With a 1-0 loss to Manchester City, Chelsea burrow even deeper in disappointing fifth place, making Antonio Conte’s future with the club murkier than ever before. Meanwhile, way below at sixth, Arsenal and Arsene Wenger continue to lose, making the frenchman’s attachment to the job seem more and more delusional.
Not all is bleak for London clubs, as Tottenham seem secure at 4th place and very much in the race for second, while they look like favorites to get past Juventus and make it to the Champions League quarterfinal. But the flagship London clubs, at least in the last 20 years, have always been Arsenal and Chelsea.
And changes seem to be on their way. Nothing new for Chelsea under Roman Abramovich, and perhaps not new for Conte, who has probably begun auditioning for a new job the moment this season seemed to be heading in a different direction than the previous one. Four losses in the last five matches. Only two wins in 2018. It’s easy to forget their 13 wins through the first 16 matches. Injuries, and Conte’s insistence on playing striker-less lineups seem to have not just carried them away from the title race (non existent at this point), but also perhaps from making it to the Champions League.
Was it Conte’s inability to handle Diego Costa that doomed him? He’s not doomed yet, but every word coming out of his mouth for the last two months, let alone the disappointing results, with the loss to City something of an embarrassing performance, suggests he’s already thinking about his next job. He’s not worried about whatever happens this season to thwart his CV. And he’s right – last year’s championship, the titles with Juventus, Euro 2016 with Italy – all of it speaks louder than something we’ve seen quite often from Chelsea in their last championships under Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti – inability to sustain excellence and generate stability.
The decline for Wenger and Arsenal hasn’t been surprising nor quick, yet probably more painful. The #Wengerout movement has probably been in some sort of effect since 2009, Arsenal’s second season without Thierry Henry. Arsenal have failed to hang on to their biggest talents in the post-Henry era: Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Alexis Sanchez; all left just before their contract was up, with Arsenal minimizing damages instead of maximizing profits. Alongside the club’s inability to win a league title (or come close to it) and their disappointing Champions League appearances, it’s another factor in Wenger’s demise.
And yet the last standing manager from the 90’s, coming to Arsenal just after the Bosman revolution, when the league became continental, seems in no hurry to leave. He answers all the direct and indirect questions about his future. No word comes from the board above him. Unlike Conte, he’s a bit more tactful in his critiquing of big club spending and his own team’s inability to keep up with the others on the financial side. But when Pep Guardiola also complains about money, it’s hard to take any one of the bunch seriously.
While Conte is daring the board to fire him or give him promises filled with money and the prospect of major signings in the summer, for Wenger it seems to be a battle for perception; for legacy. Sadly for him, it may be a cause that’s already lost, no matter how he tries to spin what looks like his worst season since arriving at North London.