As Arsenal trudged off of Sutton United’s plastic pitch there was a distinct feeling of their 2-0 victory proving to be a pyrrhic one. The Gunners made hard work of it against the non-league minnows and were given a mighty scare, the pace of Rory Deacon up front almost proving their undoing.
At full time, as the players looked to avoid the most ironic of pitch invasions from Arsenal fans, a banner was unfurled, reading: “Every good story has an ending. Au revoir Arsene.”
Ignoring the obvious irony of unfurling such a banner at a non-league stadium – against a team 17th in the National League – the move was a premeditated one on behalf of the increasingly noisy Arsenal Fan TV crew.
A YouTube phenomenon, it regularly becomes must-watch when Arsenal fail to win, as supporters rant in front of a camera. Expletives aren’t necessary but are welcomed. A baseball-cap sporting fan named DT promised after the 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich that he would “bring the banners” and he made good on his vow, with Wenger’s grip on the club he has managed for over 20 years slowly slipping away.
Arsenal fans & ex-players who continue to back him are now damaging this great club.— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) February 15, 2017
He has to go. #WengerOut
The fanbase has turned toxic, looking for scapegoats at every turn and desperately pleading with Wenger to walk away.
Claude, arguably the breakout star of the Arsenal Fan TV movement, is an earnest supporter, and clearly cares about the club, but he revealed after a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea that he did not feel he could continue to support them so passionately if Wenger chose to continue.
"There's no heart in the team any more, it's time for a change now... If he signs a two-year contract my heart's gone. I can't do it any more. I can't stomach it. I love what he's done for the club but he's gone now,” he said.
The pain in his voice was apparent for all who watched.
This has become a running joke now, with Arsenal – formerly so fearsome – now renowned for fighting for fourth-place. A second-place finish last season did nothing to placate the angry hordes; they were, after all, gifted the position by a Tottenham collapse, rather than a Gunners charge.
It is Premier League glory that the Gunners supporters so crave and yet, every year, they seem to fall by the wayside in January and February. In their last five games in all competitions Arsenal have won twice, against Hull and Sutton, but defeats to Watford and Chelsea in the league and Bayern in Europe have reduced them to fighting for qualification for the Champions League and the FA Cup trophy yet again.
In an expletive-laden rant on the fan channel, a man named Troopz rallied his own army after the Chelsea loss, decrying Wenger as a “fraud”. "I've had enough of this sh**, every f**king year, same point of the season, what happens? We crumble, we're dead, it's done, everything's done,” he raged.
Wenger, for his part, appears to be considerate of the protests; he has admitted that he could manage elsewhere next season, but then just as quickly hinted that he would stay, claiming “my preference is always to manage Arsenal”.
And so the wheel spins. Arsenal fans continue to pine for the success Wenger initially brought with him when he was appointed as a virtual unknown; he transformed English football, and introduced the term ‘Invincibles’ into the wider lexicon, as his swaggering side avoided defeat for 38 breathless games.
Back then, however, his squad boasted the likes of the deadly Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp's silken-touch, the destructive Patrick Vieira and the galloping Robert Pires. Now he has Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, and 21 others.
But that matters little in a game obsessed with the short-term gains that football offers. Wenger is, common wisdom suggests, behind the times. He has been left behind by the likes of Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp.
Where there was once steel at the heart of Arsenal Football Club there is now a soft underbelly, all too readily exposed. Since their last title win Arsenal have finished above third on only two occasions, and the fans are caught in a perpetual cycle of disappointment.
Wenger remains Arsenal’s most decorated manager, and is also the longest serving boss in the Premier League, but he has gone from Invincible to Intolerable, and a changing of the guard feels long overdue.