Since I last wrote, it’s all gone a bit apocalyptic.
Without wallowing any further in Munich misery, it was a game that felt like a deeper nail into the Wenger era coffin than ever before.
The game itself felt like a repudiation of his tactical approach, squad building and conflict free approach, and it’s immediate aftermath felt like a pre-emotive wake for the terminally ill.
Suddenly, discussions about the ‘end of days’ scenario went from the abstract theoretical to the practical operational (including Douglas’s excellent piece on this site) and even Wenger’s trademark counter-punching felt like a man on the ropes.
It will take a miracle of historic proportions to keep the Champion’s League alive. The league title looks implausible given both Chelsea’s lead and the quality and quantity of the competition. For the same reason, even the comfort of a top four finish is under more threat then ever. For a fanbase and a manager desperate to take that step forward after the ‘austerity’ years, the strain is permanently visible.
So it falls to the FA Cup, so often denigrated in word by fans and in deed by managers with eyes on bigger prizes, to salvage the season.
However, given the uncertainty regarding the manager’s future its significance is potentially greater then the recent status of satisfying commiseration.
Quite apart from the fact that a tournament victory would partially fulfil the desire most Gooners have for Arsene to leave with his head held high, it would take on a genuinely historic quality.
If it is, as many suspect and significant numbers hope, time for Le Boss to take his imperfect genius to pastures new, it almost certainly will be without the first historic Champion’s League for Arsenal or a league title in a third separate decade.
The FA Cup, however, gives him an opportunity to write himself into the record books with almost indelible ink. Should it arrive on the red side of North London again this year, it would again return the club to the outright lead in FA Cup Final wins. More significantly, though it would take Wenger to the outright ownership of the record he already shares., that of most FA Cup wins as a manager. It would also draw him level with the individual with the most FA Cup winners medals, former protégée Ashley Cole.
Given that Wenger’s only FA Cup rival, George Ramsey, has been dead for 82 years and won his trophies between 1887 and 1920, his record is already a standalone in the current format. But for a man so steeped in football history, the idea of being able to marry his record unbeaten season with becoming the most successful manager in the world’s oldest continuous competition must be very alluring.
As has been said elsewhere, this is a man disinterested in monuments (and surely the Emirates is already his statue). But he is a man who loves the thought of setting a new standard. It is clear to see that the invincible season still gives him immense pride and pleasure, and to set another benchmark incredibly unlikely to ever be surpassed would be a very appropriate way to bow out, even if it doesn’t quite match the dream.
The omens are favourable. Not only has the victory at Sutton been rewarded with about as favourable a quarter-final draw imaginable, but one of Chelsea or Manchester United will fall at that hurdle. Of course that still likely leaves the survivor if that tie, Spurs and Man City on the horizon, but none are unbeatable, particularly if they are still involved in European competition at that stage.
The thought becomes even more alluring when two others are taken into consideration. Firstly, every time Wenger has been drawn against non-league opponents, he’s gone on to win the trophy. Everyone loves a good omen. Secondly, by the time the likely semi-final will come round, we’ll have reached the point at which Wenger said he’ll announce his future intentions.
This is likely to cast the game in the context of fighting to give him the deserved send off of him and the players desperately trying to justify the continuation of the status quo.
Of course, not every scenario that could play out is a positive one. Should we, say, lose a Semi-Final or Final to Spurs or in the usual manner to Chelsea or Mourinho, the eras end could be defined in the same games but in a much darker light.
As such, much as Wenger is invariably unwilling to think about legacies, he and his charges should invest some thought in the era defining potential that the rest of this season’s competition has.