Publically at least, the same defiant Arsene Wenger we’ve all become accustomed to hearing will never give up on the 2015/16 Premier League title until it’s officially gone, but privately, the Frenchman cannot be kidding himself.
Even if Arsenal win their game in hand on champions elect Leicester City, they will still need to scale a 10-point mountain with only five games remaining, not even factoring in Tottenham’s more prime position to pounce on any Foxes implosion.
Ballooning title odds of 33/1 with Ladbrokes sum up another season that might have been for Wenger, whose side last topped the table in mid-January, when they were favourites to be crowned.
The feeling that this was the long-term Arsenal boss’s finest chance to swell his collection of three Premier League medals since guiding the Invincibles to glory in 2003/04 only rankles that little bit more.
A squad seemingly well capable of seizing on the unexpected malaise of holders Chelsea and the other usual suspects has fallen short, embarrassed by Leicester’s exploits, while the prospects of finishing below Spurs for the first time in his near 20-year tenure are realer than ever before.
Although odds of 1/66 and the Wenger hallmark of strong, Champions League-securing Premier League finishes imply Arsenal will once again attain a coveted top-four spot, there is a still a modicum of doubt.
The Gunners are two points better off than fourth-placed Manchester City – who they still have to travel to in their penultimate fixture – while the gap to Manchester United is a healthy one at six points, especially boasting a vastly superior goal difference.
While it’s improbable, dropping out of Champions League berths for the first time under Wenger might just be a blessing in disguise.
Advocates of the Frenchman, not least the Arsenal board led by Stan Kroenke would disagree. The American business tycoon and those who hold court at the Emirates above Wenger are delighted with the financial rewards this repeated qualification provides for their coffers.
But for many more already disillusioned Gooners, this veneer of success finally cracking would give the Wenger’s detractors the potential impetus required to have their cases heard.
Any fan paying through their noses for a season ticket could correctly assume that failing to get beyond the Champions League round-of 16 in six years was bordering on scandalous, before the persistent title malfunctions were even considered.
A pair of FA Cup’s in succession added a sprinkling of respectability after eight painfully barren years, but now the sense of déjà vu and frustration has knocked those temporary feelings of relief out the park.
Stubbornness in the transfer market and an unfathomable tactical naivety in Europe are among the most bandied about criticisms over a manager who is in danger of souring his own legacy.
It probably won’t happen and the status quo will probably remain, but there is a growing army of disgruntled Gooners who would take the hit if it meant the removal of Wenger.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.