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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Arsene Wenger can still have a fond farewell from Arsenal with Europa League success

Success in the European competition could give the Frenchman another opportunity to sign off, if he chooses to this summer, on a high

Arsene Wenger's Arsenal have had a miserable season but they still have the chance to win the Europa League. Hannah McKay / Reuters
Arsene Wenger's Arsenal have had a miserable season but they still have the chance to win the Europa League. Hannah McKay / Reuters

Successful endings in sport are very hard to come by.

In the world of elite competition and head-to-head encounters it is very rare to see an athlete or a coach leave at exactly the right moment.

It does happen. Alex Ferguson retired as Manchester United manager in 2013 having won the Premier League title for a 13th time.

Pete Sampras's last competitive tennis match was winning the US Open in 2002 against Andre Agassi, while Nico Rosberg announced he was quitting Formula One just days after he became world champion in 2016 at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Those kind of occasions are out there, as rare as they may seem.

That is why for fans of Arsene Wenger, or people who at least appreciate the work he has done as manager during his 21-year stint at Arsenal, it is continually frustrating that the Frenchman has snubbed three ideal opportunities to leave the London club on a high note.

He ended a nine-year run without a trophy in 2014 when Arsenal came from two goals down to beat Hull City in the FA Cup final. That could have been a good time to go, but he decided to stayed on.

Twelve months later in May 2015 they retained the FA Cup by trouncing Aston Villa 4-0 at a sunny Wembley Stadium, but again Wenger was not keen on moving.

Then last May Arsenal again won the FA Cup, deservedly beating Premier League champions Chelsea 2-1.

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Wenger came in for heavy criticism last season, both from Arsenal fans and the media, as his side finished outside the top four for the first time since 1996.

It meant no Uefa Champions League for the club and the expectation had been again that an FA Cup success could be another ideal chance for Wenger to bid adieu to a club he has enjoyed tremendous success with in the early years of his time there.

But Wenger again stayed on and signed a contract extension through until the summer of 2019.

Unfortunately if he thought beating Chelsea would galvanise Arsenal into kicking on to better things, he was wrong.

The club are sixth in the Premier League and are nearer battom side West Bromwich Albion than league leaders Manchester City in terms of points.

Their FA Cup defence ended in the third round in January, losing to Championship side Nottingham Forest. Arsenal were then well beaten by City in the League Cup final in February.

It is not difficult to see why so many Arsenal fans are staying away from the Emirates Stadium as was apparent by the empty seats on show during Sunday's 3-0 win over Stoke City.

The side is in decline, or at the very least in need of severe rebuilding, and has been overtaken by City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, and most painfully for them, arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

A happy ending from here appears very difficult for a man who remains the only manager to have guided a team to an unbeaten season, and has four Premier League titles to his name, as well as a record-breaking seven FA Cups.

But there could be one in the shape of the Europa League. The competition looked down upon for being the Champions League-lite could still offer Wenger another chance to sign off as a winner.

Quarter-final opponents CSKA Moscow, who they face in the first leg on Thursday at Emirates Stadium, should not be underestimated, however.

They led at Old Trafford in December against Manchester United in the Champions League before losing. That result ended their hopes of reaching the knockout stages and saw them slip into the Europa League.

Arsenal have shown signs of building some momentum of late, having won their past three games, and are beginning to gel in front of goal with Alexandre Lacazette, Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil all showing good form.

It is far too late to salvage their domestic campaign, but if Arsenal can get past the Russians then they have a decent chance of winning the Europa League.

Primera Liga side Atletico Madrid have to be considered favourites, but Wenger would certainly fancy his side's chances.

They beat Manchester City and Chelsea on the way to winning the FA Cup last year, even though both sides finished above them in the league. The beauty of a cup competition is that any team can emerge victorious on any given day.

Arsenal have proved they can do that domestically in the FA Cup and there is no reason why they cannot do that now in the Europa League.

Winning the competition would tick a number of boxes for to allow Wenger a fond farewell from Arsenal. It would get them back in the Champions League and give Wenger a European trophy, something he has yet to achieve with the club.

Given what has gone before, even if Arsenal did win the Europa League it is more than likely Wenger will still be in the dugout in August.

But a European title would be another welcome reminder that even if his best days appear to be behind him, he will still deserve respect when he finally steps down.

Whenever that is.

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