Frustrated Arsenal left to lick their last 16 wounds again

Arsene Wenger wonders would it have been better to compete in the Europa League

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger:  “Maybe it would be better not to advance from the group phase and play the Europa League than be eliminated right away in the last 16.” Photo: Lionel Cironneau/AP)

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “Maybe it would be better not to advance from the group phase and play the Europa League than be eliminated right away in the last 16.” Photo: Lionel Cironneau/AP)

 

The manager offered the bleak and introspective comments in the wake of the last-16 second leg at Monaco, which Arsenal won 2-0 only to exit on away goals. It was the fifth season in succession that Wenger’s team had exited at this stage and, once again, the closing months of their season will be free of European football.

“Maybe it would be better not to advance from the group phase and play the Europa League than be eliminated right away in the last 16,” Wenger said. “We would have more chances to win a title.”

In truth, Wenger would never want to finish third instead of second in a Champions League group and here was evidence not only of his post-defeat angst but his habit of seeking a target for the frustration in such circumstances.

In the heat of the moment, he found himself alighting upon an unusual one – the second chance that defeated teams in Champions League groups are afforded. Wenger seemed to suggest that it was an unfair quirk that sides who finish third have the opportunity to prolong their European seasons, while teams like his own are finished when they lose.

Agonising exit

The numbers continue to damn Arsene Wenger and his club. This was the fifth season in succession in which they had lost in the last 16 and, in 15 consecutive seasons of reaching the second round of the Champions League, Arsenal have made it to only one final and one semi-final. They lost the former to Barcelona in 2006; the latter to Manchester United in 2009.

The Monaco defeat raked over plenty of old ground. There had been the first-leg disaster, leading to ‘Mission Impossible’ predictions before the stirring second-leg comeback, which came up narrowly short. Over the 180 minutes, there was crass naivety and a lack of cutting edge mixed with nice football and never-say-die spirit.

Mertesacker can always be relied upon for candid analysis and he had no time for any hard-luck stories. The German said once again that the team had been mentally weak and he did not skirt the issue when he was asked how far they were from winning the competition.

“Far,” he replied. “When you get knocked out, you are far away. Monaco were very underestimated but they deserved it by playing well in the first leg. We had one bad game and that was enough to get knocked out. We were missing some good fortune in the second leg but we didn’t deserve it because we played so poorly in the first leg.”

But thoughts at the club have turned towards Saturday’s Premier League visit to Newcastle United and the desire to shape a successful finish to the season. Arsenal are in excellent form, with 13 wins in their past 15 games in all competitions and they sit third in the table, one point behind Manchester City in second. They are also into the FA Cup semi-final against Reading.

Aaron Ramsey, said: “We’re still on for a successful season. The top two is within our grasp. And we still have the FA Cup to go for.” Guardian Service

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