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Arsene Wenger faces uphill struggle with empty Emirates seats a damning indictment of Arsenal’s season


Arsene Wenger faces uphill struggle with empty Emirates seats a damning indictment of Arsenal's season
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Arsene Wenger had complained before this game about Premier League players taking a premature holiday but on Tuesday night, for what could just conceivably be his penultimate home fixture as Arsenal manager, it was many of the club’s own supporters who took a break.

Sunderland manager David Moyes promptly rejected Wenger’s claims about teams relaxing their focus as an “insult to footballers”, yet the more damning verdict was still delivered by those Arsenal fans who stayed away.

They could no doubt recall matches this season against West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace and Liverpool when Arsenal themselves looked absent.

The turnout also underlined how it is barely the actual managerial record of Wenger that matters any more. Even neutral fans are probably familiar with the statistics that are quoted endlessly back and forth.

There were thousands of empty seats at the Emirates CREDIT: PAUL CHILDS/REUTERS

There were thousands of empty seats at the Emirates CREDIT: PAUL CHILDS/REUTERS

No Premier League title since 2004 but 20 consecutive top-four finishes. Not past the last 16 of the Champions League since 2010 but six FA Cup wins. The same old defensive frailties but still some of the most scintillating team goals of the season. Maddening near misses in the transfer market but a new stadium and bank balance that is the envy of most rivals.

On and on it goes. A nuance here. A selective stat there. A persuasive case can be selectively constructed on both sides of the great Wenger debate but what cannot be disputed is the growing apathy that now surrounds the club.

The official attendance here was 59,510 but that was based only on tickets sold. The number of people actually present was perhaps 15,000 fewer. It was a culmination of a decade of unerringly-similar seasons of highs, lows and then almost identical outcomes.

Those silent swathes of empty seats were actually a far more significant reflection of the current mood than the noisy minority protests of recent months. And the accompanying question that will surely most exercise the club’s directors over the coming days is whether Wenger can truly reinvigorate the fans and generate a belief that it can again be different.

They may remember how supporters were even booing last season, at half-time of a costly defeat against Swansea when they were still bookmakers’ favourites to win the league, and wonder if past glories can be recreated in this environment.

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