, and Arsenal's transfer market kitty thought to be upwards of £35 million, the onus is on Arsene Wenger to prove Piers Morgan and the rest of us wrong.
Otherwise, Mr. Wenger, please step aside and let the club bring in a manager who won't let his own ideology cloud his view of the realities on the pitch and off of it.
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