A gaping blank – an unexplained one at that – exists in Arsene Wenger’s managerial CV. For all his achievements at club level, it is odd that a manager of his status has never won a continental title.
Twice, he was denied in UEFA’s secondary cup competitions. In 1992, his Monaco lost to Werder Bremen in the Cup Winners Cup Final while it was the heartache of a penalty shootout that brought about loss to Wenger’s Arsenal in the 2000 UEFA Cup final against Galatasaray.
It is however Europe’s premier competition that has brought about an unrequited obsession for the Frenchman.
It is no secret that the Frenchman wants to win it. He is even quoted as saying so. However, as has come to summarise his managerial reign at Arsenal, there is at times disconnect between Wenger’s ideals and the practicalities that materialise.
“I want to win the Champions League but it’s step by step. And to win not once but two or three times, to go into the history of European football.”
As such, it seems a shame that the realities of modern European Cup football intimate that his side is far away from mastering such a triumph. Indeed, his squad is significantly good – especially with the addition of Mesut Özil – but as witnessed in previous seasons, it has always seemed to lack the required depth or confidence to go all the way.
Therefore, capitulations in the first leg such as the one last season against Bayern Munich at home; or the one against AC Milan in Italy a season before have come about. So devastating were this defeats that the brilliant displays that accompanied them in the second leg did not matter. By then, the damage had been done despite their showing.
But that however does show a slight element of misfortune. Arsenal’s recent Champions League campaigns it seems have been undone by the luck of the draw. Since 2009, Arsenal has been eliminated by Manchester United–Barcelona–Barcelona–AC Milan–Bayern Munich. To put it in another way would translate to; defending champions–defending champions–eventual champions–the team with most intensity to play against their passing–eventual champions.
As such, it seems that Arsenal always get the team they wanted to avoid most in the draw.
It thus seems a pity that Wenger does not have the team of the type that were Invincibles in the 2003-2004 Premier League season. Such a team would probably have been capable to rise against such challenges. But that the actual team itself did not do so to provide Wenger with his Champions League triumph remains a mystery for the modern era.
Instead, Wenger’s best chance at winning the Champions League came in 2006 after an improbable run to the final. A solid defensive record was occasioned by a team shape that allowed very little in terms of opposition chance creation but also produced very little in terms of goals for Wenger’s side. It hinted at a very rarely seen pragmatism from Wenger.
It would have worked as well in that final against Barcelona had it not been for multiple factors combining to deny him – Jens Lehman’s red card; Thierry Henry missing two clear cut one-on-ones and Henrik Larrson coming off the bench to completely turn the game on its head.
Fortune, again had not been on his side. Wenger may require it to be if he is to oversee an Arsenal Champions League win. As such, a run to the final with the sort of improbability as the one in 2006 represents his best chance. Otherwise, that glaring blank on his managerial CV may never get to be filled.