Arsene’s reign to end in disappointment…
Arsene Wenger’s farewell tour continued with the latest destination being the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid. The Europa League semi final second leg offered the perfect opportunity for ‘Le Professeur’ to set up the fairy tale ending his tenure deserves by qualifying for a European final in his home country. However Los Rojiblanco’s had other plans and in all honesty from a Gunners point of view the damage was done in the first leg when a lapse in concentration gifted the La Liga side an invaluable away goal just 8 minutes from time.
Arsenal made 8 changes from the side that started up at Old Trafford on Sunday but were rocked early on when skipper Laurent Koscielny suffered an Achilles injury putting his World Cup participation into doubt. The Frenchman was subsequently stretchered off and the Gunners faithful would have been cursing their luck but in fairness to Calum Chambers he deputized brilliantly and was arguably the Premier League sides standout performer on the night.
If truth be told Arsenal seemed fairly comfortable up until the stroke of half time when a lapse in concentration allowed Diego Costa to pull wide undetected, escape the attentions of Hector Bellerin and eventually lift the ball over David Ospina who seemed overly eager to hit the ground.
The Spanish defenders form has been the subject of great debate throughout the season, we’ve seen far too many defensive errors and there is a feeling among the supporters he’s suffering from a lack of confidence based on his reluctance to take on a player and whip a cross in – something he was renowned for in seasons gone by.
In the aftermath, criticism of the teams overall performance has been excessive in my view. Similarly to the first leg Arsenal controlled possession for large periods, defended well for the most part but lacked the killer instinct in front of goal. That can be attributed to a lack of quality in key areas of the pitch, this current crop are evidently below the standard required to compete with Europe’s elite and so this was always going to prove a tall order. Perhaps things could have been different had Arsenal taken their chances at the Emirates or had the defense remained focused throughout, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Atletico certainly aren’t the continent’s most technically gifted of outfit’s but what they are is streetwise, well drilled and passionate about what they’re being asked to do. Those qualities have allowed them to compete with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona for quite some time now and the job Diego Simeone’s done there should be admired. Top quality players finish when it counts, defend when it matters and concentrate hard when things get tough – if these two fixtures have taught us anything it’s that the mental side of the game should never be overlooked, it can be just as decisive.
I guess in the depths of my heart I expected elimination the minute the draw was made but taking into account this is to be Arsene Wenger’s last season I hoped maybe, just maybe the players would find that extra level and repay him for the faith he’s shown in them. There are numerous players in that squad who owe their entire careers to the boss because at any other top level club they’d have been exposed as the soft bellied fraudsters they are, the likes of Bellerin, Welbeck and even Mesut Ozil have been stealing a living at the top level for a number of seasons now – hiding behind the tall and lonely figure of Arsene Wenger.
In years gone by I’ve called the Europa League a Mickey Mouse trophy, labeled it as second rate and accused UEFA of exaggerating its value in order to generate the mass TV audiences that would subsequently line the organizations pockets further. Am I as distraught as I was when we crashed out of the Champions League semi finals in 2009 for example? Not at all, this feels totally different. This is more sadness rather than disappointment and that stems from my desire to see Arsene depart with his head held high, unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. The club’s greatest ever manager’s will leave empty handed and that’s hard to swallow but our fall from grace has been a gradual glide as opposed to a sudden crash. It’s been a wonderful story full of ups and downs, we’ll look back on his tenure with fondness in years to come I’m sure but all great things come to a end.