For the past six years, Arsenal have been both remarkably consistent and also remarkably inconsistent, depending on how closely you're looking. From the 30,000 feet level, the one at which Arsenal is most commonly discussed, they're one of the most consistent teams in the world. Champions League spot. Round of 16 knockout to a "big club" like Bayern Munich and Barcelona, maybe an FA Cup win. Finish in either 5th, 4th, 3rd, or 2nd. Between 70 and 80 points. Goal differential between +25 and +35. Do it all over again.
But the closer you zoom in, the less consistent Arsenal appear. Take this season, for example. From January 31 through April 10, Arsenal won four out of 12 games in all competitions, with two of those wins coming against lower-league sides in the FA Cup. But then, after switching to a back three, they won nine of their last 10, including a triumphant FA Cup victory over league-winners Chelsea. Earlier in the season, they won 11 of 12, before only winning four in 10.
It's become a cliché to say that Arsenal fall apart in November, but the cliché is only inaccurate insofar as the exact timing of their collapse is unpredictable. It does come every year. Arsenal aren't so much consistent as they are consistently variant. And that's what makes Wenger so damn frustrating.
Every year, Arsenal fans get a brief glimpse of a title-contending club. It might be the first 20 minutes of a Champions League tie against Bayern Munich or a two-month run in the league or a stellar performance in an FA Cup final, but the Arsenal eclipse comes every year. And it always comes with the collapse: the other 100 minutes of the Champions League tie, the two-month stretch where Mesut Özil is the muse to every color commentator's lambasting, and when whomever is paired with Laurent Koscielny at centerback can't mark anyone.
The discourse around Arsenal these past few months is that all of this is no longer acceptable. Its closest competitors have gotten their shit together—Tottenham and Liverpool, mostly—by hiring managers Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp, respectively. This season, Arsenal got one measly point from their four matches against Spurs and Liverpool. Both finished top four. Arsenal, for the first time in Wenger's tenure, did not.
A new fixture to the Arsenal consistency matrix are the #WengerOut protests, a thoroughly annoying tradition orchestrated by man-children and Brexit-wannabes. Every year, these boobs trot out their banners and airplane flyovers without realizing they're a far bigger embarrassment to the club than anything Wenger has ever or will ever do.
Unfortunately, these "protests" are likely to continue. Although not official, it's being widely reported Wenger signed a new two-year deal. We're going to keep doing this song and dance every year.
As an Arsenal fan, part of me is disappointed by this. Now would have been the perfect time for Wenger to walk off into the sunset (or a cushy international team job) with a triumphant FA Cup victory, good will among all, and with former-Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel looking for a new gig. Instead, next year is going to be like this year.
On the other hand, a lot has changed recently. Not at Arsenal, obviously, but generally. I have never been a huge believer in the sports-as-escapism philosophy, but I'm getting into it. As recently as last year, the unpredictability of sports were a selling point to escape from our boring, predictable, workaday lives. Leicester winning the title, the Cubs winning the World Series, etc. How fun! How weird.
But there's plenty of weird, wild—and, frankly, terrifying—shit going on in real life that the unpredictability of sports is no longer a selling point for me. The tables have turned. Life is too unpredictable. I dread the fresh hell the Washington Post 5 PM push notifications bring. Now, for sports to be escapist, they have to be predictable.
Although sports fans are supposed to long for success, titles, and improvement every year, I take a paradoxical comfort in knowing exactly what Arsenal will be next season. They will play well enough at the beginning of the year for me to convince myself this year is different. It won't be. They'll collapse by February. They will rally at the end of the season for a respectable finish, between 70 and 80 points and a +25 and +35 goal differential. They will perform just well enough for nothing to change. I know the script, I've read it many times before, I wrote it 600 words ago. And maybe it's just the sports version of Stockholm Syndrome talking, but, I like this story. It comforts me, like a good bedtime story, because it doesn't change. That's the best part.