The banners read “Arsene Wenger you’re killing our club;” “No contract;” “Stubborn, stale, clueless;””All good things must come to an end;” “Ivan Gazidis – the **** do you do.” Inside the Emirates there were no banners. Just rather a lot of empty seats. And that said it all really.
In his 21st year in charge, and his 184th match, rarely had the atmosphere around Arsene Wenger been as poisonous, as rancid, as this. Mind you, there were only 200 odd of them.
In the programme before the game Wenger was saying: “What is at stake is our pride and our honour to compete for 90 minutes.”
There was no doubt about that – 5-1 down from an utterly calamitous first leg against Bayern Munich and facing seven years in a row going out at the last 16 stage of the Champions League, uncertainty around his own future and a row with star player Alexis Sanchez.
Arsenal fans staged a passionate protest prior to tonight's game
Pressure is mounting on Arsene Wenger
All coming on top of yet another surrender, at Liverpool, which only sufficed once again to emphasise how far Arsenal are from being serious title challengers.
Wenger the day before this second leg had asked for “lucid rage” from his team. Initially at the Emirates last night (inside, at any rate) there was optimism and backing for the team as the Gunners, with Sanchez recalled up front following his bust up with fellow players and, apparently, his manager after the first leg, went at the Germans from the off.
It was, of course, an impossible task. But all the fans wanted was some fight, some passion, some pride from their team. Qualities notably missing in certain games recently.
“Arsenal we love you,” the still faithful sang inside the Emirates – especially when Theo Walcott rifled them ahead from an angle with a superb goal in the 19th minute. Suddenly the stadium was alive with hope, songs and applause.
Arsenal fans stage protest over manager Arsene Wenger
Tue, March 7, 2017
Disgruntled Arsenal fans have staged a protest over struggling manager Arsene Wenger
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Arsenal fans a stage protest over manager Arsene Wenger
Protests continued throughout the match after Arsenal were humiliated by Bayern Munich
Wenger, parked in the technical area in his long blue coat, was a picture of agitation. But any anger from the fans for most of the game was directed at referee Tasos Sidiropolous for decisions that went against them.
Carlo Ancelotti’s sides have never concentrated on defence – the former Chelsea manager when in charge of AC Milan saw his side blow a 4-1 lead against Deportivo La Coruna in 2004, and they then lost the Champions League final against Liverpool a year later after being 3-0 up. Ancelotti likes his teams to attack. But those matches, the Italian admits, still haunt him.
So there was reason for optimism. Bayern’s defence looked vulnerable to the pace of Walcott down the right – he hit the side netting shortly after the goal, then went down under a challenge but no penalty given, and Olivier Giroud headed over when he should have scored – but those chances had to go in, moments had to go their way. Meanwhile, little had been seen of Sanchez.
But as the minutes ticked by, as hope faded, Wenger retreated to the bench. And then Laurent Koscielny felled Robert Lewandowski in the area, the French defender was sent off as the goalline assistant overruled the referee.
As Koscielny was applauded all the way to the tunnel by the fans, Lewandowski slammed home the penalty. The dream, however fleeting, had died.
Only when Arjen Robben slotted in Bayern’s second did the atmosphere finally turn. The fans started trooping out. The gaps in the stands grew, the grumbling grew.
Mostly, it was a dull, resigned acceptance. Here we go again. Outside? Lucid rage. Inside? The deadly rumble of discontent.