By William Hill
Last Updated: 7th January 2020
Arsene Wenger will go down in history as one of the greatest football managers of all-time, and so he should. Since joining Arsenal back in 1996, Wenger has led the club to three Premier League titles, seven FA Cup victories and seven Community Shields. When it comes to winning major trophies, Wenger is the most decorated manager in Arsenal’s history and he deserves to be remembered for those successes rather than his recent struggles.
His career highlight has to be the ‘Invincibles’ without a shadow of a doubt. To avoid defeat for an entire Premier League season is impressive to say the least and Wenger deserves a lot of credit for their efforts in 2003/04. Since then, it has gone a little pear-shaped – a couple of FA Cup wins bought the Frenchman some time but most fans are now hoping for a fresh change ahead of next season. It would be foolish to write Wenger off just yet though.
Their domestic form has been poor to say the least but Wenger can follow the Jose Mourinho blueprint to rebuild confidence at the Emirates Stadium. Manchester United were in a similar position to Arsenal at this stage last season, languishing down in sixth position, when Mourinho made a bold move. The Portuguese opted to focus all of his efforts on Europe’s secondary club competition – and his decision paid off. United went on to beat Ajax in the Europa League final and secured a coveted spot in this season’s Champions League.
Mourinho right to focus on Europe
For Mourinho, the lure of qualifying for the Champions League via this method was too great. Winning a trophy and reaching Europe’s elite club competition constituted a great season in his first year in charge at Old Trafford and Wenger could learn a lot from his efforts. The Europa League has been disregarded by some of the bigger clubs in years gone by, particularly those from England, but it is now time for every team involved to take the competition seriously. Mourinho, Wenger’s nemesis for so many years, got it spot on and it is time for more Premier League bosses to follow suit.
United were 3/1 favourites for Europa League glory after the knockout stages last season – a silly price considering their dominance and experience at the top level. Most fans would agree that their route to the final was relatively straightforward; there was a real lack of competition. Mourinho’s decision to focus primarily on Europe turned out to be a stroke of genius but the Europa League is becoming tougher. The likes of Celta Vigo, Lyon and Ajax were involved last season whilst AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Lazio and Marseille offered stiff resistance this time around.
Similar Premier League struggles
Arsenal’s top flight form has been dismal this season – United’s was equally poor in 2016/17. Despite a heavy summer of spending in the transfer window, Mourinho was unable to build a squad capable of fighting for the Premier League crown. The likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, now with Arsenal, Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all showed signs of quality but consistency eluded the Red Devils for most of the campaign. In the Europa League, they came alive – Mourinho made sure that every player was focused purely on winning the competition.
Ten years ago, the Europa League was full of uncompetitive clubs but the chance to secure Champions League football has enhanced its status. Arsenal will still fancy their chances going forward, though. At the beginning of last season, there was plenty of hope and optimism surrounding United but Mourinho’s men capitulated in emphatic style. The Red Devils were vying for favouritism alongside Manchester City but it wasn’t to be for either club as Chelsea romped to the title. Who knows, United may get their day in the sun at some point in the future.
Mourinho needed to make a statement in his first season at Old Trafford and the Europa League gave him the platform to do that. If Wenger is to stay at Arsenal beyond this season, and if he doesn’t appropriately strengthen his squad for the league, the opportunity to secure a maiden European trophy during his tenure will be too good to ignore. It is time to swallow your pride Arsene; the sensible option is to follow in Mourinho’s footsteps and focus all of your efforts on the Europa League. You can give Jose a phone call and thank him later.
Fairytale end for Wenger?
Wenger, previously labelled as a ‘specialist in failure’ by Mourinho, deserves one final major success. There could be riots down in north London if Arsenal keep the Frenchman on for another year and give him the chance at redemption. His time at the club is coming to an end and it would be a real fairytale story if Wenger could sign off with a victory. Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset after leading the Denver Broncos to Super Bowl glory back in 2016 and Wenger could do the same.
Simply put, Arsenal haven’t deserved to secure Champions League qualification via the top four – the Gunners have been some way off the pace for most of the campaign. Likewise, Mourinho’s United were similar last year and Red Devils supporters were somewhat surprised to see their side romp to victory after a relatively unconvincing campaign. Wenger and Mourinho have different styles of management but the Frenchman and other managers struggling to achieve automatic qualification should take the exact same stance on the Europa League from now on.
The primary objective at the start of any season is to finish in the top four – and that is the same for all of England’s top clubs. The lure of Champions League football and the financial incentives that Europe’s elite club competition brings are too great to miss out on; Wenger knows that. He also will surely see that his team are some way behind the leading five in the Premier League. His experience and knowledge could stand Arsenal in good stead to push on and claim a first European trophy, and Champions League qualification, under his leadership in the future.