Amid all that will be said by Arsene Wenger and Arsenal as to why he is staying on for another three years, one cold, possibly selfish, fact will be behind the decision: the determination and desperation of the Frenchman to add the words ‘Champions League winner’ to his CV.
The Champions League is Wenger’s obsession; his desire to win it is a big motivation for him to carry on in football management even though he is now 64. He craves a place at the top table of managers who have conquered Europe. He knows deep down that he is doomed to be remembered as the Tim Henman of football management unless he can achieve it.
The great paradox of Wenger’s career is that despite the impact he has had on English football, he has never mastered the European competition and is the unlucky holder of runners-up medals in all three cup competitions. So why has this been the case, and will three more years make any difference?
In my opinion, he knows that his best opportunity to win it is behind him. He also knows that in 2004 he could have had any job in Europe, but not anymore. So Arsenal is his only chance to win the one trophy he really, really wants.
Wenger has never conquered Europe because of his dogmatic and blind adherence to his principles; he abhors negative tactics, and bases his approach around his team playing in their own way and not worrying about the opponents. Prior to the FA Cup final, Lukas Podolski had apparently not even heard of Hull City forward Matty Fryatt. Jose Mourinho in comparison would have drilled into his players how to deal with the threat posed by the opposition strikers.
It is true that in the Premier League, where his Arsenal team have more often than not been technically superior to their opponents, this approach usually bears fruit. The Gunners are usually able to outscore the likes of Wigan Athletic, Hull, Sunderland and Norwich City.
However, Europe requires an entirely different approach. The Champions League knockout stages are a sprint, not a marathon. Each two-legged tie is a game of chess that requires a tactical plan in order for a team to overcome it. Moreover, in Europe you are likely to face teams who are your technical equals or superiors. So conquering Europe requires you to come up with a tactical plan for dealing with your opponents - in fact it demands it. And Wenger is simply incapable of doing this.
Think about it. How much tactical work on nullifying the opponents do you think Arsenal did before the two Bayern Munich home games? I would guess very little, and much less than Chelsea did in 2012 against Barcelona and Bayern.
Playing the German giants calls for a deep and flat back four, and above all else a focus on not conceding, with the aim of getting a goal when you can. However, in the two home games, Arsenal’s defence was all over the place. Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson also favoured an attacking approach, but he was willing to be pragmatic on occasions, such as against Barcelona in 2008.
Arsenal’s 1994 Cup Winners Cup final defeat of Parma is a case in point. George Graham recognised that his team were technically inferior to the Italian outfit and focused on how to nullify them. If Wenger had been the manager, he would have sent out his side to take Parma on in an open contest and would have lost.
Wenger is sure to come up short in his obsession. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and at 64 Wenger is certainly past learning anything new. So three more barren years lie ahead in Europe, and then what, yet another contract in yet another futile bid for one man to reach the pinnacle of his career?