Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has used the FA Cup as a safety net for the last two seasons – final victories against Hull City and Aston Villa bringing the success that has eluded him elsewhere for so long.
Now, he cannot rely on the famous old competition to protect him – or his failure to win the Premier League since 2003/04 – after Watford’s shock 2-1 quarter-final win at Emirates Stadium.
So no FA Cup, as good as out of the Champions League as Arsenal attempt to overturn a 2-0 deficit against holders Barcelona in the Nou Camp on Wednesday, and eight points behind Premier League leaders Leicester City after two losses and a draw in their last three league games.
The 66-year-old is a towering figure in Arsenal’s history – but if The Gunners finish this season empty-handed it must be time for Wenger to consider relinquishing control of the club he has served with such distinction since September 1996.
So why should the end of Wenger’s era be on the agenda?
Arsenal’s lack of success?
Arsene Wenger (centre)
Arsene Wenger has won nine major trophies at Arsenal but they have not won the league for 11 years
No Arsenal fan – even Wenger’s fiercest detractors – would wish to see a wonderful career peter out to the soundtrack of growing criticism after bringing four titles, which also included two doubles with the FA Cup, and six FA Cup triumphs in all.
There comes a time, however, when any manager’s recent record must be subjected to close scrutiny, irrespective of the past. It is not a vendetta or a personal campaign against Wenger, simply an examination of unflattering facts.
It is the law, the reality, of football management.
And if Arsenal do not win the title this season, a campaign they have almost been waiting for in many respects, the time would be right to hand over power because there are no signs that Wenger is close to recreating his successes of the past.
Arsenal dominated possession at the Emirates and had 20 shots in total, compared to Watford’s seven
If he fails again, Wenger will have faltered with Arsenal’s rivals all stumbling around them. Chelsea have imploded, Manchester City have been indifferent and Manchester United have been off the radar.
It would be a desperate reflection on Wenger and his team if they fail to take advantage of that collection of circumstances.
Since that last title, on the back of 38 games unbeaten, Wenger has only finished second once, in the following season. There have been six fourth-placed finished and four seasons in third. Arsenal have rarely threatened to actually win the title again.
And if they go out to Barcelona, it is will be their sixth successive Champions League exit at the last 16 stage.
If history repeats itself this season, then it must be the end of the old “Arsene Knows” and “In Arsene We Trust” mantras, and change must be considered. Wenger cannot be immune from the normal measures of success and failure.
Arsene Wenger – Arsenal career stats
Competition Games Wins Draws Losses For Against Win %
Premier League 743 429 183 131 1391 706 57.74
Champions League 182 92 40 50 290 189 50.54
FA Cup 102 67 22 13 194 81 65.69
League Cup 64 36 8 20 132 88 56.25
Uefa Cup 11 6 3 2 22 11 54.55
Community Shield 8 6 1 1 15 5 75.00