London (AFP) – Besieged Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger faced fury from supporters and mounting exasperation from pundits following his side’s latest capitulation against Crystal Palace.
Arsenal’s players were branded “cowards” after Monday’s 3-0 loss at Selhurst Park, which left them seven points off the Champions League places in sixth place.
With Wenger refusing to address the subject of his future, the atmosphere around the club has become increasingly toxic.
Supporters hurled abuse at their own players during the defeat at Palace, while there were chants of: “We want Wenger out!”
In one second-half flashpoint, a group of Arsenal fans refused to return the ball to Hector Bellerin at a throw-in before chanting: “You’re not fit to wear the shirt!”
The full-time whistle drew the now familiar displaying of “WENGER OUT” posters and banners by Arsenal’s fans.
Wenger and his squad were barracked as they boarded the team bus after the match and supporters on social media struggled to articulate their frustrations.
Theo Walcott, Arsenal’s captain on the night, apologised for “letting the fans down”.
Despite the rising crescendo of discontent, British media reports suggest Wenger, Arsenal’s manager since 1996, will accept the offer of a new contract from the club’s board.
The 67-year-old Frenchman once again batted away questions about his future after the game, saying he was “not in the mood” to discuss it.
But the impact of the uncertainty about his position on the team’s performances is becoming increasingly impossible to ignore, despite Wenger’s claims it has had no effect.
Arsenal have lost five of their last eight Premier League games and have been beaten in four successive away games for the first time in Wenger’s tenure.
It leaves them facing the prospect of failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 1997.
They were eliminated from this season’s competition following a humiliating 10-2 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich in the last 16.
– ‘Time to go’ –
Former Arsenal striker John Hartson believes Wenger has lost the magic touch that brought him three Premier League titles and four FA Cups in his first nine years at the club.
“I just think now it’s time for him to go,” Hartson told BBC Radio 5 Live. “It hurts me to say that because I like Arsene Wenger.
“Last night (Monday), you would call that performance inept. There was a lack of leadership, lack of togetherness. The players are playing as individuals. They don’t look like a team.”
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher delivered a particularly scathing assessment of Wenger’s players on Sky Sports.
“They bottle it, they’re cowards, they duck out of challenges,” Carragher said.
“The best description of the players was two years ago from Graeme Souness, who said they are a team of son-in-laws. But what father would want his daughter to bring one of them home?”
He also pointed the finger at star duo Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, labelling their recent performances “nothing short of embarrassing”.
Both Ozil and Sanchez are stalling over new contracts. Ozil indicated recently he will not commit his future to the club unless he knows whether or not Wenger is staying.
Arsenal great Ian Wright claimed on Twitter that the nature of Arsenal’s latest capitulation showed Wenger has “lost” the dressing room.
The back-page headline in The Times, a riff on Palace’s nickname, read: “Eagles 3 Butterflies 0.”
The Daily Telegraph said the result at Selhurst Park represented “humiliation”, while The Sun asked of Wenger: “How can he stay after Selhurst shambles?”
Several newspapers said Arsenal had reached “a new low”.
Arsenal have a week off until their next league game, away to relegation-threatened Middlesbrough, before tackling Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley.
Wenger is bidding to win a record seventh FA Cup, but even that would be unlikely to drown out the howls of derision that are engulfing the club.
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