On Christmas Day of 2015, Arsenal were top of the Premier League and all looked rosy. Since then, their collapse has been spectacular.
The Gunners have won just three of their last 11 games in all competitions, a run that continued with Wednesday's terrible 2-1 defeat at home to Swansea City.
Something appears to have broken in the team—and, crucially, in the relationship between the fans and Arsene Wenger.
After the loss at Old Trafford on Sunday, Arsenal desperately needed a positive result to lift morale and raise hopes they could still wrest the title away from one of Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur. Instead, they stumbled yet again, suffering a third consecutive loss.
The atmosphere at the Emirates Stadium was toxic. As soon as Arsenal allowed Swansea to equalise with some remarkably slack defending, the fans began to turn in their droves.
The moment the supporters’ discontent really became clear was when Arsenal’s goalscorer, the impressive Joel Campbell, was withdrawn as a substitute for Danny Welbeck.
There was no issue with the England international's arrival, but Campbell had been by far Arsenal’s most dangerous player. On a night when Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud struggled, taking off the Costa Rican seemed bizarre.
When the board went up, boos reverberated around the Emirates Stadium. Per the club's official website, Wenger sought to justify his decision thus:
Campbell hasn’t played for a while and he started to tire. He played against a very young left back and I thought Welbeck could give him some problems with his runs in behind. These kinds of decisions don’t mean that Campbell did badly. I think he did quite well tonight.
As it became clear Arsenal lacked the imagination or the impetus to snatch an equaliser, fans began to pour out of the stadium. By full-time, the ground looked half empty. When the whistle blew, those who remained rained boos down on the team—and their manager.
Afterwards, Wenger refrained from criticising the dissenting supporters. Per the Arsenal website, he said:
Let’s focus on our job and ignore that. We have to get the fans back on our side. The fans were ready to support us tonight I think. They were quite good. We faded in the game and we could see that in the last part of the game we had a lack of movement to create dangerous situations.
He sounds like a man who knows the criticism is valid. After years of exasperation at Arsenal’s failure to mount a serious title challenge, it seems the dam has broken and that the frustration of the fans has boiled over into pure anger.
It’s the context that makes this latest bout of failure all the more infuriating. The likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have all endured nightmare seasons, yet Arsenal have still not been able to capitalise.
They have been unable to shake off the shroud of underachievement that has hung over the Emirates Stadium for a decade.
More and more supporters are reaching the conclusion that if Wenger can’t win the league this season, he never will. The next logical thought is to question what the point is in retaining a manager who seems incapable of providing the consistency required to finish top of the table.
Arsenal seem to have the strongest squad of the top three, yet they also seem the least likely to end up winning the league. The fault for that has to lie with manager—and it seems the supporters have finally accepted that.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.