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16/02/2013 18:15 | By Iain Macintosh, columnist, MSN Sport

Blackburn leave Wenger with nowhere to hide

Theo Walcott after Arsenal's defeat by Oldham

“Is this your worst ever season?” asked a particularly brave journalist. Arsene Wenger stared at him, presumably trying to set fire to him with his eyes.

“The season isn’t over,” he growled.

Well…it might be by Wednesday morning. At least in terms of silverware.

Taken in isolation, Arsenal’s FA Cup exit is merely an embarrassing blip. Just one of those frustrating days when a plucky and disciplined second flight side dig themselves into their own half and then snatch a winner on the break. Taken in isolation, it’s only the FA Cup, a tarnished trinket that means little compared to the Champions League.

For once, this isn’t media hyperbole. This is Wenger’s worst campaign since he arrived in 1996.

But nothing in football is taken in isolation. For long-suffering Arsenal fans, Blackburn’s victory was just another in a string of public humiliations. At full-time, they unleashed a ferocious volley of boos and catcalls, many of them howled for Arsene Wenger’s head. It is harder than ever to write them off as hysterical dissenters, new to the game and unfamiliar with the concept of patience and loyalty. Now their numbers are swollen by one-time loyalists, disenchanted and dismayed by their leader. Where does Wenger go from here?

Back to the Emirates for Bayern Munich on Tuesday is the simple answer. Europe is Wenger’s last chance of silverware this season, a disturbing thought given that the Bavarians are 16 points clear in the Bundesliga. If the Gunners can’t keep out Colin Kazim-Richards, what chance do they have against Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben? And after that? The Gunners have just 12 games to reel in an increasingly impressive Tottenham or star-studded Chelsea just to avoid the indignity of the Europa League. For once, this isn’t media hyperbole. This really is Wenger’s worst campaign since he arrived in 1996.

Understandably, there is fury that Wenger dared to play a weakened team, but that’s not the issue. The issue is that the weakened team is so ordinary. Blackburn barely left their own half, they defended with great discipline, but even Arsenal’s fringe players should have been able to win this. There is no hiding place for Wenger. He has either bought or raised every single footballer at the club. He chooses the scouts, he chooses the coach. He has absolute power and thus, the buck stops with him.

Barring a miracle in the Champions League, and one fears that Chelsea used them all up last year, Wenger’s survival at Arsenal now depends on his ability to finish fourth. Anything less than that and it will surely be time for a dignified parting of the ways. He is running out of time.

  • Iain is a football writer whose work regularly appears in publications from Dublin to Singapore. You can follow him on Twitter @IainMacIntosh


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