Yep, it’s his fault, but not entirely. He made the squad selection and told, encouraged, or allowed them to play a high line and to give the ball away. Along the way, he told Walcott, Ramsey, Diaby, and Özil to get injured ahead of the run-in. He also told Ox to get sent off. Back in 1996, he mapped out every conceivable permutation of our schedule going forward to ensure that his 1,00th game would go against Chelsea, against Jose Mourinho, at Stamford Bridge, at a time when we vitally, crucially, absolutely had to win to stay in a title-chase. In order to maximise the symbolism, he planned to deliver an invincible season and a period of glory virtually unmatched in the club’s history or that of any club’s history only to subject us to a title drought, just to set up a tantalizing glimpse of glory this season that he could cruelly yank away just when it looked within reach. Part one of the plan: build up a loyal following. Part two: ruin those followers’ lives. Yes, it is truly all Wenger’s fault.
Well, “all” is a funny word. Allow me to continue.
Either in on Wenger’s plan from the start, or so thoroughly inept as to be helpless to sabotage said plan, went out all season and led the Prem for most of the season while winning the Champions League’s group-stage Group of Death and only crashing out against one of the colossues (colossi?) of all time. Along the way, they recklessly inflated our hopes and fed our wildest fantasies while offering just enough shambolic performances to dare us to doubt. Meanwhile, they conspired against us by delivering some of the most stunning football and jaw-dropping sequences we’ve seen in a long time, all the while plotting and scheming—”who should have a purple patch next? Who should go down to injury? We’ll draw straws. First, be a hero; then, pick up a knock. Brilliant.” As to this match, they decided ahead of time to dash our dreams on purpose and to ruin what was, ostensibly, Arsène’s moment of glory, all the while either conspiring with Arsène to ruin our weekends if not our lives by getting embarrassed in every possible way. Ox waited for his moment to get a red-card, but not too long, so that we’d have to play nearly 80 minutes a man down. Others chose to give the ball away at key moments or to send shots harmlessly wide or directly at the keeper. They were either (a) willing co-conspirators in the manager’s plan or (b) hapless pawns.
Was born. Decided to be a c*nt. Decided to only managed clubs stocked with so many star-players that video-game designers would base their footballing games on his and fantasy-football managers would drool with envy. Bounced around from club to club amassing a “pedigree” of performance while leaving before his personality chafed anyone too thoroughly (while doing his level-best to undermine his own players if they showed any signs of independent thought). Played boring, boring football despite having some of The Most Creative midfielders in the Prem all season, only to pull out all the stops once he saw that Arsène’s men were outnumbered. “Up 3-0? Pour it on. Kick ’em while they’re down, lads. I have a rep to maintain as a flat-track bully. I called Arsène a “specialist in failure” and I have to put Abramovich’s money where my mouth is. Attack, attack, attack. All of you. Fire way. Feed my massive ego. There is a post-game press-conference to attend, and I must have the black spot where others have a soul filled to the brim with goals. But not you, Torres. I sold Mata but I still need a pegboy.” Whether Mourinho was in on Arsène’s master-plan or was just another pawn in the larger chess-match is too murky a mystery to dwell on.
It’s not really his fault. “They all, um—er, how do I put this delicately?” Let’s just say Marriner felt bad that John Terry had to face his own racism row and wanted to set things right. After all, if he didn’t see the handball, if he couldn’t see whether the shot was going in, how can we expect him to see whom to blame? It’s hard work keeping track of all the different colors out there, and we’re just talking jerseys, nevermind players. There’s no racism at play, not at Stamford Bridge, which is practically a monument to forward-thinking and racial equality. No. Not the slightest. Then again, for all we know, Marriner was helplessly swept up in Arsène’s net, played like a violin, sending off Gibbs, booking Rosicky, and ignoring most any felony or foul a man in blue might commit, thinking he’s playing the role of impartial arbiter while, all the while, it’s Arsène calling the shots.
Us. The fans.
We spent the week blathering on about 1000th matches and how this was Arsène’s time to finally defeat Mourinho. Little did we realize how we had been duped. The Invincibles? Just a phase in the Spanish Prisoner’s game Arsène was playing. The signing of Özil, the development and emergence of Ramsey, Szczesny, Gibbs, and others? Again, mere phases to lull us into believing, creating legions of blind, blinkered, deluded supporters. The intervening trophy drought? All the better to inspire hordes of embittered, suspicious fans who sensed that something was amiss, but something they couldn’t quite put a finger to. Many of us fell for his plan and are now despondent. Others among us sensed something and are now enraged to have been a bit off the mark. He’s not the greatest manager in club history. He’s not the the worst manager in club history. He simply masterminded a 17-year plan to ruin the lives of as many people as he could, and so, naturally, he went to one of the world’s biggest clubs to pull it off. We fell for it. We convinced ourselves that we could win the league, that this would finally be the year when the club again won silverware, and so we should put the finger of blame squarely at ourselves. We should’ve known that there was a bigger game afoot, but we didn’t.
And so here we are. Nothing left to play for. Even less to believe in. Apparently, everything to this point has been a cruel mockery. Not even the end of Planet of The Apes could have concocted a more-brilliant, diabolical scheme to throw us down in a deeper pit of despair. What is there left, after all? A fourth-place finish? The FA Cup? Please. The scales have fallen from my eyes, and I see these now for what they are. These too will be yanked away just as we reach for them. What’s the point of it all anymore? Why support a club that so viciously mocks me for my support? Sigh.
If there was some other, more-basic and logical explanation, I’m sure I’d have found it. There is no other, sadly.
[click]. Now that bit of folderol is over, calm yourselves. We had to know that this match was going to be a difficult one, and the fact that it turned out as it did shouldn’t force us to forget that we went in without four or five of our best players, got caught out twice and then suffered an unfortunate red-card, and the wheels fell off. Don’t take too many wide, sweeping conclusions from it. Yes, I know it’s the third such drubbing we’ve suffered at the hands of our top-of-table rivals, but we’re still firmly ensconced in the top four with quite a lot to play for. In August, would a top-three finish and an FA Cup trophy have contented you? Dollars to doughnuts it would have. We’re not quite there yet on either count, but we’re far closer to it than today’s scoreline suggests. The margin helps Chelsea much more than it hurt us. We have a few days to bounce back against Swansea. Hell, if Liverpool lose to Cardiff (and they are down 2-1 as I write), we’re still level on points and in second place. Yes, Man City have games in hand, but those aren’t points in hand just yet. Hang in there. Keep calm.