It’s one of football’s most sodden cliches: the table never lies.
Well, it does. Teams can give up and, to ensure this cliche-ridden opening continues unabashed, can be on the beach once they know there is nothing to play for.
If you disagree with that, ask yourself this: were we really second best in the country when Leicester romped to the title? As much as it was funny to watch Tottenham’s thrashing at Newcastle, it flattered us and we didn’t learn the lessons. Spurs then were a better side than us, with nothing to show for it. They are still a better side than us and still have nothing to show for it.
At least they have hope.
We continue to pay the price of the folly now but might well nick fifth place. Five points isn’t a big gap to overcome although we’re running out of games. Achieve that and win the Europa League? Let’s be honest, that would be a better season that most of us expect it to turn out.
Everything is relative before you say anything.
Winning the Europa League isn’t beyond us. We’ve got a tricky tie and let’s be honest, Atletico are clear favourites. They are the only one of the eight teams left that I don’t think we’d beat in five times or more if we played them ten times. I don’t even know if we’d beat them once. Probably, but not many more.
CSKA shouldn’t be underestimated but let’s be honest, we’ll be disappointed to lose to them. Not surprised, I suspect but disappointed nonetheless. I don’t think this Arsenal side can surprise us in a bad way anymore. Their depths were exposed already.
However, winning the Europa League and fifth? Would Arsène have any problem spinning that as an improvement?
Sliced and Diced
‘Judge me in May’ proved as flippant as it sounds. Patience has worn thin and judgement came in March with empty seats. It hasn’t hurt the club financially much but there’s no pride for the owner and directors in seeing a half-empty stadium; it’s a sign of failure.
When the best team in the country spank you twice inside a week, you can explain it away but supporters losing faith? Never something a manager at any ordinary club can survive. Is it Arsène’s kryptonite? Empty seats make a new(ish) stadium look like a white elephant. That might not be the truth but looks can be deceiving.
Look at the situation if we finish fifth and win the Europa League. Whichever way you cut it, on paper reaching two cup finals, winning your first European trophy for a generation and finishing fifth represents a step forward from finishing fifth and winning the FA Cup.
It doesn’t matter how lowly you value the cup competitions, or whether you prioritise the league, you’ve added another final into the mix. Presenting that as progress doesn’t take a god-like genius.
The flimsy nature of the claim is such that once you look below the surface, it all falls apart. Or does it? Wenger might argue that this is a transition period. The club itself is morphing into something new with executives arriving and impact of the tribulations of Alexis and Özil on his team.
He might argue that he deserves the final year of his contract to see if he improves the side with nothing but first-team matters left for him to concentrate on. Which, on the face of it, is not an unreasonable request except I wonder if that card has been played before, possibly in 2014? Maybe last time around?
Fresh or Stale?
Who knows what is being discussed at the moment. We don’t, that’s for sure. The little leaks here and there for whichever hipster manager is available or wants to manage abroad are like a saline drip, keeping change breathing instead of becoming a corpse.
Tuchel is only talking to PSG because Wenger’s staying but it’s alright because Max Allegri wants to manage abroad when he leaves Juventus. Carlo’s keeping the Italian FA waiting in case the Arsenal job comes up; they all fancy a piece of the easy life.
Except the current incumbent isn’t leaving without a fight.
And the easy life is how the club must be viewed. Managers don’t miss comments from directors which tell the world they keep quiet when the manager doesn’t know how to solve football problems. They take the view that it is a board ripe to be bullied into their way of thinking.
It’s why Enos baulks at making the decision over Wenger’s future. He knows Junior wants to take over as chairman or CEO when that change comes; Ivan’s got reason to be fearful as well.
The wind changed direction a long time ago but is Arsène the reed which keeps swaying or the wind itself? If he is, it isn’t a fresh breeze blowing through Arsenal.