13 March 2016

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand at the Emirates...Near them, on the pitch,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
'My name is Arsèmandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. 'Round the decay
of that colossal Wreck, boundlesss and bare
the lone and level sands stretch far away."

Thus standeth Arsène's reign, crumbling to dust, slipping through his fingers just as he was on the cusp of seizing a destiny he had envisioned for so many years...

So this is how it ends, then is it? An embarrassing defeat at home to an inferior side, marking the first time we've lost three in a row at home since 2002, and a yawning chasm has opened between us and the European elite, one marked just as much by our 2-0 loss to Barcelona as by the same side's 6-0 win over Getafe the day before. We went into Sunday's match with the slimmest of chances at winning a treble. Having been eliminated so ignominiously from one competition, it's all but impossible to believe we can win either of the remaining two. We'll need an 0-3 to get past Barcelona, and even with our history of improbable second leg fight-backs, we'd be lucky to banter ourselves off with a 1-3 to go out on aggregate.

As for the FA Cup, maybe it might have been better for Chelsea to have advanced, the better to keep us on edge. Seeing them get knocked out—and Costa sent off, to boot—might have dulled our hunger just a bit, as if our path to that third straight title had been cleared. Now, the best we can cling to is to have outlasted Chelsea in both the Champions League and FA Cup, a feat that has more to do with scheduling than anything else. After other such setbacks, I might point out that it was the players who let Arsène down. After all, looking at the XI, who among us didn't think, "that's a strong squad, and we'll advance"? However, after fifteen minutes of futile domination, we settled into a grim and pointless possession with little to show for it. It was only in the last ten minutes of the match, by which point we trailed 0-2, that we again played with any kind of passion, grit, or determination. Too little, too late. Lament the sitter that Welbeck fluffed if you will. That's missing the forest for the trees.

Speaking of forests.the Birnam Wood move to Dunsinane. We're feeling literary, aren't we? We can and should fault the players because they were after all the ones who failed to finish off this foe (and several others...). Who, however, has assembled this squad? We have any number of quite-good players who leave it all on the pitch...except for the shots they put into the cheap-seats. After splurging on Özil and Alexis in previous summers, Arsène reverted to form to pick up Čech on the cheap, settling for that as our marquee signing of the summer. There's something in that, of course, but as with the previous two, it's hard to ignore the idea that he'd waited for sloppy-seconds. Özil, Alexis, and Čech had been rendered extraneous to their clubs' needs, and so we swooped in. Ambition should be made of sterner stuff. Beware the Ides of March. And so on.

Watford, then, looks to be Wenger's Waterloo. With almost no chance of progress in the Champions League, and an almost-insurmountable mountain to climb in the Prem, we'll have to cling to our third-place position and hope that Tottenham drop seven points from their eight remaining fixtures—while we go on to take all three from our own remaining nine. That's just to salvage a bit of St. Totteringham's Day dignity. To win the Prem, we'd also need Leicester to drop nine points from their nine remaining fixtures. It wouldn't be unheard of. Unfortunately, so much of that depends on our own depressed, depleted squad rising up in historic, mythic fashion, and it's hard to see the way through.

I had hoped that this season would end on a gloriously high note, all the better to allow Arsène to end his tenure in a manner befitting a man who has given so much to this club, but it's looking harder and harder to sustain those hopes. I'm not quite one of those WOBs, but I am getting a bit wobbly...