Ahead of Thursday’s first leg at the Emirates, Arsene Wenger will be quietly confident of guiding his Arsenal team past CSKA Moscow in the Europa League quarter-finals.
However, while the Russians are relying on a backline with the combined age of 108, they also boast big names like goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and highly-rated youngster Aleksandr Golovin. After beating Lyon in the round of 32, Viktor Goncharenko’s side are certainly no slouches and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
So, if Arsenal were be knocked out by CSKA, could Wenger be sacked by the Gunners board?
Goal understands that the accord between Wenger and the executives above him remains unchanged, with the two parties set to make a joint decision on the Frenchman’s future at the end of season.
Of course, Wenger’s decision is likely to be influenced by whether Arsenal secure a route into next season’s Champions League campaign. He has already admitted that finishing in the Premier League top four is highly unlikely, thus attaching even greater importance to winning the Europa League.
The uncertainty over Wenger’s future last season damaged Arsenal’s season, as he himself admitted. A fifth-placed finish for the first time in over two decades emphasised the team’s gradual decline in recent years.
Indeed, despite the three FA Cup wins in four years, there can be no doubt that Arsenal have regressed, both domestically and in Europe – and the stale managerial situation has played a part in that.
“We played since January in a very difficult environment for different reasons,” Wenger said at the end of last season. “Some obviously that you know about, and that is very difficult for the group of players to cope with that.
“Some other reasons we will talk about another day. But the psychological environment for the group of players was absolutely horrendous. It has been difficult.
“Certainly, my personal situation has contributed to that.”
Of course, the worrying geo-political tension between Russia and the United Kingdom is a major talking point at the moment but the frosty relationship shouldn’t impact this tie, even though the last time these two teams played each other, small quantities of polonium 210, the radioactive substance which was used to poison former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, were found at Emirates Stadium.
There is, therefore, a concerning air of uncertainty surrounding the game.
“Honestly, nobody knows really what’s going on,”Wenger said of the current political situation on Wednesday. “Diplomatic relations between England and Russia at the moment are a bit complicated.
“I just hope it won’t affect both ties and that it will not affect the supporters. Or the Russian people who come over here and and the English people who want to travel there.”
Wenger has a keen interest in politics but refused to be drawn any further on an international affair that has seen more than 20 countries expel Russian diplomats.
Those who say politics and football should not mix are right, even though it’s inevitable that the two will meet eventually, be it through transfer deals or at the upcoming World Cup in Russia.
Arsenal have more immediate sporting concerns, though. The Gunners are 13 points off the Premier League’s top four with seven games to go, which makes the Europa League Arsenal’s No.1 priority.
Arsenal have all the ingredients to go as far as possible but whatever happens from now until May, Wenger’s situation remains the same as it did this time last year, meaning Thursday’s game is no case of Russian Roulette for the under-fire manager.