by Lewis Ambrose
The Arsenal manager has, at times been unlucky.
He’s come close to winning the Champions League, and he missed out with probably the best side he’ll ever create.
The Champions League really is the gaping hole in Arsène Wenger’s CV, so will he ever win it?
Not only is it missing from his personal trophy haul, but it is one that he desperately wants before he leaves Arsenal.
“We’d love to win it, as it has never been done at this club,” said Wenger in September 2013.
“It’s something I miss; I’ll try very hard to fill my CV with it.”
Wenger has since signed Alexis Sánchez but this year saw his team knocked out by Monaco. He can’t afford any more mishaps like that.
If Arsène Wenger does win the Champions League it will only be with Arsenal, as he’s unlikely to manage anywhere else, and his time at the club is slowly coming to an end.
So can Arsenal win the Champions League in the next few years?
Thanks to the rise of the ‘superclub’ the Champions League is more challenging to win than ever. Since Wenger arrived in London the last 18 finals (and this weekend’s showpiece between Barcelona and Juventus) has seen just 16 separate clubs compete. Six of those – including Arsenal – have played just one final, while five clubs have featured in four finals or more.
The same clubs compete for the Champions League every year, and it’s tough to break in.
But that’s what Arsenal are striving to do. The stadium, the sustainability, and now the transfer policy resemble those of a club aiming to be at the very top. As Ivan Gazidis said in 2013:
“We’re very confident with the new deals we’ve got coming through, although we can’t talk about that in any detail. That’s showing really positive progression. We should be able to compete at a level like a club such as Bayern Munich.
“I’m not saying we are there by any means, we have a way to go before we can put ourselves on that level. But this whole journey over the past ten years really has been with that goal in mind which is why I say that this is an extraordinarily ambitious club.”
That is the level we are aiming for, and since those quotes we have signed Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez as well as winning the FA Cup twice.
We are heading in the right direction.
But Wenger’s best chance may have disappeared.
The team of 2004 would have faced Monaco and Porto in the semi-finals and final had they made their way past Chelsea. A late Wayne Bridge goal at Highbury ended any hope of European success in the unbeaten season.
Freddie Ljungberg says the players themselves know what an opportunity they had.
“When we meet up, the old players, we are very disappointed we haven’t won the Champions League.
“We felt we had a good enough team to win it.”
2004 saw us fall short at the death of a quarter-final, but the team Ljungberg was a part of in 2006 went much closer.
Leading a Champions League Final 15 minutes from time against Barcelona, we had just 10 men on the pitch and couldn’t hold on.
Right now it seems that Wenger won’t come any closer.
The difficult years with a small and young squad saw unlucky draws and dodgy decisions. Wenger, with his hands tied behind his back, usually still managed to build a side which could give the very best a run for their money.
In 2008 Arsenal, who should have had a penalty in the first leg, led late on in a quarter-final at Anfield before conceding twice.
A year later and a young team simply wasn’t good enough to get past Manchester United.
Afterwards we faced Barcelona and Bayern Munich – both twice – as well as AC Milan before falling short. A dodgy call in 2011 saw Robin van Persie sent off against Barcelona before Nicklas Bendtner missed a golden chance to send a depleted Arsenal through against the best team in the world.
Bayern Munich once prevailed only on away goals.
Time may not be on the manager’s side, but it is far from over.
There are two more years to run on his current contract, which give him at least that long to lift Europe’s greatest prize.
The last few years have seen Arsenal gather momentum. The squad is now confident, adaptable, and have a taste for winning.
This squad is far bigger than any Wenger has had at his disposal before, and he has the funds to improve it further. The players are of the requisite quality and, with just one or two additions we will be in the right shape to challenge.
This season saw Arsenal far better in big games. We no longer freeze under the pressure of the big occasion. We are no longer soaked up and wiped away by big teams.
Arsenal are more flexible than ever before. Good recruitment over the next two summers will give Arsène Wenger at least two more shots at winning the biggest prize in European football.
Sooner or later he has to leave but he has laid the foundations for us to become a superclub.
Now is the time for him to reap the rewards.