Thursday, 3 May 2018

Arsene Wenger: Until the last day, I will focus on Arsenal. I want to finish this love story with Arsenal back in the Champions League

The one remaining ambition, said Arsene Wenger, was “to finish this love story well”.
Arsenal and Arsene will formally separate in either 10 days or two weeks and Wenger is acutely aware that the importance of Thursday's Europa League semi-final second leg stretches well beyond whether he bows out in a major European final or the John Smith’s Stadium in Huddersfield.
Arsenal have been a Champions League club for the overwhelming majority of Wenger’s 22-year tenure as manager and, having always set himself the target of leaving his successor equipped for even greater success, the regret at departing outside European’s elite would be deep.   
“A man must give his maximum commitment and energy as long as he is somewhere,” said Wenger. “Until the last day I will focus on Arsenal. I want to finish this love story well. The next game is always the most important in life.
“This influences the future of my club. It’s a very, very big game for us. Whether we qualify for the Champions League or not, the future of Arsenal is not exactly the same. I did it for 20 years and I want to achieve it for Arsenal.”

Wenger knows that the impact would be felt at numerous levels. There is the simple financial boost that Champions League football delivers of around £30 million each year but also the more intangible impact on Arsenal’s standing in world football. A year long absence can happen to all the giants but a second season would begin to look like a trend and could conceivably have a direct impact not just on the players who Arsenal might attract but also the identity of the next manager. Would the likes of Max Allegri or Luis Enrique, who have respectively managed in Champions League finals for Juventus and Barcelona, really be drawn to a season in the Europa League?
Wenger’s chances of attracting an offer from a Champions League club himself would surely also be greatly enhanced by overseeing one last big win against one of the titans of European football, especially after all the recent defeats against Barcelona and Bayern Muchen.

Upon his arrival in Madrid, Wenger was reminded that this match would see him join only Sir Alex Ferguson on the list of managers to have overseen 250 games in European competition.

One of the greatest highlights came on Arsenal’s last visit to Madrid, way back in 2006, when they overcame a truly ‘galactico’ Real team containing David Beckham, Ronaldo, Raul, Roberto Carlos and Zinedine Zidane to reach the semi-finals.
“We came here with a very young team - I will try to repeat it,” said Wenger. “I don’t feel too much my age and I’m still as excited. In football you think you have seen it before but every game can surprise you. It’s always a new adventure.”
The challenges this time still somehow feel greater. Arsenal themselves have clearly regressed and, after so dominating against Atlectico last week, it was hard to escape the suspicion that Antoine Griezmann’s late away equaliser had turned the tie.

Atletico know that a clean sheet will see them progress and they have not conceded at their new Wanda Metropolitano since January. One potential advantage for Arsenal is the absence from the dugout of Diego Simeone after Atletico’s inspirational but volatile manager was sent to the stands last week for abusing the match officials. Simeone led Atletico to the Europa League title in 2012 and has also twice since taken the club to the Champions League final. “Every manager has his own personality and he is doing extremely well,” said Wenger.
Simeone described Arsenal as a “great team” and said that Mesut Ozil was the “brains” in how he played between the defensive and midfield lines but was adamant that his assistant, German Burgos, would be able to convey his wishes. “We don’t even need to look at each other to know what we want,” he said. “Maybe they will have more anxiety as they need to score - we need the stadium to explode with passion and positive energy. We will try to be very blunt, direct and live every second to the maximum intensity - that is what we are about.”

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