Europa League: the last shot at a European trophy for Wenger?

I’m still here, just about – much like Arsenal this season.

Moving on up

Last time I posted here, about a month ago, I pretty much couldn’t see anything other than a summer exit for Wenger. Things felt bleak: it’s been a season that has careered from one statistical zinger to another. The stats still don’t paint a pretty picture, but it comes as no real surprise that things have picked up since then (won four, lost one since sinking in the snow to Man City in a half-empty Emirates).

Why? Well, it was clear we were playing below our capabilities, for starters. But also, this is Wenger: a man who’s mastered the art of conjuring good finales to disappointing seasons. Here he is again, attempting to sing his signature tune – qualification for the Champions League. And he’s five games away from doing it via the back door.

Moving on out

It doesn’t change the fact that many – most – would like him to bow out gracefully in the summer, but it might persuade the majority owner, if indeed he needs persuading, that Wenger’s the man for another year. But anyway, that’s a circular argument nobody is going to win right now. We’ll find out soon enough.

Time to break free

In idle moments, I do wonder how Wenger’s European record will be judged. Accentuating the positives, you’d say perennial qualification for the Champions League was pretty good, and there was one memorable run to the Champions League final – the first time we’d ever been there in our history. There were also two Uefa Cup finals – one with Arsenal and one with Monaco. But on the flipside, the last seven years in Europe’s leading competition have been wasted, and it doesn’t really feel like we ever got to grips with it. We look further away from truly competing in it now than ever.

Nothing can stop me

Wenger’s never won a European trophy. So for a leading coach – and he has been that – his European record is not that great, especially if you judge success by lifting cups, as you should. Nor indeed is Arsenal’s European record that great as a club, to be honest. One Fairs Cup, one Cup Winners’ Cup.

But here Wenger is, facing Moscow in the rarefied atmosphere of a Europa League quarter-final. Of course we have a chance. And how many more chances will Wenger have to win a European trophy? I’d say this is probably his last realistic chance. If he doesn’t win the Europa League this year, it makes the argument for his departure almost impossible to ignore. He could move to another club that offers European football, but he’d only have a few years, in all likelihood, to have another crack at winning in Europe, and that’s a tough ask indeed.

And if he does win it this year and stays at Arsenal, what chance does he have next season – which we can assume really *will* be his last – of winning the Champions League? Given Arsenal’s historical record in it, and given Wenger’s own painful maulings in recent years, I’d say it’s zilch.

So this year’s Europa League really is it. This could be your last realistic chance, Arsene.

 

Plovers or wagtails?

When you’re having a discussion – mid match – as to whether the skittish birds circling and swooping at the Grove are plovers or wagtails, you can safely assume that the fayre being served up on the pitch does not match the tucker promised on the menu.

Contenders or pretenders? On Wednesday night’s evidence we are frankly none the wiser. Arsenal ambled through the game until Partizan equalised, at which point there was a palpable upping of the ante. We duly scored two good goals and immediately took our foot off the gas again. Either we are the most astute, efficient and confident side you will see or we have a collective inability to see danger when it stares us in the face.

Still, we’re through with seemingly the minimum energy expended (last night at least – we should have sealed it weeks ago), and that can only be good news for Monday night’s match. Are Sky calling it Manic Monday? Magic Monday? Monumental Monday? Have they moved these big games to Mondays purely because they’ve expended their stock of Super Sundays and Battles of Britain?

A week today we will find out whether we face Bayern, Schalke, Real or Barcelona in the last 16 of the European Cup, and I’m all for the hottest potato of them all. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I have moaned incessantly about the flatness of the Champions League group stages (though we took it upon ourselves to make an easy group hard this year) so it’s a bit rich for me to then pray for the least glamorous of the four options on the table. Arsenal’s accountants will no doubt disagree, as will those who argue (strongly, I concede) that we need all the help we can get if we genuinely harbour hopes of getting to Wembley in May. But me – Arsenal v Barcelona or Arsenal v Real Madrid is what this competition is all about. I’ll have a B please, Bob [that doesn’t really work – Ed].

In fact, the European draw is one of the things I ramble on about with arseblogger on today’s Arsecast. Fire it up when it’s cooked.

That’s about all. I’ll leave you to mull over the most vexing and mentally straining of issues to face gooners today, namely: is it actually possible for both Chelski and the Spuds to lose when they play each other this weekend?