An 81st minute goal from Danny Welbeck gave Manchester United their second win over Arsenal of the season, this time at the Emirates. While Arsenal fans can be thankful that they didn't lose 8-2 again or wonder what could have been if Robin van Persie had no Torres'd a perfect scoring opportunity before shortly before he did score Arsenal's only goal, it was the substitution of an 18-year-old that has become the primary source of anger.
Making his first Premier League start, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was a bright spot for Arsenal until he was subbed off in the 74th minute for out of form Andrei Arshavin, just after Van Persie equalized. The confusion was immediate and Van Persie himself was quick to react -- appearing to shout "No!" before muttering a few swear words and putting his hands on his hips in visible disgust.
Once the crowd finished cheering Oxlade-Chamberlain as he came off, there was a chorus of boos (video here) and a chant of "You don't know what you're doing" aimed at Wenger that likely obliterated whatever shred of confidence Arshavin had left. And 10 minutes later, it was Arshavin's defense error that led to Welbeck's winner.
Said Wenger after the match (via the AP):
"I can understand that fans are upset about the substitution, especially when it doesn't work," Wenger said. "But Arshavin is captain of the Russia national team, so maybe we have to justify that he is substituted for a guy of 18 who is playing only his second Premier League game.
"People pay their tickets and are free to express their emotions and we have to deal with that. That doesn't mean they are right always."
On the subject of his captain's show of displeasure -- which is already being compared to Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard's reaction to Fernando Torres getting subbed off not long before Rafa Benitez was sacked -- Wenger turned to a familiar excuse:
"I didn't see that," Wenger said. "I have to stand up for the result and for the substitutions I make. I am 30 years in this job and I make 50,000 substitutions, and I have to justify to you every time I make a decision?
"I do not have to explain to you every single reason why I make a decision."
Such an overwhelming public show of dissent makes it clear that Wenger doesn't have the faith of his captain or the fans anymore. Is he nearing the end with Arsenal? If not, will Van Persie be the one to go? How big of a frowning emoticon does Andrei Arshavin feel like right now? These questions and more have come to the surface because an 18-year-old who has never scored a Premier League goal for the club was substituted in the 74th minute of a match against a better team on January 22. Football is cruel.