Arsenal have been dealt a huge blow to their Champions League chances on Wednesday against Barcelona.
The 2-0 defeat in the UEFA Champions League last 16 round is likely to mark the end of the road for the Gunners at the same point they had left the Europe’s elite competition for five straight years up until now.
The second leg at Camp Nou should be nothing more than a formality for Luis Enrique’s men, who have demonstrated relentless spirit in London to claim an important and a huge victory.
Arsenal did have their chances to make their presence known against the reigning European champions, but have ultimately fell short and ended up being victims of poor finishing and naivety, as Arsene Wenger assessed.
“The way we finished our chances is a problem. I felt in the final third we missed something,” said Wenger after the game.
The return leg on 16 March will most likely be Arsenal’s last one in this season’s edition of the UEFA Champions League, but Gunners still believe they could progress through and overturn the deficit.
Champions League or Premier League?
With plenty of time to prepare his team for a trip to Barcelona, Arsene Wenger will need to sort out his priorities.
Competing with Barcelona on their own ground will be a mission impossible and Arsene Wenger should focus his team’s attention towards the FA Cup and the Premier League.
Knowing the French manager, however, it will be the question of pride and not of the rational thinking when he gets to the point of putting together a list of players he will be taking to Spain.
To fight for the lost cause or to fight for trophies?
Arsenal are currently third in the Premier League table, two points behind the table toppers Leicester City, who have 53 points next to their name.
As they head into what could potentially be the crucial part of the season for them, Arsenal will need to make wise choices as to keep their players fresh, injury-free and motivated for the huge challenges that lie ahead.
London-based club will be travelling to Manchester for a highly anticipated clash against United on Sunday, which will be another stern test to Gunners’ title ambitions. Arsenal are standing at 6/4 odds to emerge victorious from their venture to Old Trafford and there is no doubt that a potential win at Manchester would be a huge boost for Arsene Wenger’s men.
Only a couple of days later, on Wednesday, Arsenal will welcome Swansea City, before they lock horns with Tottenham in a north London derby with second-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
Pochettino’s charges will be a huge test and the game against Spurs could very well define Arsenal’s season.
Next up are the FA Cup fifth-round tie at Hull City and a Premier League match with West Brom, before a trip to Barcelona.
Arsenal are facing a string of four games in March ahead of the return leg at Camp Nou and before another high profile Premier League game before the international break, against Everton at Goodison.
What should Wenger do?
Having in mind that he has all but lost every chance of making it past Barcelona and into the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, the Professor is urged to rest his key players against Blaugrana.
Knowing Arsene Wenger and his methods, it is highly unlikely to happen.
Whatever choice he makes regarding the Barcelona match, it will have a double-sided effect. The Frenchman is known for his persistence, devotion and commitment, and Wenger will feel like he owes it to Arsenal fans to give his best to pull a surprise at Barcelona. Arsenal are known as a team that reacts well to set-backs as they have demonstrated it countless of times so far, but this is Barcelona we are talking about.
The fans believe in success though, the players do to, but at what cost?
Wenger should perhaps use the opportunity to rotate his squad and give some first-team experience to his young guns, who would learn loads from a run against the likes of Barcelona.
The last chance
Being a 66-year-old manager, Arsene Wenger is aware that time is running against him.
Arsene Wenger has not won a Premier League title in 12 years and his most recent years of Arsenal reign are in real danger of being remembered as a time of drift.
The ongoing season may be the best chance to win a league title he will ever get and he should start thinking about the consequences if he fails to deliver.
Unconditionally supported by Arsenal owners, Arsene Wenger has enjoyed mixed relationship with the club’s supporters over the last couple of years as Arsenal most faithful were often too critical over his lack of transfer activity and the Premier League results.
Top four is no longer the satisfying place to be and Arsene Wenger should consider offering his resignation and save his employers a trouble if he doesn’t succeed in winning the trophy at the end of the season.
The same outcome should be considered if he gets crowned the Premier League champion.
League title will present him with the opportunity to leave in style and go down in history as the man who did it with all the odds stacked against him.