Arsene Wenger Can Stall On The Cameras But Not Time

There were shoulders shrugged and cheeks blown out. As the clock ticked toward 10.10 p.m., Jamie Carragher and Thierry Henry were in the Sky Sports studio running out of ways in which to describe the apathy and resignation at the Emirates Stadium as Arsenal were beaten 3-0 by Manchester City for the second time in five days. But still they had to fill the time.

"You're kind of lost for words," Henry said. "You get upset and you have a go, but tonight..." His words trailed off as it was reaching close to 40 minutes since the final whistle had been blown in North London. Pep Guardiola had been out of the dressing room and faced the media, but still the door to the home dressing room remained shut. Where was Wenger? It felt like a metaphor for recent years.

While Sky delayed its television schedule to wait for Wenger, Henry suggested an inquest may have been taking place. Finally, presenter Kelly Cates raised her hand: Wenger was ready.

"You've been in that changing room a long time, to gather your thoughts? To speak to your players? What can you tell us?" the reporter Patrick Davison asked.

"[There's] not a lot to talk about," Wenger said, looking toward the floor. "It was a game with a team of top quality and full of confidence against us who were a bit low on confidence."

What followed was the kind of class the Premier League has come to expect from the Frenchman over the past 20 years, in particular the last five as the pressure on his position has mounted. Though he took nothing away from Manchester City's performance, he spoke of "weak defending" in his team and the "individual quality" of Guardiola's.

Time Running Out For Wenger
Arsene Wenger at the Emirates Stadium, London, March 1. Wenger's team lost 3-0 to Manchester City for the second time in five days. GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty

The interview grew more intense as the questioning became more direct, but still Wenger kept his typical composure. "Is this a season you can salvage, Arsene?"

"Of course," he said. "We want to focus on the next game. We played twice against the best side in the country and that was of course difficult for us because we had not a good performance in the first game. We have quality and we want to show that."

"Do you have absolute confidence in yourself in turning it round?" it was asked.

Again, he said: "Of course."

The problem for Wenger, though, was that this felt scripted and robotic. He has remained defiant for so very long that it has become his default mode. We shouldn't expect a Kevin Keegan-style on-air meltdown.

But while Wenger was able to delay time to face the cameras, it is increasingly running out. His opportunities to leave the club on a high look to have disappeared. The FA Cup win in 2014 would have been the perfect time. 2015, too, and even last May would have even been lukewarm.

Now, the Europa League is his only hope. Runners up in the League Cup, out of the FA Cup, and sixth in the Premier League, 10 points off fourth place. The only way Wenger can bow out at the Emirates in glorious circumstances will be if he can return Arsenal to the Champions League via the second tier competition. But the likelihood of that is slim.

Arsenal face a reenergized AC Milan on Thursday (March 8) in the round of 16, with plenty of European giants left in the competition should they progress—from Atletico Madrid to Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig to Zenit St Petersburg. The road to redemption is far from clear.

Henry, Arsenal's highest ever goalscorer, was in melancholy mood. "I was expecting a response today—some pride and passion," he said. "But it didn't happen. I feel sad because this is the club that I love and a man I have a lot of respect for."

But enough shoulders have been shrugged and enough cheeks blown out in exasperation. Wenger cannot stall any longer.