TV View: Bayern humbling moves Wenger and Arsenal closer to divorce
Bavarian thrashing edges 21-year love affair towards its end
Arsene Wenger’s 21-year love affair with Arsenal looks to be coming to its end. Photograph: Marc Mueller/Getty
It’s 21 years since Arsene and Arsenal tied the knot, but of late the manager hasn’t been feeling a whole lot of love, a bit like those Cardiff City fans away to Derby County on Valentine’s night (“we’re only here ‘cos we’re single,” they crooned wistfully). And the last thing you need, really, as you’re attempting to rekindle the passion the faithful once felt for you is a trip to Bayern Munich.
Even before the game, the RTE panel wasn’t overly hopeful that the marriage would survive, much of the fan’s frustration rooted in Wenger’s unwillingness to flash the cash, often opting to purchase them a single dandelion rather than a red rose. Like, say, buying Xhaka instead of Kante.
Eamon Dunphy put this thriftiness down to the fact that Wenger hails from Alsace where the people are “known for their austerity and their severe view of life - like certain Highland Scots they don’t like to waste money”. Darragh Maloney was just relieved he hadn’t cited Cavan men because the switchboard would have detonated.
It was then time for the panel to leave their seats to use the studio’s giant iPad for analysis of how tracking back and the like are alien concepts to Arsenal. Eamon seemed a little wary, looking down on the machine like it was a cobra about to lunge at him, but Didi Hamman was right at home with it - vorsprung durch technik, after all - and Richie Sadlier was so comfy too you’d guess he’s a whizz at Need for Speed on his tablet. The one thing he couldn’t do, though, no matter how hard he swiped the screen, was to get Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to mark his man.
As game-time neared, the only hope that Didi could offer Gooners was that Bayern have been no great shakes this season, but all three feared the worst for the lovelorn Arsene: home win.
It was going grand until the 11th minute at which point Arsenal decided that Arjen Robben cutting in from the right and taking a swing with his left foot posed no danger, despite the fella netting incessantly from these very situations since he first laid eyes on a football. 1-0 to Bayern.
But then Alexis Sanchez finally got around to converting a penalty and it was, a bit impossibly, 1-1 at half-time.
“That goal could well be Arsenal’s passage to the semi-finals and Wenger’s new contract,” said Eamon.
Eighteen minutes later Bayern were 4-1 up.
“This could get embarrassing,” said Ronnie Whelan, when it already was. If Arsene never hears Seven Nation Army again it’ll still be too soon.
And then Thomas came on and scored and we were guaranteed a multitude of ‘Mullered’ headlines.
The panel really didn’t know where to start. “Capitulation once again,” said Didi, before leaving Arsenal tingling about the return leg when he noted that “the jury is still out on Bayern”, there was, he said, considerable room for improvement.
Darragh, meanwhile, summoned up the courage to remind Eamon that at half-time he had deemed Bayern to be poor and Arsenal to be quite possibly en route to the semi-finals, but that, Eamon told him, was before Koscielny limped off and Gabriel ambled on. At which point he “rushed to the phone and had a bet”. “If Gabriel is your cover for Koscielny,” he said, “you’re goosed”.
Darragh then asked the lads to have a gander at Arsene’s Arsenal future, and they couldn’t see one. But the consensus was that his “bunch of sulking kids”, as Didi described the players, had let him down a bagful, Richie echoing the theme rather expertly.
“This is way beyond what kind of formation they should play, what system, what’s their wage structure, what’s the board thinking - these are professional footballers at an elite level playing like ill-tempered schoolboys who just completely lost the rag because things didn’t go their way.”
Darragh: “Do you feel sorry for Wenger tonight?”
Didi: “We should look back at some beautiful memories ….. but tonight wasn’t one of them.”
It’s at times like this you’d wish clubs would sack squads and keep the gaffer.
Over on ITV later in the night, Roy Keane squinted at a shell-shocked Mark Pougatch. “I don’t know what you were expecting - did you think they’d go to Bayern Munich and get a result? They’re just not good enough so there’s no point being too critical of them, they’re not up to it.”
How many “decent” players have they? Two, Roy reckoned. The rest? “Average.” “And when I see Gibbs with the captain’s armband on at the end of the game ….. [pregnant pause] …. you’re in big trouble.”
You just wish he’d speak his mind.
Lee Dixon nodded. “There’s a niceness about the club - ask him, you don’t win anything by being nice.”
Another loveless week for Arsene, then. But ‘tis better to have loved and lost 5-1 to Bayern than never to have loved at all. Give that man some red roses, he deserves them.