Gunners miles off elite clubs

LONDON. – It’s a painful reality for Arsene Wenger to accept, but he is now hugely unlikely to ever win the Champions League soccer title with Arsenal.

After Barcelona perfectly illustrated the growing gap between the Gunners and Europe’s best, Wenger may have to admit that dream is dead.

It will be particularly agonising given how close he came in 2006. On that occasion, Arsenal were beaten by another iteration of this great Barcelona dynasty, losing a man and a lead in a crushing 2-1 defeat.

Since then, Barca have gone from strength to strength. They have won the Champions League in four out of the last 10 years, and it will take something special to stop them becoming the first side in the modern era to retain the trophy.

Arsenal are nowhere near. Their last 16 exit last on Wednesday night makes this the sixth year on the trot that they’ve been eliminated at this stage. In a competition that rewards excellence, Arsenal have produced consistent mediocrity.

Publicly, the club profess to have designs on challenging for the game’s biggest prizes. However, those claims look ridiculous in the context of this two-legged tie. There is an enormous gulf in class, composure and quality. Even when Arsenal threatened Barcelona, they lacked the conviction to take their chances. Luis Enrique’s men played both fixtures with an icy cool. Arsenal haven’t played with that sort of swagger since The Invincibles.

Arsenal have tried to redress the balance. When they signed the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, it seemed they were making strides in the right direction.

However, it’s worth noting that those players were only sold by super-clubs to make way for other world class talent. Real Madrid released Ozil because they paid a world record fee for Gareth Bale, while Barcelona’s decision to let Alexis go was in light of their deal to sign Luis Suarez. Forty-three goals in 42 games from the Uruguayan this season suggests that wasn’t a particularly bad call.

Arsenal might have a handful of top class performers in their ranks, but Barca have almost a whole team of them. In order to stockpile sufficient talent to go toe-to-toe with the Catalan club, Wenger would probably have to spend all of Arsenal’s £200 million cash reserves. That simply isn’t going to happen. In fact, it’s more of a concern that Arsenal’s best performers will try and jump ship to a club that provides a greater chance of elite silverware.

The problem for Wenger is that the gap to the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich is growing bigger year on year, and he is running out of time to close it. There’s only a season left on his existing deal, and it appears impossible to undertake the necessary renovations this team requires to transform from also-rans to legitimate contenders.

He may not even get another stab at the Champions League. If Arsenal lose to Everton this weekend, questions will be asked over their ability to finish in the top four. Faiure to qualify for Europe, and the writing will surely be on the wall for Wenger.

Even a draw against Everton tomorrow won’t be enough because they’ll be out of the title race. Arsenal fans are growing restless and Wenger’s pre-match rallying cry when he talked of being responsible for building the club.

Arsenal was founded in 1886, it existed before Wenger arrived in 1996 and will live on after he’s gone.

Wenger has had a great run and his eventual successor will struggle to finish in the top four 20 years in a row.

That makes Arsenal nervous of change. But the fans are almost bored of consistency. It feels like some want change for change’s sake. But Wenger needs a major change of mood among the fans otherwise the clamour for fans will become hard to resist and in serious of danger of inhibiting the players on the pitch. We don’t think Wenger will quit before his contract expires in 2017. He made that pretty clear in his pre-match Press conference in Barcelona.

But they must turn results around quickly, spend big this summer and hope lessons are learned from their latest setbacks. These are difficult times for Wenger and, amid a depressing mood, it’s hard to see him turning it around. – The Mirror.

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