Europa cup last chance for Wenger to sign off a winner
LONDON – Agence France-Presse
Arsenal has little time to digest Arsene Wenger’s long-awaited decision to end his 22-year reign as a Europa League semifinal with Atletico Madrid offers the outgoing manager a chance to salvage some of his lost credit with the club’s fans.
Wenger admitted he stepped aside to unite a fanbase fed up with years of mediocre results having been spoiled by success and silky football in the first decade of the Frenchman’s reign.
Fourteen years on from Arsenal’s last Premier League title, for so long Wenger could defend his record by consistent qualification for the Champions League.
However, a 19-year run in Europe’s premier club competition came to an end this season and Arsenal’s only chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League is by winning the Europa League.
To do so, though, Wenger will need to achieve something that he couldn’t even manage in his peak years in charge -- win a European trophy. His two final losses in the 2000 UEFA Cup to Galatasaray and against Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League, allied to a Cup Winners’ Cup final defeat by Werder Bremen when manager of Monaco in 1992, handed him the ignominy of being the only manager ever to reach the finals of all three European club competitions and lose every one.
Winning three FA Cups in the last four years did little to appease Arsenal fans’ demand for change. However, Wenger’s legacy will be looked on far more kindly if he could bow out in his homeland next month in Lyon by guaranteeing Champions League football for his successor.
Hopes that Wenger’s announcement would galvanize the support for the final few weeks of his reign were confounded by a subdued atmosphere for April 22’s 4-1 win over West Ham at the Emirates. But Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis insisted there will be “an electric atmosphere” on April 26 night with far more at stake for the club.
The host side is likely to need to feed off some positive energy from the stands to build a lead to take to Madrid in a week’s time against European specialist Atletico.
Since Diego Simeone took charge seven years ago, Atletico has reached five European semifinals, and has only been eliminated by bitter rival Real Madrid for the past four seasons in the Champions League.
With Atletico sitting comfortably in second in La Liga and already assured of Champions League football next season, Simeone was able to ease the physical toil on a small squad by resting a number of key players for April 22’s 0-0 draw with Real Betis.