Now that Arsene Wenger has announced he’ll be leaving Arsenal this summer, the Europa League has taken on even greater importance.
As well as offering the club a route back into the Champions League, it also gives him the chance to bow out with a trophy.
Wenger has yet to win a European trophy in his 22 years in North London. His side are a 10/3 shot to get past Atletico Madrid and win the final in Lyon. If they do it, where would it rank amongst his previous triumphs?
In terms of difficulty and historic importance, the unbeaten season of 2003-04 stands supreme. No English team before or since has gone through a 38-game top-flight season without losing a single game.
That side had world-class talent in virtually every area. But they also mixed skill with physical power and incredible determination. Wenger’s sides since then haven’t quite got that blend right.
The double wins in 1997-98 and 2001-02 were very memorable too.
People asked “Arsene who?” when he arrived in England. Winning the league and FA Cup in his first full season at Arsenal silenced those doubters.
Some claim 01-02 saw the most entertaining football of the Wenger era. Robert Pires emerged as a superstar that year, while Dennis Bergkamp was still in his prime.
Both double wins saw Arsenal overcome Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, back when they had one of the fiercest rivalries in English football history.
FA Cup joy
The most wildly-celebrated trophy may well have been the 2014 FA Cup win against Hull City. The Arsenal faithful saw their team comeback from two goals down to end a nine-year wait for silverware.
But we suspect that isn’t Wenger’s favourite of his seven FA Cup wins. We think he’ll have really enjoyed last year’s win over Chelsea.
Chelsea came into the final as champions and huge favourites. Arsenal had missed out on the top four for the first time during Wenger’s reign.
They were also without three of their regular defenders, while Per Mertesacker made his first start of the entire campaign at Wembley. Despite that, Gunners produced a sensational performance to run out 2-1 winners.
That brings us to this season’s Europa League. The club have beaten AC Milan and will have to overcome Atletico if they’re going to win it, which isn’t easy.
It would be a very special moment if Wenger bows out with a trophy. But take away the sentiment and winning Europe’s second-tier trophy can’t compare to his league successes.
If anything, it shows how standards have slipped over the last few years and why this is the right time to part ways.
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