"If aesthetics were what counted, they'd win the league every year."
These were the words of Ian Darke, the play-by-play commentator for the Bolton-Arsenal game today, and they were spot on. After losing 2-1 to a ferocious Bolton side in a thrilling match, Arsene Wenger's project will be finishing their seventh season in a row without silverware. They led the league at times this season, were in contention deep into March, but contrived to stumble at the final hurdle as they do so often.
Wenger's vision is admirable: recruit young, raw players with lots of potential and craft a streamlined football team that creates visual art, all while spending very little money. Admirable, but foolish. Year after year, as the end of the season neared, the same criticisms were leveled at Wenger and his master plan: no experience, no leaders, no silverware. His reluctance to splash the cash on proven defenders and goalkeepers will be cited as the main fault this year, but that is an oversimplification.
Cesc Fabregas is not a captain. He is a great footballer, but he is not an emotional leader on the pitch, and he should not be the pillar of the team that he has tried desperately to abandon and that he vilified in the Spanish press earlier this week.
Players like Jack Wilshere, Alex Song, and Aaron Ramsey have extremely bright futures in the game, and they owe that to Arsene Wenger and his guidance. But they know as well as we know that success and trophies will only come once they get out of the Emirates Stadium, just as their club captain tried to do last summer.
The staggering collapse of this year's team will force Wenger to think deeply about his pet project at the end of the season. He may change his tactics. He may finally spend money, backed by new majority owner Stan Kroenke. He may even leave the club.
But if he should choose to continue with his vision, he must accept that they will always be what they are now: beautiful losers.