Arsenal Focus – Wenger reprieve as attention turns to Premier League

It was a defeat which was anticipated but that fact didn’t make it any less painful to home supporters. Just three days after a humiliating FA Cup exit to Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal surrendered meekly to Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League match-up, sparking further questions about the future of much-admired but under-fire manager Arsene Wenger.

The Arsenal directors met on Thursday in what was a standard monthly board meeting. Despite two demoralising home defeats, it is understood that Wenger’s future was not up for discussion.

With hopes of Champions League progression now all but over after the relinquishing of three away goals to the German giants, the Gunners’ chances of silverware are over too for another season. That means that the length of time since the Emirates Stadium trophy cabinet has been disturbed will hit eight years in May.

This was a season that started with such promise. Despite losing Robin van Persie to Manchester United, Wenger strengthened his squad with recognised international players, as Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski flew in to north London. Combined with the comeback of Jack Wilshere, there was real belief that Arsenal had the firepower to mount an unlikely title challenge.

Any potential run at first place ended a long time ago, with the Gunners now forced to battle it out for a fourth-place finish along with Everton, Liverpool and rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Failure to even qualify for the Champions League would be a major blow to Arsenal, who struggle to compete with the Premier League’s top clubs on the pitch, despite having qualified for Europe’s elite competition every year since 1998.

No Champions League football would mean that the attractions of the Emirates would appear less alluring – enticing even the Podolskis and Cazorlas in the coming summer would prove nigh on impossible.

But even if Arsenal do finish in fifth place or below, Wenger is unlikely to give up his post. According to BBC Sport the Frenchman retains the ‘unequivocal support of majority shareholder Stan Kroenke and his fellow directors’.

Any other top-level manager would have vacated his role by now – but Wenger is not just any boss. He continues to retain a vice-like grip on Arsenal, rightly or wrongly, despite years of relative underachievement.

In the past, the team’s on-pitch shortcomings were almost validated by pro-Wenger Gunners fans, who stated that there was a price to pay for financial prudence. But as the years go by, and the failures become more routine, their voice is becoming increasingly marginalised by frustrated supporters, nostalgic over past successes.

Once again, Wenger will get time to prove to those supporters that he can still hack it in the top job. But anything lower than a fourth-placed Premier League finish would have the majority of supporters calling for his head.

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