Most Arsenal fans are coming to terms with the fact that Arsene Wenger will no longer be sitting in the home dugout come the opening day of the 2018/19 season.
For over two decades, Arsene Wenger marshaled the club and was the face of one of the biggest clubs in England. At his peak, Wenger had the genius of Guardiola and winning mentality of Mourinho, as for a length of time he got the better of the arguably the greatest manager the game has ever seen, Sir Alex Ferguson.
Arsenal’s much documented move to the Emirates signaled a new era at the club, as it brought along with it one of the darkest phases in the club’s history. Aaron Ramsey’s FA Cup winner in 2014 brought Arsenal their first trophy in nine years, as fans hoped that this would eventually open the floodgates for many more trophies at the club.
Two more FA Cups in the next three years followed, as a worn-out Wenger won more silverware in his twilight than the much hyped about Tottenham team. But Arsenal’s league standings started to slip, with Wenger’s nadir coming last season when Arsenal finished outside the top four for the first time in his long tenure.
But what now for Wenger?
This year has been even worse for Wenger, as Arsenal will certainly finish outside the top four and may even go down to sixth place on the league table. Fans are hoping that Arsenal will win the Europa League, and give Wenger the fairy tale sendoff that he deserves.
It’s not going to happen though.
Arsenal will face Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the semi-finals this Thursday night at the Emirates, which will be the last European home match of Wenger’s Arsenal career.
To say that Arsenal will face a tough task to get past Atletico will be a understatement. The first leg at home does not help either, as Wenger’s men will need to show a defensive solidarity and tactical nous over both legs that has so far been absent in their season.
The one thing that is in Arsenal’s favour though is that they are the underdogs in this tie, a tag that they famously enjoy. They were the underdogs in last year’s FA Cup semi-final and final, against Man City and Chelsea respectively. They were not fancied to get past AC Milan earlier in the season either, as Wenger’s men were expected to get rolled over by the Italians.
But like Arsenal at the San Siro, and in the FA Cup last year, they have the players who can make the difference in the biggest of matches. Any team with the likes of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette are one to be reckoned with, as Atletico know that Arsenal will not be a pushover.
But then again, Arsenal’s frail defense is not one to inspire confidence, as the thought of Griezmann and Costa charging towards Mustafi and Koscielny puts jitters in to the hearts of Gooners all over the world.
History is not with Arsenal either, as Wenger will not forget his heart breaking losses in the UEFA Super Cup final in 2000 and more so the Champions League final in 2006.
Arsenal fans are not confident heading into Thursday night’s first leg, as no one can honestly say that this Arsenal team can beat a superb European side like Atletico Madrid over two legs.
The players and fans will certainly hope to ride on the emotion of Wenger’s departure, and will look to translate that on the pitch. The players will try to reproduce the attacking brand of football that made Wenger famous.
As they desperately try to recreate ‘Wenger Ball’, their deficiencies at the back will become glaringly obvious, which will make them even more prone to Atletico’s counter attacks.
In an attempt to give Wenger the perfect farewell, Arsenal will fall short.
As a fellow Gooner, my heart says Arsenal will manage to get through to the final, as Wenger will get a chance to give his story the perfect ending.
But my brain says otherwise.