The humbling of Wenger: is the Arsenal experiment over?
Fans and pundits tear into Arsenal after an appalling display against AC Milan
THE VULTURES are circling after Arsenal's dire performance against AC Milan in the Champions League. The Gunners were thrashed 4-0 and made to look like a rabble against what is widely regarded as an average Italian outfit.
"There have been some indignities visited upon Arsene Wenger this season, not least those eight goals conceded at Old Trafford, but being annihilated by Milan at the San Siro last night will rank right up there when they come to tell the gloomy story of Arsenal's year of pain," says Sam Wallace in The Independent.
"Defensively abject, they were led a less-than-merry dance by Zlatan Ibrahimovic," reports David Hytner in The Guardian.
Observers agree that the Milan striker was instrumental in Arsenal's downfall. "He was, quite simply, immense," comments Matt Barlow in the Daily Mail. But that does not excuse the performance that the Gunners put in.
Arsenal's defence was at full strength for almost the first time this season, but they were woeful says Tony Cascarino in The Times. Much of his ire is aimed at centre-back Laurent Koscielny, but the rest of the back four also get a roasting. "I'm amazed that Arsene Wenger is blind to the inability of his Arsenal team to defend," he marvels.
Up front it was little better, and even the fans could not believe what they witnessed.
"We've seen some poor performances from this Arsenal side this season but for me that was by far the worst... as a collective performance last night was as bad as it gets," laments the author of Arseblog. He says the rout is "a slap in the face for Arsene Wenger, he talked about his pretenders becoming contenders, but last night they could even pretend to be pretenders".
So where does it leave Wenger, once known as 'The Professor', and his vision for the future of Arsenal?
"A great football manager is being humbled by the decline of a team he has built in his own intellectual image," says Paul Hayward in The Daily Telegraph. "He has a body of work stretching back 15 years to protect him from the hysteria of short-termism. But a defence is harder to mount when the decline is year-on-year: when the quality of players brought in is consistently lower than those who are lost to predators."
Wenger cannot ignore the evidence of his own eyes, writes Bill Mann for The Week. "He spent the match slumped in the dugout rather than out on the touchline trying to rally his slovenly side – perhaps this was the night the Frenchman finally realised he had nothing left to offer Arsenal Football Club."
And the end of the road could be nigh, says Matt Hughes in The Times. "A memorable journey that began when Wenger led Arsenal to the Premier League title in his first full season in charge could come to an abrupt end, unless his players can conjure up some consistency on the domestic front."
But a domestic rally and a top-four finish in the Premier League look unlikely. "Based on the way they played last night, any assessment of that prospect would have to be deeply pessimistic," sighs Richard Williams in The Guardian.
And the humiliation could mean farewell not only to Thierry Henry, who ended his loan spell under a cloud, but the Gunners' other talisman, Dutch striker Robin van Persie.
"The fear is that this experience has a lasting impact on the players as they attempt to salvage their season... At the very least, it is likely to prey on Robin van Persie's mind as he considers his future in the summer," warns Barlow in the Mail.