Dear Arsene Wenger: With all due respect, it's time to leave Arsenal
I'm sure the last thing you want at this tense time in your increasingly ugly divorce proceedings with Arsenal supporters is yet another Gooner writing to add his deux centimes, so please forgive this churlish intrusion.
But as a loud and proud Arsenal fan for 35 years, I can no longer hold my fire while the once mighty Gunner ship plows, full steam ahead, into the iceberg of mediocrity. Where are the lifeboats, Arsene? What is the rescue plan? After your 20 years as the epitome of football purity, why are you keeping us in the dark when the very future of the club is at stake?
Here we were, playing our 87th straight must-win game that we probably won't, this time against Manchester City, and we're still no closer to knowing whether you're leaning towards saying au revoir or spending more money on French players that nobody has ever heard of.
That we twice fought back at home to salvage a 2-2 draw must come as a welcome relief but it can't disguise the fact that after 28 games, Arsenal are the lowest they've ever been in the table during your tenure: seven points behind City for the Champions League berth that we've come to expect as our Wenger-given right.
Is it any surprise that our former main rivals are laughing so hard that they're gasping for breath, as though they were Mesut Ozil taking his third touch in the first 20 minutes. Can you blame them? We're becoming Tottenham without the talent. Even West Brom got in on the thigh-slapping mock-fest, and they have no reason to hate us -- with the possible exception of that time when Baggies manager Tony Pulis was at Stoke and you accused him of "playing dirty" just because Ryan Shawcross had broken Aaron Ramsey's leg. But I digress.
Arsene, I'm sure you were too focused on the second of the two identical West Brom set-piece goals to hear the home crowd oh-so-ironically chanting "Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay." Nor, I suppose, did you tilt your steely gaze skyward when those two planes with dueling "Wenger Out" and "Wenger In" messages buzzed the stadium? You can't keep everyone happy is what I always say.
You could, of course, put an end to this farce by simply flipping over your cards, but you appear in no rush to do so. In the meantime, while you fiddle and watch the Emirates burn in fury, your team's best players are imagining life at clubs that will play Champions League football.
Are you not concerned that Chelsea has gone public with their interest in Alexis Sanchez and are said to be preparing a monster offer that includes a separate pool house for his beloved dogs? And what about Barcelona showing some leg to Hector Bellerin to entice him back to his old club? It's even possible that a bunch of clubs would love to have Mesut Ozil: you know, if they could find him.
And through it all, you radiate an exasperating air of Gallic insouciance as if everything will work itself out. I admire your self-confidence, Arsene, but unfortunately, it's not being perceived that way.
Rather than a man determined to recharge his stopped clock of a team, you come off as someone sleepwalking through the apocalypse. Even Thierry Henry, perhaps your finest creation, is having doubts about your ability to galvanize the current group of underachievers. Here was his assessment after watching your limp capitulation to the Baggies. "Arsenal have nowhere near the desire, commitment and attitude required to win a game in the Premier League," the greatest player in the club's history said.
So Arsene, can you please drop the LeBron James impression? Do we really need to wait for some French network to give you a one-hour prime-time special to announce Le Decision?
I'm trying to help you here, Arsene. I fear for the future condition of your hobby-free psyche should you dig in your soft leather heels and declare you're staying for another two years rather than exiting stage left after we win the FA Cup.
Even the most blinkered of your admirers can't deny that over the course of the past decade, you've allowed a once proud and frequently thrilling football juggernaut to devolve into the disorganized, dispirited and divided team that has lost four of its past six games. Most terrifyingly, there's a real danger of finishing behind Tottenham for the first time since George Clooney sported that modified Julius Caesar 'do on "ER."
I sincerely hope, Arsene, that you appreciate the gravity of not getting to celebrate St. Totteringham's Day. Personally, I don't know if my self-esteem is resilient enough to survive its passing. I'm counting on you, Arsene, to save the world as I've known it for the past 21 years.
And look, I understand your reluctance to let go: After all, I still have a mustache from the 1980s. But this much stress can't be good for the physical well-being of a 67-year-old. Already it's taken your basset hound visage to new pinched and haggard depths.
As one of the pre-eminent managers of the modern era, you've earned the right to leave on your own terms with your patrician head held high, bathing in the warm gratitude of all those faithful who have worshiped at your altar for the bulk of your Arsenal career but are now ready to put their faith in a new messiah.
Arsene, your glittering legacy requires neither validation nor vindication. So why continue to put yourself through the weekly car wash of pain and indignity? And why put us through it as well? The Emirates has become such a joyless and fractious place that for the first time in 35 years of attending Arsenal games, I declined tickets from fellow Gooners.
But I don't mean to sound as if this malaise is all your fault. Your craven owner Silent Stan Kroenke and his trusty sock puppet Ivan Gazidis deserve a large share of the blame. They hide behind the club's robust bottom line while letting you bear the full weight of the supporters' scorn, a level of ire that is 13 years and zero Prem titles in the making. Frankly, I don't know how Liverpool fans stand it.
These days, your players not named Sanchez or Laurent Koscielny lack the fight and resolve to compete throughout a match. They are careless and sloppy with the ball, make calamitous defensive errors and generally look more like Watford than the Arsenal that was the envy of English football in your first decade. And while finishing in the Prem's top four and playing Champions League every year is a triumph of consistency, it becomes more of a cruel tease when you realize with every passing month that we're not ever lifting either trophy. And when that same pattern -- hope, expectation, confusion, despair, failure, Theo Walcott -- repeats itself endlessly, it doesn't make for a happy place.
If you recall, I tried to warn you three summers ago when I interviewed you during Arsenal's U.S. summer tour. This was not long after you won the FA Cup and in doing so finally exorcised the decade-long silverware albatross.
Life was magnifique then, Arsene, non? Your team had finished a respectable third, qualified for the Champions League and Jurgen Klopp was on the market. You could have done worse (as it turns out, much worse) for both yourself and the club to have made that glorious come-from-behind FA Cup title your valedictory farewell.
Yet when I raised that possibility in our conversation, you looked at me as if I had just suggested you book a summer share in Cap D'Antibes with Jose Mourinho. "I can't imagine my life without football," you said. "I still have the passion to succeed."
Well, Le Professeur, I have the passion to run off to a nude beach with Emily Ratajkowski, but fortunately I'm aware of my limitations.
While all of this may sound unduly harsh, I want you to know it emanates from a wellspring of admiration and respect. And when you do finally take the long walk, I have no doubt I'll be wiping away a few tears. It's the ones I'm crying now that I'd like to stop.
Merci, mon ami, et adieu,
David Hirshey is an ESPN FC columnist. He has been covering soccer for more than 30 years and written about it for The New York Times and Deadspin.