Arteta, who art unproven

Oof, what a mess. I saw a few comments after the defeat to Brighton that this was as bad as they’ve seen Arsenal play. I’m not so sure that’s true: memories have a knack of morphing over time, or fizzling out altogether.

I do vaguely recall a game – early in my Arsenal-supporting days, towards the end of the Don Howe era – against Birmingham City that had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It was devoid of anything. It was a vacuum. If I’ve just dragged up a memory that you’d happily consigned to infinity then please accept my humble apologies.

You won’t be surprised to hear it ended utterly, splendidly goalless.

The end of the George Graham era was similarly turgid. It was a time when Martin Keown had a go in midfield, ably supported – or at least willingly supported – by Ian Selley and Dave Hiller. At least I think that happened. I’ve consigned it to infinity.

It was a time when Glenn Helder seemed like a knight in shining armour who might drag us single-handedly from drifting towards the relegation zone.

The so unsolid crew

So we’ve been bad before, but there are differences. Back then, we were if nothing else solidly set up. We just didn’t, to put it bluntly, have enough good players.

Now, we have plenty of good players. I’m reassessing this statement with every passing game, as some of them perhaps aren’t as good as we thought they were, but we still have a lot of talent (enough to have got us to a European final, and to within an agonising point of fourth last year).

Yes, we have a lop-sided squad, a central defence in name only and a midfield that can’t score goals. We lack structure badly. But the Brighton and Norwich games showed me that, for the brief periods when we got our dander up, there’s life in the old dog yet (with apologies to the mixed metaphor police.)

Missing with confidence

Confidence is a real problem – probably the biggest. They’re rock bottom in that regard, and unhappy as a result. It’s tricky to fix. There’s been no new manager bounce yet.

The optimist in me thinks that every training session will make a difference. There needs to be a clarity of message so that the team doesn’t flit from one system to another. And when small incremental improvements happen, there will be small, incremental improvements in confidence. Some of the issues in this squad are so systemic that whoever takes over permanently might not be able to make an immediate difference.

Wanted: feather ruffler

Who will it be? There’s a lot of talk about Arteta again, but why would he be any better prepared than Ljungberg? Is the ‘Pep factor’ that much of a differentiator – or is it his personality that get people talking about him as a future manager? Neither he nor Freddie have experience at this level.

Some of the issues lay at the feet of the players. Arsenal seems unhappy and a bit cliquey. There are some big characters in there who we’ve tried to move on, but can’t. Whoever comes in will need to be able to command respect and make some very difficult decisions. Which is why, maybe, it will end up going to someone more experienced at managing big names – someone like Allegri.

We have a very tricky fixture list that may prolong the agony. But with my optimist’s hat back on (at a jaunty angle, naturally), with a few more weeks of a new message and with the fresh winds of the new year, things will pick up again. 

It feels like we’re starting from scratch on so many levels. Structurally, defensively, in terms of personnel. It’s needed to happen for a while, but it would be nice to come out the other end of it sooner rather than later…

Arsenal’s noise, Arsenal’s Moyes

Into the international break we stumble, with plenty to ponder. 

When a football club’s a happy ship the dressing room leaks dry up and ambiguous words matter less. But Arsenal’s not an especially happy ship: it looks seaworthy from the outside but it’s not running at full steam and the captain’s up in the crow’s nest frantically scanning the horizon.

We’ve had the board cack-handedly standing behind their man, then we subsequently had an acknowledgement that things need to improve. We’ve got unhappy players and the fans are increasingly apathetic. 

Some of this could have been avoided with better management, but most of it, I suspect, would have ended up being water under a bridge had results and performances been going our way. They’re the thing that keeps a club happy, and we’ve not got either right now. Everything is magnified.

If we work on the assumption that Emery is – for now at least – going nowhere, the next thing is to wonder how to get a song out of the choir (yes, I got bored of the nautical analogy and now I’ve gone to church).

Confidence is down and nothing Emery’s tried in the league has made his side anything other than timid and plodding. When was the last benchmark performance in the league – Utd at home in March? This malaise has been going too long for it to be a blip or a dose of dented confidence.

For me, I’d rather this side went down all guns blazing than  gazing at its shoes trying to ‘hold their own’. Emery doesn’t set his sides up to attack enough – he seems at his heart to be too cautious. He seems – fairly or not – out of his depth and it’s hard to escape the feeling that he’s the post-legacy-manager fall guy.

We know we can’t defend: Emery’s tried all the combinations known to man short of dusting off Dixon, Winterburn, Keown and Adams and injecting them with the elixir of youth. He hasn’t improved that side of our game and we can only assume that, by now, he isn’t able to. But look at what we have up front. We have two of Europe’s best strikers in Aubameyang and Lacazette, we have a £72m Pepe who’s improving and creating (when not being dropped), and we’ve got a somewhat reinvigorated Ozil returning to the fold. We have two attacking full-backs now available. If there’s one area of our game we should be able to improve, it’s the attacking third. 

Emery needs to be more bold. He needs to play to our strengths and throw caution to the wind. Despite the words of the board, he must know his job is precarious, so now’s the time to rip up the Emery manual and go for it.

We have the perfect opportunity to do this with our next features – Southampton at home followed by Norwich away. I can see us winning both narrowly, but why not use them as a springboard to try something more adventurous? To play at a higher tempo, and more directly? It’s not as if top four is particularly realistic anymore, so what’s holding him back?

Narrow wins are wins, of course, and god knows we need some of those. But scraping a 2-1 won’t tell us anything we don’t already know or make some of the ‘noise’ go away. Going at it with both barrels – even if it goes a bit wrong – would indicate a change of tack and it could just drag us out of our lethargy. 

Just… go for it.

The young, the new and the repaired

Arsenal 5-0 Nottingham Forest

I meant to post this earlier today but there were some technical gremlins… not that anyone will notice as it’s been so long!

It was a rare foray into the League Cup for me. But it ended up being rather more enjoyable than I’d anticipated, in part thanks to five good goals, in part because of Arsenal’s raft of young players and prodigal returning defenders, and in part due to the sweet miracle of a clean sheet.

Oh, and in part thanks to tickets in the east upper that cost just £10 for my kids and £20 for me. On the odd occasion I sit up in the gods, it always reminds me how much more of a grasp you get of formations and tactics, as opposed to being at about player chest height in row 8 of the north bank where I normally sit. There, things are a bit more 2D. I’ve been on intimate terms with the pitch since 1994, so as far as I’m aware we still play 4-4-2, knock it up to the tall striker (he’s got good feet for a big man) who’ll head it down to the little man for a goal. Things were better then, etc etc *looks at news, gawps*.

£5.70 for a pint of Hells (a marked improvement, even if the half-time beer queues remain stubbornly unfixed) is, regrettably, London prices, though for £5.50 you can get a pie too. I didn’t want a pie but for -20p, what’s a man to do? Have a pie, that’s what. Look after your pies and your pounds will look after themselves and all that.

Anyway, I’ve lost my track already. 

It was really fun. You often get games where someone new or returning is in the first XI and you try to keep an eye on them, but yesterday there were multiple narratives running simultaneously, so it was hard not to flit between them all. There was new boy Kieran Tierney, hailed like some kind of hero, who really caught my eye with his pace, ability to take men on and the kind of crossing that promises good times ahead. I’d bring him in now, frankly, though there may be fitness / match fitness reasons why that won’t happen.

Then there was Holding (you know), who was back looking assured and bagging himself a goal. There was Martinelli, whose happiness, joie-de-vivre, smile, boundless energy and killer instinct contrasts markedly with me. In my defence, I am in my late 40s. And not a footballer. And a miserable, battered cynic.

Bellerin, another returning hero, was lauded onto the pitch then provided an assist for Joe Willock. Reiss Nelson got his first ever goal. Chambers was aggressive and played with real intent – in two positions. Smith Rowe got clonked in the head but it was good to see him too. Overall, there were all sorts of things to be happy about, truth be told. Even Ozil was there, and I thought he was pretty creative to be honest, but that was some kind of world-class trudging he did when he was subbed off. He needs a bit of what Martinelli has. Don’t we all.

Hats off to Forest fans for travelling in such numbers, though their team barely showed up. The official attendance was 53,160, but that was suitably generous – there were large swathes of the upper tier empty, but given the biblical rain and travel problems, it was a good effort by all.

Overall, it was hugely enjoyable and offered welcome shelter from the wailing and angst that accompanies the structural chaos of our Premier League campaign. Some of these players must surely now be contenders for Man Utd away. When you think of it that way, the potential change afoot in the Arsenal first XI is really exciting.

And I still don’t *really* know what a Carabao is. 

Ooh ooh Tierney add-ons

So there I was in the shower, thinking about the permutations of Arsenal’s summer transfer needs. Oh come on, we all do it!

I was considering the ongoing saga of Kieran Tierney (is it a saga? Perhaps not yet) and I was ruminating on the way Arsenal were proposing to structure a deal (yes I am this boring in real life). By all accounts Arsenal are offering an up-front fee and a bunch of sweeteners contingent on various things happening.

And then this headline came to me, and it made me laugh – probably just me, I know. Normally, you’d think of something to write, write it, *then* think of a suitable headline. I’m flipping the norms here by thinking of the headline first, then writing nothing.

Have a good Sunday.

The pessimist’s guide to Arsenal’s away run-in

Anyone who knows me, or has read this blog over the years – an admittedly dwindling band – will know that I’m not one of life’s natural optimists when it comes to Arsenal. It would be fair to say that breezy positivity does not drip from my every pore. Mine deep enough and you will find some glistening nuggets, but if there was a new goldrush, and boundless confidence was the lucrative prize, folk would not hop onto their horses and head west to me.

It’s a defence mechanism of course. Expect something less, then when it happens you’re OK with it, because you’d steeled yourself already. Should something good happen, the high is that much better. It’s a lose-win or win double-win situation [needs more work – Ed].

That’s why, now that we’re at the business end of the season and for the first time in a few years we’ve got something to play for in league terms, a certain pragmatic pessimism kicks in. I know there are plenty of you out there who beam confidence about our away run-in, and I admire you, I really do. But I also know there’s a hefty percentage of anxious types who – even if they’re confident-ish – don’t want to jinx our run-in with needless chest-puffing.

This is for you.

Everton

I know we’ve beaten them a fair few times away over the years, and hit five past them last season at Goodison Park, but Wayne Rooney was really annoying when he was about 12 and scored against us and who’s to say something like that won’t happen again with the latest Everton wonderkid *checks Everton squad just in case*? We also lost there two years ago when Ashley Williams handed us nul points with an 86th minute header. They’ve only lost one from five.

Banana skin rating: 🍌🍌🍌

Watford

Watford used to be our bogey team, and I still haven’t forgiven them or John Barnes for beating us at Highbury in the FA Cup quarter-final in 1987. I’m not a bitter man, you understand, and nor do I hold grudges, but I’m still sour about that all these years later.

Oh, and we lost there last year with another heartbreaking late cave-in.

Banana skin rating: 🍌🍌🍌

Wolves

Have you seen Wolves! They’re a bit ropey away from home but they’ve literally nearly beaten practically everyone at home. They’d put four past Real Madrid if they were in the Premier League, probably. They’ve beaten Utd twice, Liverpool, Chelsea and we were lucky to get a 1-1 at the Emirates. Plus, I remember completing Wolves in my Panini ‘79 sticker book, and I’ve had great respect for them ever since. I’m concerned that Steve Bull might put us to the sword.

Banana skin rating: 🍌🍌🍌🍌

Leicester

Even I’d have been positive about this one earlier in the season, but since Brendan’s taken over there’s a regrettable air of confidence around Leicester, and they’ve now won four league games in a row. We can’t rely on Bergkamp to magic up the perfect hat-trick, which is a blow. It’s entirely possible that they’ve never forgiven us for robbing Alan Smith off them too.

Banana skin rating: 🍌🍌🍌🍌

Burnley

Another side that’s, somewhat frustratingly, reversed its run of poor form. I could wheel out some stereotypes about it being a tough northern outpost, if that helps? In my mind we’ve lost there every season but a cursory google tells me that in fact Sanchez (remember him?) slotted a penalty winner last season in the nine billionth minute. They should be safe by then which will either mean they’ll have one eye on Magaluf, or it’ll mean they’ll be demob happy and playing with all the freedom required. Either way we must avoid a Sean Dyche-shaped revenge job at all costs.

Banana skin rating: 🍌🍌🍌

So  there you go, fellow pessimists. Forewarned is forearmed.

Are you a no wins in November or more of an unbeaten in 16?

I think my blogging absence may have rendered me incapable of writing a decent headline. Or maybe I never was any good at writing decent headlines? There’s one to ponder.

What I meant by it – and the very fact that I’m having to explain it suggests that, yes, I do need to go back to the drawing board – is that while we’ve been doing pretty well under Emery, at least it appears that way through my own bespectacled eyes, we’ve not exactly made huge strides reinventing ourselves just yet. Things are good, but they’re not perfect.

Disentangling yourself from something that you’ve been doing for a long time isn’t that easy, it turns out. If only there was a contemporary parallel I could use as a metaphor. I’ll give it some thought.

But overall, as I suspected I would, I’m enjoying not being judgmental about progress, and I’m loving an atmosphere that’s liberatingly rancour-free and devoid of judgment. It lets you concentrate on watching the incremental changes that sum up this first half-season. Playing from the back, a bit more structure and rigour, wacky substitution times, Torreira being Torreira, and the numerous variants of rearranging £150m of talent into the top end of the squad.

Stats life

I’ve tried, I promise I’ve tried. But every time I try to get into stats, as all the football hipsters and brainy people are, my mind gets lost in the numbers. I’ve just about got my head round xG, but simultaneously not really, because anytime I look at a wedge of numbers in any format, my mind goes to goo. This might explain why Excel brings me out in hives. I don’t know what a macro is and those little code things you put in cells to make magic happen are not designed for brains like mine. Have you tried writing in Excel? It’s truly horrible. The words disappear. Then they wedge themselves in the wrong cell. Excel makes me want to cry: I once saw a spreadsheet so complex I had an on-the-spot existential crisis.

It’s got more nested menus than your average human being can even comprehend. So I’m going to leave stats to the Excel fans, you’ll be glad to hear. Why do I mention this? Because I read something to do with our xG being lower than the goals we’ve actually been scoring, which means that we’ve been overachieving, which means we might expect a regression to the xG, so brace yourselves people, though I wasn’t possibly concentrating on it enough to be fair and may be recounting the details in the wrong order.

I should also add, in this spirit of honest confession, that I’m not very good with formations either. I mostly put this down to sitting just eight rows from the hallowed turf since 1994, which has somewhat blurred my strategic vision. But it’s also got something to do with me not paying much attention to things that should be staring me in the face. It’s not unknown for us to be chewing over the game in the pub afterwards and for me to congratulate our back four for a job well done, only for someone to point out we’d been playing three at the back for two years.

Anyway, glad to be of service with the whole numbers and formations stuff. If you want a new columnist who can cut through the chaff, you know where I am.

Vim and vigour at the Vitality

We lost at Bournemouth last season, which won’t surprise anyone given how we turned on-the-road defeats an artform. This season, over the last month, we’ve drawn at Palace when we should really have won, we played well against Liverpool but drew, then we stank the place out against Wolves but also drew. So on Sunday we need to stick two fingers up to the xG by getting a win (I’ve no idea what our xG for Sunday is, or, as previously mentioned, what it really means, but I’m just saying that as a rallying cry.)

Koscielny’s back soon though, right?

Out of the frying pan…

The god of fixtures really did get out of bed on the wrong side when he insisted that we should start this season – the one with the biggest change at the club since 1996 – with two of the hardest matches of the season. It’s certainly been a baptism of fire for the new man.

If you pick your team based on form (form after one game – is that form?), then I think we’ll see Lacazette start today, as he really was up for the fight on Sunday. I’d also be inclined to play Lichtsteiner at left-back. We had several undercooked players on Sunday (Xhaka being a good example, but not the only one), so having another in Monreal might be too risky. Our new Swiss spring chicken added a spikiness and nous to the game, even if it came to naught, and personally I’d be happy to see him retain his place.

I think we might see Torreira ahead of Guendouzi too. More caution away from home was largely anathema to Wenger, but Emery is (by all accounts) a more tactical manager, and he may opt for a more cautious approach. Adding Torreira to the midfield may stifle creativity, but it should also tighten us up.

I’m not sure what I expect from this game, other than to see some players come into better form, and to see the system Emery wants a percentage point or two more effective. It’s a tough ask, but this is the very beginning, so expectations, while not lower, may be different.

Patience really is a virtue

I listened to the Arsecast yesterday, in which the issue of early criticism / patience came up. It seems extraordinary to even be talking about it now, but it bears repeating: nothing happens immediately in the aftermath of a wave of the managerial wand. This is especially true given the previous spell lasted 22 years.

I think Emery should be judged after one year at the earliest, at which point we should be able to see if his blueprint is beginning to work. But preferably, he should be judged after two years, at which point the players will be more his, and the plan will be more settled. Anything sooner than that – barring a complete collapse – serves no real purpose.

Being there on Sunday was a salient reminder not only of how good City are (and they really are superb: powerful, quick, organised and ruthless) but also of how much work needs to be done at Arsenal. There’s so much to do. It’s going to be fascinating watching Emery try to make his mark, which is why as well as being a bit heart-in-the-mouth stuff at times, even if playing out the back is as a bit Keystone Cops for several months it’s worth persevering with. We all cried out for something different. That’s what we’re getting, that makes it exciting, and as the players become more comfortable with it, it will become clearer and more natural.

Right, into the fire we go…

 

Up for the Emery era

Like Arsène Wenger, I’ve almost certainly been going on too long, but I’ve convinced myself that I’ll be honest enough to bow out gracefully when I’m no longer delivering the goods. Except here I am, having another tilt at this blogging lark.

Decent metaphor, except that Wenger had a really successful first period, and was one of the greats of the game *checks stats, coughs, shuffles off*.

Well, anyway, here I am again. Blogging season number 16.

Out with the old

This time though, Groundhog Arsenal has been consigned to history – or so we hope. With Emery, we have a fresh start, and whether it turns out to be the start of another golden age or a difficult second album is neither here nor there to some degree. It’s just something different, and something different is good enough for me.

It would have been an interesting A/B test to have started Emery’s first season with exactly the same squad as Wenger’s last, just to see whether what many of us suspected – that things had gone stale and the existing squad was underachieving – was true.

But of course football doesn’t work that way, and with Arsenal last year it wasn’t simply a case of the players underachieving: it was also true that the squad was, man for man, poorer than those that finished above it.

In with the new

Which would explain why instead of standing still – Wenger tried that one summer when only Cech came in, and look what happened there – Arsenal have been busy from the get-go. Cover at right-back, an experienced centre-back, a new keeper, a holding midfielder and a ‘prospect’ in the shape of Gwen Doozy. Who if he goes on the lash is Gwen Doozy’s boozy do. Who if he goes on the lash at a square dance is Gwen Doozy’s boozy do do-se-do. But anyway, I digress.

Where was I? Ah yes, gaps have been filled.

Whether this is enough is of course a moot point, and certainly when you compare it to this summer’s transfer pacesetters Liverpool, you could argue that it’s not. But we’ve also got two £50m strikers whose careers at Arsenal are pretty new, so it’s an ongoing rebuild. And we don’t have £120m from the sale of one of our players burning a hole in our pocket either.

Whilst I’m sanguine about the forthcoming season, I’ve watched pre-season with the required detachment – it just doesn’t mean that much, some players aren’t here, match fitness is short, and overall whether we win or lose it’s hardly a reliable harbinger of things to come. The crunch will come soon enough – just a week now – and we couldn’t ask for a more daunting challenge than Man City.

What do I expect from this season? As I said, just something different. A commitment to ironing out the endemic issues that plagued Arsenal for years. A desire to go head-to-head tactically and beliefistically with the teams above us – against whom we’ve got a poor recent record.

It’s something new, and that’s exciting. The Guardian has us down for fifth, and while I don’t agree with everything the article says (I don’t think there’ll be any people questioning the wisdom of getting rid of Wenger, for example, even if results aren’t what we’d like), I’d say the position is about right. We have new players to bed in, a new manager trying to make changes at somewhere that hasn’t really changed much for years, and we have old players who need teaching new tricks – all  these things need to happen at the same time.

A kick up the chops

But for me, it’s less about the final position and more about reinvigorating a team that had run out of ideas and had become too predictable. And – because of course it’s all about me – it’s also about invigorating myself. I’d got a bit too cynical and a bit too disengaged, and while the fun is as much in the going as it is in the winning, taking a leap into the unknown after 22 years of being cuddled up in the Wenger comfort blanket feels exciting.

I can’t wait for it to begin again and I’m not the kind of reactionary who’ll be all #EmeryOut by September if things don’t work out. These things require patience.

Of course, if things haven’t picked up by October there’ll be hell to pay 🙂

Bring on the new era.

Au revoir Arsène, and thank you

Embed from Getty Images

In the end, the announcement came out of the blue, pushed onto the Arsenal website and social channels with the simple words: Merci Arsène.

That’s it, it’s over. Wenger finally pulled the plug on his 22-year reign with delicately chosen timing. There’s long enough to think, to weigh it all up, and to soak in some of the extraordinary memories he created. There’s time to give him the send-off he deserves, to find someone new, and to focus on ending his final season at Arsenal with a final hurrah in Europe.

So yes, thank you Arsène. Thank you for transforming our club, for building those teams of grace, power and panache, and for going head to head with the best teams in the land, for the biggest trophies there are. Any history of his reign will be nuanced, some would argue chipped around the edges, thanks to the latter half of his tenure, where in league and European terms at least he presided over a slow decline, but as time goes by I have no doubt he’ll be remembered for what he is: one of the best managers, if not the best manager, in Arsenal’s history.

The good, the bad. The mostly good.

Some legacy. The results, trophies and near misses – three titles, seven FA Cups, one Champions League final, one Uefa Cup final, a few League Cup finals and just the one FA Cup final defeat – are just a part of it. Beyond that there are the well-documented changes to things like player nutrition and diet. There’s the rapier-fast, ruthless football that changed Arsenal’s tune completely. There’s his role in the move to the Emirates Stadium, there’s his intelligence, good grace and social conscience. His humour and ability to delve into deeper societal issues. The way he trusts and defends his players, even at times when, quite frankly, they don’t deserve it. OK, in the interest of balance there’s his stubbornness too, and his myopia. But how many managers aren’t a bit like that?

So that’s Wenger the manager; Wenger the man. But for me, as for most Arsenal fans, it’s more complicated than that. His astonishingly long tenure means there are Arsenal fans out there in their mid-to-late twenties who’ve known nobody else at the helm of their club.

The end of an era

I’m a bit longer in the tooth, but I was 25 when he took over. It’s heading towards half my life ago. I look back at 1996, and it genuinely feels like another time. A different world, a different England and a different me. So as I’ve grown up, moved jobs, got married, had kids and experienced all of life’s peaks and troughs, there’s Arsène Wenger, a constant, there or thereabouts, a big part of my life. And there’s me, there or thereabouts, experiencing all of Wenger’s peaks and troughs with him.

That’s why I’m in a bit of turmoil, because memories blur into one and it’s made me more emotional than I thought it would. I’ve advocated a change for several years now, and I’m glad (for the direction of the club) that it’s happened. It’s the right time. I’m also genuinely excited at what next season and beyond holds. But at the exact same time, I feel sad, a little nostalgic and sentimental.

To all the Arsenal lovers, take care of the values of the club. My love and support for ever”.

Well, that tipped me right over.

So thanks Arsène, thanks a million. For a long while you gave us the best football we’re ever likely to see.

Au revoir, and good luck.

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.