• By Charlie Stong

No fairytale finish - but thanks for the memories, boss


Nice touch: The sign above The Armoury shop at the Emirates Stadium today, thanking the boss for his work

So the fairytale finish for Arsene Wenger couldn’t materialise and despite the obvious sadness and disappointment that has brought I don’t think too many of us can say we are that surprised.

In fact what did surprise me, if I am being brutally honest, is that we managed to stay with Atletico right until the end of the 180 minutes of the Europa League semi-final.

When the draw was made I cannot say I truly believed this team were good enough to beat a resurgent Atletico, and so it proved.

In many ways this semi-final summed up Arsenal in Arsene Wenger’s second decade at the club. We had a lot of the ball, played decent football in the centre of the park, but our frailties at either end of the pitch let us down once again.

We had enough chances to win this tie but could not take them.

But the bigger problem was at the other end. Two sloppy defensive mistakes cost us. You just could not imagine Simeone’s side making errors of a similar nature to the one that led to Antoine Griezmann’s equaliser at the Emirates, or to Diego Costa’s - yes him one last time - winner in the second leg.

In the heat of the moment I blamed Mustafi for falling over at the Emirates for Griezmann’s goal, then Koscielny, but watching that goal at the Emirates again it’s clear now that it was actually Nacho Montreal’s fault.

While the other three defenders pushed up as we cleared the ball, Monreal was messing about with his shin pad in the left back position. By the time he looked up and began jogging upfield, Atletico had turned over possession and, seeing Monreal playing Griezmann onside, simply lobed the ball over the top and Griezmann beat Koscielny for pace.

Then in the second leg, our other full-back, Hector Bellerin, was caught the wrong side of Diego Costa, allowing the latter to brush off Bellerin’s challenge on his way to goal. These were two schoolboy errors from players who have made them far too often.

I’m not going to go into the lack of attention the current management regime seem to pay to the art of defending yet again, the time for that has come and gone - the times they are a changin’, but while we were continuing to make mistakes like this the big trophies would continue to be beyond us.

I’m not sure we need too much immediate tinkering in midfield - probably only a holding midfielder - but the defence needs major surgery - in fact almost an entire new set of personnel. More than anything the new manager needs to be someone who recognises that a defender's priority must be to stop the ball going into their goal rather than being obsessed with putting it into the opponent’s.

So today is Arsene’s Emirates farewell. It was a lovely touch from the club to change the heading of today’s programme from Arsenal to Arsene - some things we still manage to do in a classier way than most.

It’s not going to be the fairytale finish we all wanted, but the man will get an almighty send-off today.

I have been a big critic of his in recent weeks, months and even years, but the true fans will never forget what he has done.

Let’s not go overboard and say he has made Arsenal a bigger club, we won plenty of league championships and were one of the world’s biggest clubs before 1996, and we continue to be now. But what he has achieved has been immense. Two doubles when in our entire history we had only achieved one before his arrival, seven FA Cups - more than Liverpool and Chelsea have won in their histories, and an unbeaten season - who knows, maybe something which will never be repeated.

Arsenal’s best ever manager? Certainly in terms of titles won. Herbert Champan only actually won two league titles with the Gunners - although he did win another two with Huddersfield and he set the foundation for the Arsenal-dominated 1930s. And who’s to say how many more the great man would have won had he not passed away prematurely.

In terms of influence the men have similarities, while Chapman managed to get the name of a Tube station changed, introduced numbers on shirts, floodlights and white footballs to the game, Wenger’s dietary revolution in the late 1990s and pioneering style of play has made the Premier League the place it is.

One thing is for certain, it won’t be long before Herbert is joined by Arsene in bronze around the Emirates - and who knows maybe by then it will be called the Arsene Wenger stadium.

Finally for today warm wishes from all us Gooners to Sir Alex Ferguson and everyone connected with Manchester United. He was a man we loved to hate for many years, but in football you only hate the ones you fear - and Danny Mills.

Come on you Gunners - let’s give Arsene the leaving present he deserves with a home win today.

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