The FA Cup is important, but Wenger won't be judged on it
On the final day of last season, May 19 precisely, Arsène Wenger could be found in a Newcastle hotel, staring into space, his mind swirling with possible eventualities.
As it transpired, the Frenchman ended up all smiles that day, albeit rival Tottenham's victory over Sunderland, inspired by Gareth Bale's stunning parting shot ahead of a world record move to Real Madrid. Arsenal, as they have always done under Wenger, qualified for the Champions League through Laurent Koscienly's lone strike at St James's Park. Another Champions League qualification, another trophyless season. Ivan Gazidis and co judge on Premier League standing, and however bizarre it may seem for a club of Arsenal's stature, not silverware.
The FA Cup is a prestigious trophy, that is not in doubt. When Arsenal booked their place in the FA Cup final, a clash with Premier League rivals Hull City on 17 May, their ecstacy was almost palpable, not thinking twice about heralding Lukasz Fabianski's shootout heroics. A cup final is a great occasion, and in Arsène Wenger's case, one that must conclude with Arsenal's first piece of silverware in nine frustrating years. Yet, despite the glamour of a cup final, he won't be judged on its outcome.
Their permanent residency amongst Europe's elite is in serious doubt, facing the prospect succumbing to the vibrancy and determination of this resurgent Everton team, guided by the visionary Roberto Martinez. Premature panic must not ensue at Arsenal just yet, given their easier run-in but Martinez is capable of negotiating his side past the attentions of Manchester United and Manchester City.
In a relentless run-in for Champions League football, starting on Tuesday when West Ham visit the Emirates and Everton entertain Crystal Palace the next day, Wenger must restore wise heads in his camp and extinguish the euphoria in his players. Or his future may suffer for it. Ivan Gazidis and the Arsenal board have been patient with Wenger during times of forceful scepticism, but the financial losses of absence from the Champions League may be too great.
Sam Allardyce would have enjoyed Saturday's FA Cup semi-final, Arsenal forced to slug out 120 minutes and endure the emotional wringer. His side are still not safe from the perils of relegation but they are edging closer, seven points adrift of the bottom three and in 11th place. In any other season, 11th place would be enough to preserve a club's Premier League status but so has been the unpredictibility of this season's enthralling edition.
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