Watching the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, it seemed like Arsene Wenger and, indeed, most of his Arsenal players, really were wandering through the wilderness.
That was personified by Shkodran Mustafi’s almost embarrassed protests as he was eased aside by the towering might of Sergio Aguero to let the City forward scamper away and lift his tasty finish over David Ospina for City’s first goal in the 18th minute.
It was also no more evident than in the lead up to City’s third, final, and fatal goal. Before David Silva sealed City’s convincing victory with a low, drilled finish in the 65th minute of the game, commentator Gary Neville had pointed out midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka walking in the middle of the park. And as Danilo slipped Silva through, they were seen to merely be jogging back to help their defenders, for which Neville branded them “spineless” and “an absolute disgrace”.
That performance on Sunday has renewed the incessant pressure on Wenger, which he continues to nonchalantly wave away, whatever goes wrong. That aspect of Wenger’s position at Arsenal draws parallels with Donald Trump’s seemingly unstoppable presidential campaign, in which he said: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” It makes you wonder what Wenger would have to do to lose the loyalty of owner Stan Kroenke and compromise his seemingly impenetrable premiership at the Gunners.
Perhaps it was this and other things that Wenger was contemplating as he sat dejected in the Wembley dugout, watching his players float through a (sort of) major cup final and get spanked by a dominant City side playing at nowhere near top speed.
Well, as we all know by the amount of pancakes still swirling around our bloodstreams, the Christian faith is currently observing the festival of Lent. And much like the biblical story on which it is based, I like to think that during the current Lent period, Wenger has been repeatedly denying the temptations of Satan – played here by a collective embodiment of Spurs fans everywhere.
First: hedonism. In the Bible, Jesus was tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread to appease his hunger, to which Jesus said: “No, Satan, I don’t fancy any bread right now, thanks.” This temptation was put to Wenger in the form of their Europa League tie against Ostersunds FK. After their comfortable 3-0 away win, Arsenal seemed free to take the Swedish side back to the Emirates and give them a right hedonistic doing over. But no! Wenger courageously denied this temptation and succumbed to a noble home defeat to a side with a club history only as old as his managerial career at Arsenal and who until just five years ago were playing their football in the third tier of Swedish football.
Second is the temptation of egoism – of great might. Jesus denied the temptation to throw himself from the top of the temple, because he would be saved from dying, by saying God should not be tested. In much the same way, what Gary Neville and many others may have seen as “spineless” play by Arsenal’s players in the Carabao Cup final was actually the valiant denial of temptation by Wenger: Why should he turn City over in a spectacular display of power? “Again it is written: ‘you shall not put your players to the test.’” (Kroenke 4:7).
There is only one way to prove or disprove this theory: the third and final temptation of materialism. In the Bible, Jesus tells Satan to do one after he says he can give him ‘all the kingdoms in the world’ in exchange for one little worship.
Just how much is Wenger willing to give up to deny the temptation of materialism? We have already seen him give up the Carabao Cup. Before his 40 days in the wilderness is up, Arsenal will also face AC Milan in the Round of 16 of the Europa League. I wonder how that will go. Fourth place in the Premier League? Not looking likely.
Arsenal fans should remember this: far from a seemingly growing ineptitude, Wenger’s failings actually emphasise his expertise as a truly righteous manager. TWO MORE YEARS!