We laughed. Of course we laughed. Arsenal fan protests are entertaining enough things anyway, as grown adults attempt to find ways to articulate their nagging sense that everything is fine, but fine isn't good enough. And then out came a banner reading WEXIT. Suddenly, 2017 almost seemed worth it.
Well, don't we all look silly now. Inspired by the United Kingdom's decision to risk its entire future on the outcome of a single unpredictable moment, Arsène Wenger has decided to embrace the spirit of the age. For Britain's referendum on EU membership, read Sunday's game against Manchester City. According to the Daily Star:
A good result at The Emirates would boost Arsenal’s top four hopes and is likely to prompt Wenger to announce he will sign a new contract. But another defeat is likely to pave the way for the Frenchman to announce he will leave at the end of the season.
You will, of course, have your own views on the general trustworthiness of the Star. But here in the post-truth world, whether this is actually the case doesn't really matter. What matters is the idea. And this idea deserves some attention, for it is a beautiful thing.
Such a self-imposed ultimatum is not without precedent. Last October, things were not going well at York City. Manager Jackie McNamara "considered his position going forward" and concluded that "if the team fails to gain a positive result at Braintree Town on Saturday" then he'd offer his resignation. They drew 1-1, and he kept his word, eventually moving upstairs to an executive position.
It's almost heroic, in a desperate, untethered fashion. Behold the manager, throwing himself to the judgement of his own players and the footballing gods. And there's just so much that could go wrong. Petr Cech is injured. Alexis Sánchez has just flown halfway around the world and back again to play two full matches with a knackered ankle. Manchester City are pretty good, and referees love sending off Arsenal players precisely when it's funniest to do so.
As for his players, such a game would be a feast for football fans that like to read players' moods in their body language (which is basically all football fans). Actual on-field sabotage is probably unlikely …
First half begins: Arsenal 0 Manchester City 0
1' Own Goal! Arsenal 0 Manchester City 1. Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal) right-footed shot from outside the box into his own goal.
3' Own Goal! Arsenal 0 Manchester City 2. Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal) right-footed shot from the center of the box into his own goal.
5' Red card! Granit Xhaka (Arsenal) is sent off for a tackle on Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal).
6' Delay in match Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal) because of an injury.
… but every sigh, shrug, rolled eye, and thumped chest will take on grave import. Is Olivier Giroud lying on the ground in despair at his teammates, his manager, or himself? Is Alexis squatting on his haunches because he despises the dying regime under which he is laboring, and is attempting to destroy it from within, or because he just fancied a bit of a squat?
It probably isn't true, of course. Wenger may be past it, obsolete, and out of touch. He may have been overtaken in training methods and in the transfer market. He may even be teetering on the edge of throwing his hands in the air and walking off into the sunset. But he'd never nail an important decision to a yes/no question of such vague and chaotic provenance; never gamble everything on something that could go so desperately wrong. Because he isn't stupid.
But also, it doesn't really matter. WEXIT has, by now, acquired its momentum, as time trundles on and the top four slips away and we all get older. Football managers go before their judgmental public on an almost weekly basis. There was a referendum against Bayern Munich a couple of months ago, and that went badly. There was one against West Brom a few weeks ago. That didn't go well, either.
And either way, it all feels very appropriate. A man called Sir Chips Keswick looks out across a declining empire. He sees that the marble halls of yesteryear have been replaced with a sleek, glass-bound, sponsor-smeared temple to the glories of overpriced fish and chips. He sees that history weighs heavy, draped awkwardly around the outside.
And he wonders if Theo Walcott might work as a metaphor for a misplaced and ultimately disastrous belief in English exceptionalism, then decides that might be a step too far.