Having had two days to consider the ludicrousity (yes, the events that transpired deserve their very own word) of what happened in Newcastle on Saturday, I have now made peace with the fact that no logical explanation will suffice: irrespective of a sending off, an injury, poor refereeing decisions and individual mistakes, there is simply no defence for losing a four goal lead.
But the optimists amongst Arsenal fans can also view this weekend as one which saw the deficit at the top of the Premier League table diminish. All is far from lost. And although logic might not provide the best arena to deconstruct Arsenal’s startling tendency for self combustion, a big question needs to be asked: at what point is this the players’ responsibility and not Arsene Wenger’s?
I have read countless comments from fans recycling the same anti-Wenger gambits when crucial losses occur or leads are relinquished: the team is his and therefore he should take ownership of their shortcomings. But what is certainly interesting from a neutral’s perspective is just how much Wenger is made culpable for his players’ mistakes. He appears, in my eyes anyway, to shoulder a greater burden than most managers when his team is publicly scrutinised.
I can understand the reasons for this: the evident conflagration of Wenger’s and Arsenal’s ideology, his obstinate adherence to a set of sporting and economic principles, and a fan base who invariably understand the magnitude of funding a new stadium whilst mounting a consistent challenge for silverware domestically and abroad. His is a unique circumstance in so far as everyone involved in football understand it to be a personal ideology which has translated into a club’s identity.
So, yes, I can see why there are those who hold him absolutely responsible. But in games against Tottenham or Wigan this season alone and, in particular, the extraordinary events of Saturday; what is he to do? The defensive frailties of the squad fall under his responsibility, there is no doubt about that, but the twenty-two minute collapse exhibited at St James’ Park is another matter entirely. The frustration of coming so far with this team, seeing the likes of Nasri, Song and Wilshere evolve, making telling strides (defeating Chelsea this season was one such significant moment), only to relapse into inexplicable periods of madness and hysteria is perhaps most upsetting for Wenger (and Arsenal fans).
The truth is that any team is an extension, and reflection, of its manager. And Arsenal’s continuing penchant for losing concentration is an unmistakable indictment on Arsene Wenger’s inability to instil ruthlessness into his group of players. However there also comes a point – like on Saturday – where the events that unfold are so unbelievable and perplexing that I can’t help but share Wenger’s frustration and simply ask the players (all experienced players, too): is this really the manager’s fault?