Arsene Wenger has been handed the daunting prospect of overcoming Atletico Madrid in his fight to remain Arsenal manager.
The Gunners were pitted against Diego Simeone’s side in Friday’s Europa League semi-final draw, providing Wenger with a significant test in his bid to convince the Gunners hierarchy that he remains the right man to lead the club.
Simeone has guided Atletico to two of the past four Champions League finals and his team are favourites to win the Europa League in Lyon on May 16.
The Spaniards are third in the overall UEFA rankings for club competitions, behind only Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
Wenger knows his 22-year reign at Arsenal is under serious threat after a poor domestic campaign, but winning a European trophy — and thus qualifying for the Champions League — could yet appease dissenting voices within the Emirates corridors of power.
Despite a promising seven-game unbeaten run, including six victories, Wenger’s position remains precarious with the winning sequence viewed as too little too late.
Indeed, even lifting the Europa League trophy may not be enough to convince Arsenal that he should see out the final 12 months of his contract.
The semi-final could present Arsenal with a reunion with former foe Diego Costa — although the ex-Chelsea striker has a hamstring injury and faces a race to be fit for the first leg.
More worrying is the presence of France forward Antoine Griezmann, who has scored three goals in his five Europa League outings so far. His strike also earned a 1-1 draw against Real Madrid in last weekend’s La Liga showdown at the Bernabeu.
Striker Alexandre Lacazette has urged Arsenal to go on and win the competition to improve Wenger’s prospects.
Arsenal booked their place in the semis with a 6-3 aggregate win over CSKA Moscow and Lyon-native Lacazette said: ‘It can be the way to keep the manager as he did so much good for the club.
‘We want to win trophies. It will save our season because in the Premier League we are not doing well. Winning a cup would be good. I really want to be in the final to play in front of my family and friends, but it’s not only that, I came to Arsenal because I want to win trophies like this. So to play in the final is important.’
Meanwhile, Wenger says he will rotate his squad for Arsenal’s remaining Premier League fixtures, admitting they are suffering from tiredness.
If Arsenal reach the Europa League final, they will have played 61 games this season and Wenger said: ‘Fatigue is a little bit of a concern because for long periods now, with the League Cup in the middle of the season, it is a bit difficult.
‘You look at Manchester City and they look like that in the second half of games recently. Fortunately next week we can recover.
‘I will rotate as much as I can. Unfortunately some players have to play all the games. Playing Thursday-Sunday is very difficult. We landed at 5am after the CSKA Moscow game and we play Newcastle on Sunday morning.
‘The second thing that is very difficult is that when you play, everybody else has already played.
‘Not only are you physically very jaded but also you are under huge pressure each time to win. It is mentally maybe tougher than physically.’
Source: Daily Mail