Arsene Wenger was a relieved man on Sunday night.
For forty-five minutes of the game between Liverpool and Manchester City, his greatest managerial triumph was under threat. By the end of an enthralling match at Anfield, however, Arsenal’s Invincibles were safe for another season at least. Pep Guardiola, after 23 attempts, had finally been smote.
But so too had Arsenal, whose trip to Dean Court was a mere afterthought to the debate surrounding Alexis Sánchez’s future. With moves to Liverpool, City and even Manchester United being rumoured, the Gunners’ best player was nowhere to be seen, the latest rat to abandon a plague-ridden ship.
It’s hard to give adequate scale to Arsenal’s decline. It is an institution shot through with melancholy, a once-great club in a state of a seemingly-terminal turmoil. From the mice that infest the stadium, to the journeymen who wear the shirt once garlanding the back of Tony Adams, Wenger’s men are England most biting tragicomedy.
Still, history will remember the Frenchman. When he is eulogised, the first line will always be about a great innovator, a man whose coaching methods revolutionised a backwards league. The second, however, will be about a man who clung on for too long, a manager who saw his kingdom ground to dust.
In a game that summed up why Wenger simply has to go, here are four things we learned.
1 Time to Cech out
Petr Cech has conceded more goals at Arsenal than he did during a decade at Chelsea.
Previously, that record was attributed to the shakiness of the defence in front of him in North London but his performance on Sunday suggests that that might be too simplistic.
Cech was at fault for Bournemouth’s equaliser, with his reluctance to deal with Ryan Fraser’s cross allowing Callum Wilson to sneak in and finish.
For a man whose career has been built on quiet solidity, the errors are becoming increasingly acute.
2 Wilshere’s revenge served cold
When Jack Wilshere collided with Danny Drinkwater during Wednesday’s purgatorial clash with Chelsea, many Gunners fans predicted another spell on the sidelines for a man who’d only just looked back to his best. His inclusion in the starting line-up on Sunday, then, was a pleasant surprise.
Wilshere was impressive once more on the South Coast, making more passes than anyone as he struggled to incite his teammates.
Whilst he couldn’t manage it, Gunners fans can at least take solace from the fact that one of their players will go home hurting.
3 Mr. Wilson is the real menace
After seven attempts, Eddie Howe finally secured a win over Arsene Wenger.
The result was not, however, the byproduct of a mammoth tactical battle between two brooding coaches, but rather the decisive performance of a certain Callum Wilson up front.
Facing a calamitous backline of Rob Holding, Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers, the 25-year-old helped himself to a goal and an assist.
4 Bournemouth break the spell
Bournemouth have always been a ‘nice’ club with an eloquent manager winning games by dint of his inoffensive attacking style.
The big sides, meanwhile, were never ruffled by a team that was only too happy to roll over, focussing instead on securing points against its smaller rivals.
On Sunday, however, they were miles from the placid puppy we’ve come to expect. For the first time in 14 games against the ‘Big Six’, Bournemouth secured a win, letting Arsenal play harmless lateral passes before punishing them on the break.
With the victory moving them away from the relegation places, it was further proof that winning ugly is better than losing pretty.
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