By Rob Draper for MailOnline 12:18 17 Mar 2015, updated 17:44 17 Mar 2015
- Arsene Wenger has qualified for the Champions League for last 17 seasons
- But despite his managerial pedigree he boasts no European trophies
- Iconic boss has only reached on final and three semi-finals
- Monaco game is hugely poignant after 3-1 defeat in first leg at the Emirates
- Arsenal lost the 2006 final and could have gone on to win the cup in 2004
- The Champions League shows missing link in Wenger's tactical psyche
- CLICK HERE for all the latest Arsenal news
Arsene Wenger’s Champions League record is as phenomenal as it is deeply disappointing.
The paradox is apparent is Wenger’s own mantra, oft repeated, that the club’s record of qualifying for the tournament for 17 consecutive years and having reached the equivalent of knock-out stages for the last 15 years is extraordinary.
Yet having contested the Champions League and its predecessor the European Cup 18 times now (including twice at Monaco), he has never won it. Perhaps more damningly he has been in the final just once and the semi-finals three times, once with Monaco and twice with Arsenal.
Wenger leads his Arsenal side against Monaco on Tuesday night hoping to turn around a 3-1 deficit
Wenger looks towards the Champions League trophy after losing the 2006 final to Barcelona in Paris
INSPIRING A #MIRACLEINMONACO
Progression to the quarter-finals of the Champions League would require Arsenal to do what no other side has done in the Champions League - overturn a two-goal home leg deficit.
So to inspire the team, Arsenal fans have taken to Twitter and created the hashtag #MiracleInMonaco in the hope of inspiring their side to a famous victory, with the topic now trending worldwide.
Supporters will hope Mesut Ozil and co can live up to their alter-egos from Arsenal's Christmas party in 2013 where the squad dressed up as superheroes.
For a manager of such iconic status who for most of those years has overseen one of Europe’s biggest and best-resourced clubs, that is a poor record, which points to his limitations.
Just to be clear, before the debate immediately descends into a pro- or anti-Wenger polemic, there are shades of grey in this argument. Wenger is undoubtedly one of the great managers and will always be revered as such. But his failure to win any European trophy and to have contested just three finals in 22 years of qualifying for various European tournaments, is a glaring omission in his career.
It is why the game against Monaco is so poignant. It is not just that he is returning to where his European pedigree began. It is the fact that this tie should have been the perfect platform for Wenger to have another go at building a European success. It hasn’t turned out that way after that awful, shambolic 3-1 defeat in the first leg at The Emirates.
Of course, should Arsenal pull off the most unlikely of comebacks, it will rank as one of his greatest moments in the tournament. More significantly, with Real Madrid faltering, Wenger will feel his team, coming nicely into form, has a genuine chance of finally winning it. Few will agree with him though on analysing his record.
The failure clearly irks Arsenal. Freddie Ljungberg admitted as much last year, when interviewed about Wenger. For all the plaudits of the incredible Invincible team, they themselves sense a gap in their CV.
‘When we meet up, the old players, we are very disappointed we haven't won the Champions League,’ said Ljungberg. ‘We felt we had a good enough team to win it. Personally that's where I have my biggest regrets, because that was a few years that it happened, and internally, the team thought we had a great chance of winning.’
The closest Wenger came to realising his dream was the Champions League final in 2006, when ten-man Arsenal led until the 76th minute against Barcelona. Who is to say that Arsenal wouldn’t have won that day had Jens Lehmann not been sent off? This is thrust of Wenger’s argument when questioned on his record: that the fine margins and necessary luck which plays its part in football is to blame for him not having achieved his goal.
VIDEO Monaco are favourite to progress
Freddie Ljungberg admitted that it was one of the biggest regrets for Wenger's great side to not win in Europe
Ashley Cole reacts after Arsenal lose out in Paris, courtesy of goals from Samuel
Eto'o and Juliano Belletti
Thierry Henry could not inspire Arsenal to victory in Wenger's only European Cup final back in 2006
It is compelling up to a point. Clearly Wenger is an infinitely better coach than Roberto Di Matteo and Tony Barton, both of whom have won the trophy. But judged against his peers, the managerial greats of the modern era, Wenger’s record is lacking. Leave aside for now the fact that Bob Paisley won the trophy three times in six attempts and Brian Clough won it twice in four attempts, in the modern era Wenger’s does not rank among the elite group of coaches.
Carlo Ancelotti has won the trophy three times in twelve attempts; Jose Mourinho has won it twice in eleven (counting this season, as he is already out); Pep Guardiola has won in twice in five attempts. And even Guardiola can’t match Jupp Heynckes record of two wins and four finals in five attempts. Heynckes Champions League ‘nadir’ was going out in the semi-final to eventual winners Red Star Belgrade in 1991.
Wenger looks on as Barcelona lift the trophy - and he is still without a European trophy in his long career
Jens Lehmann was sent off early in the game and Barcelona's pressure eventually told as they beat Arsenal
A persistent critique of Sir Alex Ferguson’s ability as a coach (as opposed to manager) was that, given his resources he ‘only’ won the trophy twice in 21 years. He also qualified for the competition three times with Aberdeen, but left them to join United midway through the 1985-86 competition.
Monaco tonight is the reminder that Wenger is the consummate qualifier in Europe but never the victor. In his six years here at the club, the team qualified for European competition every season, losing in the final of the Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1992 to Werder Bremen.
Remarkably, given the relative size of the club, they reached the Champions League semi-finals in 1994, losing 3-0 to AC Milan. No disgrace in that, however; that was Fabio Capello’s team which proceeded to take apart Barcelona 4-0 in the final.
Carlo Ancelotti has won the Champions League three times, including last year, in twelve attempts
Jose Mourinho has won the big trophy twice in eleven entries (counting this season, as he is already out)
Jupp Heynckes has a hugely impressive record of two wins and four finals in five Champions League attempts
Wenger’s gifts are undeniable. But an 18-year sample should take account of bad luck and the statistical vagaries of football. There is a missing link in Wenger’s tactical psyche. It is as evident in the defensive displays against Chelsea and Liverpool last season as it was against Monaco two weeks ago. It has always been there and it holds him back from being the very best.
The year he perhaps should have done it but didn’t was not so much 2006, when that team was beginning to decline, but the Invincible year of 2003-04, when a late Wayne Bridge goal at Highbury knocked Arsenal out in the quarter-finals in the days when Wenger’s teams were considerably stronger than Chelsea. It is a difficult to remember a night when Wenger has looked more disconsolate. He seemed so full of fury that he was on the point of bursting into tears. For all the professonial stereotypes, he is a deeply emotional man.
Wayne Bridge fired in a late Chelsea winner at Highbury in 2004 in one of Arsenal's best chances of winning
Bridge's goal defeated an Arsenal side that were superior to Chelsea and went on to win the Premier League
Wenger cannot hide his disappointment as then-Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri celebrates a rare win
Nothing would give English football lovers greater pleasure that to see Arsenal execute a remarkable comeback tonight and for Wenger to go on and finally lift the trophy ‘with the big ears,’ as Patrick Vieira always called it. Or, at some stage in these, surely the final few years of his career, for him to achieve that goal. His reputation demands it and on a sentimental level, having achieved so much, he’s earned it.
But the Champions League is an unforgiving beast. It may not be a perfect barometer of coaching ability, but it is quite a good, crude measure of how well you pit your wits against the best minds in football. And Wenger, for all his accolades, comes up short.
Wenger is back at his former club Monaco on Tuesday night with the hope of reaching European glory