Tuesday afternoon, Paris Saint-Germain may have taken their important continental step forward against Barcelona. Wednesday afternoon, Arsenal looked to do the same against Bayern Munich. Instead, they crashed and burned. As the dust settled, the final scoreline read 5-1. Comprehensive, destructive, and downright embarrassing.
Normally one away goal would be significant. But the very least Arsenal would have to do at The Emirates in order to advance to the quarters is defeat Bayern 4-0. That’s right, the Gunners will need to pull a PSG-over-Barca-style victory in order to reach the quarterfinals. The reality is that the possibility does exist. Of course, that doesn’t mean it is in any way very feasible. Normally one away goal would give a side some hope—such as Napoli’s 3-1 defeat at Madrid Wednesday—but this just seems cruel.
It becomes crueler yet, considering Bayern have been far from their best for the entirety of the 2016-17 campaign.
Sure they have created a comfortable gap within the Bundesliga, currently resting seven points ahead of newly-promoted Leipzig. And yes they’re into the quarterfinals of the DFB Pokal. So all in all, it’s been rather elementary. But in the same breath, one could argue it hasn’t been. Yet on a basic level, results are results. You’ll never catch me caring too much about how the team achieves them. But the way Bayern had been achieving them, the way they had been going about their business, it just seemed like this season was different.
For Bayern. For Arsenal. And for the Champions League as a whole. After all, PSG rolled over Barcelona the day before, remember? Suddenly, anything appeared possible. Suddenly, Arsenal had a chance. Or so some thought.
Silly them. Silly us.
Now when it comes to Arsenal and Bayern in the Champions League, there’s no shortage of history between the two. The Round of 16 in 2013 ended 3-3 on aggregate with the German giants advancing on away goals. One year later, again in the last 16, Bayern went through 3-1. And last season, they each won a group match against each other. Arsenal, needing a victory just to keep their group hopes alive, were victorious 2-0 at home. A month later, however, order would be restored when the Bavarians ripped them apart to a similar tune: 5-1.
Surely this will not become a trend—it’s not as though Arsenal losing so lopsidedly is a common occurrence. But what has become a trend, rather, is Arsenal’s continental stagnation. What has become all too familiar for the Gunners is reaching the knockout stages only to fall immediately in the Round of 16. Assuming they do not overturn their 5-1 deficit, it’s just another premature departure. We have to go back all the way to 2010 to remember the last time the North London side reached the quarterfinals.
And as it looks at the moment, there is no end in sight. Bayern flipping the proverbial switch Wednesday afternoon was equal parts Bayern finding their ability and equal parts Arsenal succumbing to their glaring weaknesses. It was as much brilliance from the Bavarians as it was capitulation from the Gunners. The scoreline going into halftime was 1-1, after all. Hardly a death sentence for any side, especially one who reaches this stage every year. Especially one who earns a top-four spot in England virtually every year.
So what does it all mean? Or more appropriately, what should it all mean?
Change. It has to mean change.
That means no more Arsène Wenger, who has called this club home since 1996. Sure it’s great to reach the Champions League every season. Yes it’s wonderful to have that opportunity. But what’s the point if you never take advantage? It’s staggering really, to imagine any manager or coach in any sport lasting over two decades with one team. In this sport specifically, it’s safe to say it will never happen again after he departs.
Sooner than later, Arsenal will have to take that leap. Wenger has gotten a much-deserved long leash, but it has run its course. Results matter; trophies matter more. And not just an FA Cup here and there. It’s perfectly fine to be consistently good, but when there’s potential for greatness you cannot stand idly by. Like PSG on Tuesday afternoon, Arsenal just needs to take that next step.