For Arsene Wenger, the outcome of Arsenal’s Champions League showdown with FC Bayern München could well be make or break for one of the longest-serving managers in European soccer.
The Frenchman will not say so, of course, but after 20 years in charge at Arsenal speculation is growing over his future at the Premier League club.
That speculation increased last week when former Arsenal striker Ian Wright said Wenger had told him his time at the club was “coming to the end.”
Wenger said he was misinterpreted and assured Arsenal fans that he is “not ready” to walk away.
But with his team plagued by inconsistency in the Premier League and seemingly out of the title race again–Arsenal has not won the English title since 2004–Wenger will hope that a deep run in the Champions League can provide some spark to its season.
Bayern stands in his and Arsenal’s way, however.
Arsenal has not been past the last 16 in the continent’s top club competition since 2009-10. The teams, who play the first leg in Munich on Wednesday, have met six times in the last four years, with Bayern routing the Gunners 5-1 in Germany in their last meeting.
“Yes, we’ve had bad experiences against them,” Wenger said. “But I feel that this is a good opportunity.
“We have won there before and we play the first game away from home, so it’s important we protect the second game because I feel that to have a chance to qualify in the second leg, that will be very important. We go there not high, but to defend well as a team.”
Wenger’s contract at Arsenal runs out at the end of the season and he has yet to agree to a new deal amid increasing discontent among fans at the team’s failure to mount a strong title challenge. Arsenal, in third place, is 10 points behind leader Chelsea.
That discontent was no doubt heightened when the 67-year-old Wenger told Arsenal fans last month to act more like supporters of rival Tottenham, urging the red half of north London “to be united.”
Arsenal is set for another top-four league finish and is still in the FA Cup, but to overcome German champion Bayern, Wenger will need playmaker Mesut Ozil to snap out of his poor run of form.
“I felt he did not feel confident (against Hull),” Wenger said of the German international after the 2-0 win over Hull on Saturday. “It’s always a problem because you think he can deliver something special but it’s true that technically he missed things that he is not used to.”
It is not just Ozil of whom questions are being asked, especially after the back-to-back losses to Watford and Chelsea that preceded the victory over Hull.
After the 3-1 loss to Chelsea, former Arsenal great Thierry Henry said Wenger’s job was “complicated” because of the side’s fragility against top teams.
“What I saw against Chelsea is a mental problem. I don’t want to go into details but that is why Arsene’s job is very complicated, because it is a mental problem,” Henry said. “And it’s not easy to manage.”