Stoppage Time: Wenger's downfall almost complete
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Arsene Wenger could not have imagined his week transpiring in the manner in which it did.
The Frenchman deployed an undeniably weakened side in the FA Cup last weekend and paid the ultimate price as his beloved Arsenal was eliminated from the fabled competition in a 1-0 loss by Championship side Blackburn Rovers at the Emirates.
It would not be the last time he would lose this week. His misery had only just begun.
Wenger undoubtedly had one eye on Arsenal's Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, last year's runner-up in the competition, when he named his starting squad for the FA Cup tilt.
But according the Gunners manager, the team he fielded against Rovers was not weak at all, stating that every one of the 11 starters was a full international. He is not wrong, but the decision to leave any of Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski on the bench for a match that is essential to your best chance at silverware means that Wenger is certainly culpable.
"Le Professeur" lost once more when he participated in his press conference ahead of the Bayern match (http://ow.ly/hRKwo). When asked about the state of his contract negotiations with Arsenal, his team selection from Saturday, the subsequent loss to Blackburn and the prospect of another barren season for the Gunners' trophy cabinet, the normally cool and collected Wenger snapped with snide and sarcastic responses to legitimate journalistic inquiries.
Apparently, dogs do walk on their hind legs.
It didn't take Wenger long to effectively lose the Champions League tie as Bayern scored twice in the opening 21 minutes to put the Gunners on the back foot.
Arsenal did manage to gain some momentum in the match, but it was erased by Mario Mandzukic's goal 13 minutes from time.
The fact remains that minor comebacks like the one on display, in glimpses, at the Emirates on Tuesday only serve to salvage a modicum of pride. It does not change the facts that Arsenal was outclassed on the night and that Wenger's once-sterling reputation of developing young players into world-class talents has disappeared.
The opening half-hour at the Emirates on Tuesday offered the greatest indication as to just how far Wenger has fallen from grace.
Bayern bossed the match in a manner that was reminiscent of Wenger's early Arsenal squads. The Germans were fast, physically with their movement and mentally with their decision-making. They were skillful on the ball and accurate with their passing. But most of all, they had the physicality and aggression to match their superior size.
This is how Arsenal's "Invincibles" were once described. Speed through Thierry Henry up front, skill from Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires, complemented by Gilberto Silva's supreme passing ability and the combativeness of Patrick Vieira.
Wenger has been beaten at his own game and Tuesday's match was the proof. His squad, formerly capable of winning any competition for which it qualified, has gradually weakened to the tepid Gunners we watch today.
And whenever the Arsenal boss is able to develop a young player into a class talent, he typically bolts for greener pastures like Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri have done in recent years.
By comparison, Bayern has been able to hold on to its crop of talented youngsters and they proved to be the difference in Tuesday's encounter at the Emirates. Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller, a pair of 23-year-olds who have been tremendously influential since graduating to the Bayern Munich first team, provided the goals that lifted the German giants to a two-goal advantage inside the opening 21 minutes.
The point of who is at fault for Arsenal's tumble into mediocrity can be argued for hours on end.
Did Wenger get his team selection wrong at critical times? Is he blameworthy for replacing the likes of Van Persie, Fabregas, Clichy and Nasri with slight- of-frame alternatives who have been thrust into the limelight very early on in their respective careers? Is it down to those replacements for under performing? Or does it come down to the Arsenal board for failing to adequately invest transfer funds in top-quality, experienced talent?
Those who opine the latter are likely Wenger loyalists who remain firm in their credo "In Arsene, We Trust."
But it cannot be disputed that Wenger has lost on three fronts.
He took a gamble he did not need to take in fielding a weakened side against Blackburn, which resulted in elimination from a competition that gave Arsenal the best chance to win something this season.
He lost the pre-match press conference before the Bayern clash, showing the ease with which he can be unnerved by a person with a recorder when his back is up against the wall.
And he has struggled to adequately nurture young players and turn them into regular contributors, falling behind the curve to clubs like Bayern and setting Arsenal back years in the process.
Wenger will lose again at the conclusion of the season when he makes it eight years for Arsenal without a trophy. His downfall will be completed when he subsequently loses his job.