To go to work and know that it is all useless is a disaster.
According to Jose Mourinho, Arsène has continued that. The Chelsea manager’s PR stunt yesterday on Sky achieved its aim; condemnation of the referee and sympathy for the devil. He managed to incorporate a first strike against Wenger, compliments in backhanded way just in case Arsenal close the gap a little more on the top of the table and designed to paint Arsène as the aggressor if he responds. Whatever else Mourinho fails as, media manipulation is not one of them.
Having said that, you know that managers don’t view any club they compliment as a threat to their own ambitions. It was always that way with the rivalry with United and when Ferguson spoke warmly about Arsenal, it gnawed at me. And was mildly disturbing as well.
Even if you don’t like his public persona, Mourinho has a point in the his criticism of Arsenal, it is no different a view from Arsenal supporters. It’s a good squad, good players; they ought to be doing a lot better and challenging for the title. Not finishing the summer transfer business proved costly but that’s been rectified and perhaps next season will be the great step forward that this was supposed to be. There’s always next season, isn’t there?
Yesterday’s results could have been better were it not for Alex Song’s ill-judged last-minute intervention. Tottenham rescued a point and were then stripped of all dignity with their websites ‘Party Toolkit‘, complete with recipes and player masks, the likes of which were last seen in a low-budget straight-to-video horror film. The gift that keeps on giving.
Next weekend offers the opportunity for the top four race to become less crowded with Liverpool entertaining Manchester City. A home defeat is best for Arsenal, nipping any confidence the Miserysiders took from their win at St Mary’s, in the bud. Arsenal, United and Southampton have fixtures they are expected to win and with Tottenham playing Chelsea in the League Cup final, the opportunity exists to double the gap to the non-European places. A four-horse race might be down to two by the middle of March. For the best odds on that, just click here…
And Europe takes centre stage this week. UEFA bloated the Champions League calendar so that everyone can watch the knockout stages, if you are willing to pay of course. Both Monaco and Arsenal will view the tie through the same eyes; it could have been a lot worse in terms of opposition.
The Monégasque have scored barely a goal a game all season but are conceding marginally less. It still seems unbelievable that they topped their group by scoring just four goals in six games, the same number Arsenal managed in Turkey. Harder opponents is the answer, I am sure but it is a consistent theme running through their season.
It doesn’t mean the tie will be easy. The last time we thought Arsenal had been given a favourable draw, they crashed in the San Siro. The second leg almost recovered the disastrous first leg defeat but now serves to underline how bad we were in the 0-4 reverse.
That familiar theme has haunted Wenger since 2010’s quarter-final appearance; poor in the first leg, recovering pride in the second. Barcelona and Bayern have both ended any hopes of emulating Paris, finishing the job that Arsenal started with poor group phase campaigns.
Failure in Europe is the missing element of his footballing CV. The only manager to lose all three club competition finals is a record he would not want or cherish. Whilst the consecutive finishes in the top four are lauded for their consistency, I wonder if the Champions League has stopped Wenger being more successful?
Under the old regulations, Arsenal would only have qualified for the Champions Cup three times in Wenger’s reign. He aimed twice at the UEFA Cup and missed on both occasions but knowing how close Arsenal came in 2000, it’s not fanciful to believe they might have fared better than their Champions League efforts in the past seventeen years. A final, semi-final and a couple of quarter-finals is, I am sure, as disappointing for Arsène as it is us.
It’s something which haunts Arsène’s career in the same way that the corruption Bernard Tapie’s reign wrought over French football, an era which shaped Wenger’s view of football ethics. It’s clear from the opening quote of today’s post and underlines why he was such a keen proponent of FFP, His catchphrase for years was ‘financial doping'; how deep the disappointment of UEFA’s watered-down version of regulation must cut.
Winning the Champions League this season is, I think, beyond Arsenal but expectations and possibilities shift after every match. Some of the fancied sides will slip by the wayside in this round and it stretches credibility to believe that one or two of the remaining ‘big’ clubs might not make the last four. An unfancied winner this time around?
With every passing year, the prospect fades as the rich get richer and the Champions League becomes more irrelevant to Arsenal. Without significant investment, being crowned Champions of Europe remains as distant a dream as it has always been.