It can’t be the most pleasant of experiences being an Arsenal fan this week. Defeat to Manchester United still ringing in their ears, they now have to listen to their Chelsea counterparts complaining about the likelihood of them facing either PSG or Barcelona. Diddums.
It used to be the Gunners grumbling about the worst possible draws in the last 16.
Their annual shadow-chasing of Bayern Munich cancelled this season, they will have to sit back and watch as the giants are drawn out on Monday in Switzerland. Then comes their turn, and what some of their supporters will still see as the indignity of being in the draw for the last 32 of the Europa League.
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Arsene Wenger will need to make his mind up by the time they do take their place in the next phase come the middle of February.
By that point, their manager will know deep down if his inconsistent side have what it takes to finish in the top four.
If they don’t – and there’s an acceptance things haven’t improved since last season when they messed it up – then he needs to put all his focus on winning the Europa League. Even if that means the FA Cup being less of a priority.
There’s a number of reasons why going all the way in a competition they would have turned their nose up at in the summer would take their fancy.
Firstly, the final is in Wenger’s homeland. Lyon’s Groupama Stadium is magnificent, and Arsenal fans would enjoy some early summer sun in the south of France in May.
Then there’s some fitting send-offs. It’s likely Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil won’t be signing their new contracts at the Emirates. A trophy in France would be a good way to say goodbye.
Of course, Manchester United used it as their springboard. United fans won’t pretend it was even half as significant as Barcelona in 1999 or Moscow nine years ago, but it has help them kick on this year.
But would a Europa League triumph represent progress? Yes it would. Considering they’re coming off a first season finishing outside the top four for many a year, and that the standard is just too high in the Premier League this time around, this is the next best thing.
Automatic qualification for the Champions League is a huge sell. Especially because the Premier League is, arguably, at the strongest it has ever been. Certainly, the managerial brains on the benches of the top six clubs are the most powerful. It’s tough out there.
Arsenal have yet to have their early-winter drop off, and it could well come. They are currently fifth, but fourth-placed Liverpool are getting stronger and currently look a better bet than they to join Manchester City and surely Manchester United in Europe next season.
Chelsea, if the draw goes wrong for them on Monday, may just have the league to focus on after February.
Wenger never gives up. He will still think he can win the title, even if nobody else does.
That stubborn streak, even if Arsenal are way behind in the race for the top four, will see him refuse to wave the white flag.
If they are chasing their tail, he must switch focus. The Professor has a lot of thinking to do.