LONDON– Arsene Wenger faced a barrage of criticism from former players, supporters and the media after his team’s 3-0 loss to Crystal Palace on Monday night, as his 20-year reign as Arsenal manager looked increasingly shaky.
The defeat, their fourth in a row away from home and Wenger’s first to Palace, left Arsenal sixth in the table and likely to miss out on Champions League qualification for the first time under the Frenchman.
But it was the team’s limp performance that critics rounded on, with former Arsenal striker Ian Wright posting on Twitter that the “dressing room is lost”.
Video footage on social media showed Arsenal fans surrounding the team bus after the game and hurling abuse at Wenger and some of the players.
Inside the ground, dejected Arsenal fans raised banners calling for the 67-year-old and chanted “Arsene Wenger, we want you to go”. They also targetted the players, singing “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”.
Some booed Spanish full-back Hector Bellerin when he came over to applaud them after the final whistle. The 22-year-old has become a target for some supporters, who earlier in the game refused to return the ball to him after it went out of play.
Captain Theo Walcott apologised to fans after Arsenal conceded three goals for a fourth consecutive away league game, and acknowledged: “you could sense from the kickoff that [Palace] wanted it more”.
“How can that possibly be?” said former Liverpool player and Sky TV pundit Jamie Carragher. “It looks like the Arsenal players have chucked it. Four games on the bounce conceding three in all of them, putting in a performance like that.”
Carragher drew parallels with Jose Mourinho’s final game in charge of Chelsea, a 2-1 defeat to Leicester in December 2015 that prompted his sacking.
British newspapers speculated that the defeat at Palace could seal Wenger’s fate. The Times said Arsenal were “outwitted, outclassed, outdated. Time should be up for Arsene Wenger”.
Wenger again stonewalled questions about his future, claiming it would be “inconvenient to speak about me”. He is though under intense pressure to say whether he intends to stay when his contract expires this summer.
Monday’s game was watched by Arsenal chief-executive Ivan Gazidis, who is in discussions with Wenger over his future. Earlier in the day Alisher Usmanov, who owns a 30 per cent stake in the club, told Bloomberg that Wenger should be retained in some capacity and consulted over his successor.
Monday’s capitulation by a team that looked devoid of leadership, may force the issue. All five teams above Arsenal won over the weekend and the club’s only chance of silverware this season is in the FA Cup, with a tricky semi-final against Manchester City coming up later this month.
Another unwanted first under Wenger could be finishing below second-placed Tottenham Hotspur in the league for the first time since 1994-95. Fourteen points now separate them, with Spurs on a six-game winning run.
For years Arsenal fans have savoured St Totteringham’s Day, the point where it is mathematically impossible for Spurs to finish above them in the table. But the north London power shift means it is Spurs’ supporters who eagerly await Arsenal’s next league away game – a visit to White Hart Lane on Apr. 30.