If there has been a bigger game in recent years, then I can’t think of it.
Sure, we’ve had FA Cup finals and games to secure Champions League football on the final day of the season, but this is the first game of a double-header that means Arsene Wenger leaves the club after more than two decades with the bang he deserves rather than the whimper that has led him to the door.
Facing the toughest team left in the competition, Arsenal were always going to have to beat Atletico Madrid to win the Europa League. Meeting them in the final would have been better as we’d only have to worry about one game. As we’ve seen over recent years in the Champions League, Arsenal don’t do well against quality opposition over two legs.
The players tell us they want to make sure Wenger gets the send-off he deserves, but that guarantees us nothing. They’ve been telling us they are going to produce performances to prove points all season and have often fell flat on their face. If the first 45 against West Ham at the weekend tells us anything, it’s that the players are having as much trouble getting their heads around what’s going on as a large section of the fanbase.
For a squad that has limited mental reserves, this distraction might be the worst thing imaginable when it should, in fact, serve as catalyst for improved performances, not least because many of them are playing for their futures.
But, there is little that can be done now.
The tie is set, the die cast, and the worst Arsenal side in the Arsene Wenger era will now try to do his legacy justice against one of Europe’s elite when they’ve failed against Swansea, Brighton, Stoke, Newcastle, Ostersund, Manchester City (three times), Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham, Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth, FC Koln, and Watford already this season.