Arsenal’s season is in danger of imploding after a chastening League Cup final demolition at the hands Premier League leaders Manchester City raised fresh questions about the future of manager Arsene Wenger.
The Gunners, who lost 3-0 to Pep Guardiola’s high-flying team, now find themselves 10 points adrift of their north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who occupy the coveted fourth spot in the Premier League table.
Already out of the FA Cup, the Europa League could offer salvation – and a Champions League spot – but Italian giants AC Milan stand between Wenger’s team and a place in the quarter-finals.
The Arsenal boss, who signed a new two-year contract extension last year, said he would have to prioritise the next game – against Manchester City in the league on Thursday night (at 2:45am Cambodian time) – before he could focus on the Europa League.
“We will of course to take the Europa League very seriously,” he said. “But we have as well to win big games because if you want to go far in the Europa League you have to win big games.”
Former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry said the manner of Arsenal’s capitulation at Wembley was shocking.
“You can lose games, you can lose finals,” he said on Sky Sports on Monday “I lost finals but it’s how you lose them. When you look at the two first goals yesterday, they were goals that you can avoid. It wasn’t that difficult to avoid.”
“Man City were not that great on the day but Arsenal still couldn’t do anything about it and so it’s a very difficult one,” he added. “Arsene never won this one before. I’m sure the team and him went there with massive expectations of winning it.
“The league is not going so well. It would have been amazing to win the [League] Cup and then hopefully backing that up with winning the Europa League. That’s what I would have called a great season. That’s what Man United did last year.”
Former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville was stinging in his criticism of the Arsenal players, labelling them “spineless” in commentary on Sky Sports on Sunday.
“I played in cup finals in Cardiff where we got beat by Liverpool, where we didn’t play well. It was a horrible feeling,” he wrote on Skysports.com.
“But I saw things out on that pitch from Arsenal. I actually called it in the lead up to the third goal, where they were walking back, and walking up, and walking towards the ball. You do not walk on a football pitch, that’s the one thing you don’t do.”
“I’m finding it difficult to take because it’s a wonderful football club with a great history and tradition, but at the moment they’re in decline in terms of their performance levels and their standards,” he added.
The problems are mounting for Arsenal at a time when the famously parsimonious club have finally loosened the purse strings, breaking their transfer record twice in recent months to sign forwards Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
Mesut Ozil was also handed the most lucrative contract in the club’s history to prevent the German World Cup winner following Alexis Sanchez out of the club in January.
Things are also changing behind the scenes, with a new chief scout arriving from Dortmund, Sven Mislintat, and Raul Sanllehi appointed head of football relations, suggesting Wenger’s grip on power may be weakening.
Daily Telegraph chief football writer Henry Winter suggested time is up for Wenger.
“Arsenal are on the road to nowhere under Arsene Wenger, a situation that has been sadly apparent for four to five seasons but now all but the overly sentimental can see it,” he wrote.
Unless something changes dramatically, the hand of the Arsenal board may be forced at the end of the season to take the drastic action they have resisted for so long.