The managerial run of Arsene Wenger will come to a close without a significant piece of hardware. He’s bagged league titles and domestic cups in impressive fashion but for all the quality sides at his command, Wenger will leave Arsenal without winning a European trophy.
Not that these trophies are easy to win or chances come about often, but Arsenal have had their opportunities under the Big Man to cement a legacy. 2000’s infuriating loss to Galatasaray in the UEFA Cup; quarterfinal and semifinal shocks in the Champions League in 2001, 2004 and 2009; and of course the lost Champions League final in 2006 to Barcelona. They always seemed on the cusp but never could put it together.
Later years, Champions League play felt like going through the motions. Escape the group stage to find a way to bow out in the Round of 16. It was enough to keep the finances happy but the fans frustrated. Relegation down to the Europa League came with the expectation that Arsenal were a team in it to win it. And so very nearly they were.
Semifinals over two legs are always tricky affairs but for all Atletico’s strengths, Arsenal had to think they had a shot in the tie. Failure to take advantage of a 10-man Madrid side and a bungled away goal left Arsenal with an uphill battle but nothing insurmountable. Sadly, the day was not to be there’s.
Much of the first half was spent as a rather cagey affair, neither side gaining much of an upper hand. Alexandre Lacazette and Diego Costa both had sharp angled balls into the box but neither found a threat to trouble either keeper. Each side kept feeling each other out, neither anxious to give up a clear chance. It was falling into both team’s strategies. 1-0 would be enough.
Then, disaster. Laruent Koscielny planted his food in an awkward way and collapsed in writhing pain. Later, it would be reported that he tore his paper threat achilles, signalling the end of this Arsenal campaign and perhaps his Arsenal career and World Cup aspirations. How bad it is and when he can expect to play again is not known but one would doubt from his reaction, it was anything but a major injury. You can’t help but feel for the French international.
In his stead, Calum Chambers entered the match and, it must be said, he acquitted himself very well, providing many timely interceptions. However, it was not enough.
During the Koscielny injury time, because someone hates Gooners, the defense fell asleep, Hector Bellerin forgot what he was marking and a sumptuous Antione Griezman ball found Costa who beat Bellerin cleanly, despite a massive difference in top speed ability, and popped the first goal home past a going-to-ground-far-to-soon David Ospina. It was gong shows.
It was 1-0 Atletico Madrid.
Unfortunately, the second half barely got better. Despite needing a goal, it was Atletico’s counter attack that provided the more dangerous chances. A decent but saveable shot from Granit Xhaka was all Arsenal could muster to trouble Jan Oblak. Poor crosses and stout defending denied Arsenal any clear cut chances. Atletico, meanwhile, called Arsenal into last ditch blocks, interceptions and saves to preserve any hope of progression.
When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was finally slotted into the match, he found little time and space to produce anything. In truth, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck and Lacazette failed to provide much in attack to trouble the hosts while Xhaka and Chambers did all they could to keep the game from slipping fully from Arsenal’s hands.
In the end, it was not enough. 1-0 remained the final score and it closed the door on Wenger’s dreams of a European trophy, a one last chance a glory at the helm of Arsenal. Everything the man had given to the club deserved a bigger send off; a league title in 2016 over upstarts Leicester City; a FA Cup farewell last year pipping favourites Cheslea; an elusive European trophy this year.
Alas, Arsenal turned out to be Arsenal and a well structured side saw them off with a wimper, rather than a roar. It was same ol’ Arsenal stuff and, for the fan, so predictable perhaps it is the only fitting end the team could afford for Wenger, even if he deserved more.
Arsenal have three games left to say goodbye to Arsene Wenger. Let’s hope they find something to make them count.