Arsène Wenger must refocus to save another Arsenal season from failure

Champions League exit to Barcelona has upped the ante for Gunners' manager ahead of FA Cup test at Old Trafford

Miracles are rare at the best of times yet one has just passed by unnoticed. This concerns the eyesight of the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, who until recently suffered from an intermittent myopia that was apt to deprive him of the ability to bear witness to controversial incidents involving his players.

Now it seems Wenger's vision has been fully restored to the extent that he can confidently hold forth on any manner of perceived injustice that has been inflicted on his team. After Arsenal had been held at home by Sunderland in a goalless game last Saturday he said he was disgusted by a couple of decisions that gone against them and in the wake of Tuesday's 3-1 defeat in Barcelona, which ended his side's interest in the Champions League for another season, he rounded on the Swiss referee Massimo Busacca, for sending off Robin van Persie with the result that he has been charged by Uefa with improper conduct, which Wenger denies. Even so perhaps he should have followed the example of Sir Alex Ferguson and taken a vow of silence.

By now Wenger will have refocused his attention on a season that in the space of a week and a half has begun to dissolve before Arsenal's eyes. They went into the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City seeking four trophies but if Manchester United knock them out of the FA Cup at Old Trafford today they will be left to chase Ferguson's team down the back straight in the hope of pipping them for the Premier League title, which would be heavily dependent on United blowing it.

To make matters worse for Arsenal and their followers neighbouring Tottenham, making their first appearance in Europe's most prestigious tournament for nearly 50 years, have performed as if they never left it, that the momentous meetings with Bela Guttmann's Benfica in the 1962 European Cup semi-finals happened only last season. To beat Internazionale, the European champions, and now eliminate Milan, striding away at the top of the Italian league, is a considerable achievement, whatever comes next. All right, Serie A opposition is not always as daunting as it once was but when Harry Redknapp took over at White Hart Lane in October 2008 Tottenham were bottom of the table and gloomily pondering the prospect of regular encounters with Doncaster Rovers.

Spurs could still be undone by Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta. Nobody wants to meet Barça in their present mood although, as Arsenal demonstrated at the Emirates, Pep Guardiola's team can still be beaten by a combination of pace, inspiration, organisation and concentration, all of which deserted Wenger's players in the Camp Nou.

Seldom can an FA Cup tie between Manchester United and Arsenal have been approached amid such an atmosphere of anticlimax. Previous encounters involving these clubs have at times been accompanied by rows and ructions, brawls and bust-ups. Nobody wants a repetition, but with United in a similar trough of form and confidence, the occasion could struggle to arouse the usual passions.

For Arsenal another defeat would raise serious questions about where Wenger's latest creation is heading. This side is capable of emulating past triumphs, the first game against Barcelona showed that, but inconsistencies are creeping in. Big teams regularly match up to big moments and at the Camp Nou Arsenal's moment arrived when Jack Wilshere set up Nicklas Bendtner for a goal that could have won them the tie. Bendtner is not a bad striker but too often he has the first touch of a man playing in wellingtons. And so the moment was lost.

How many of Wenger's present team would have held places in some of his previous sides? Take the Arsenal who won the Premier League in 2003-04 without losing a game. Jens Lehmann was no David Seaman but would not seriously be challenged by the present stock of goalkeepers. Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and the rest of the defence would be safe. Cesc Fábregas would get into the midfield alongside Patrick Vieira and room could be found for Samir Nasri. But Van Persie would need Thierry Henry or Dennis Bergkamp to be injured while Wilshere and Theo Walcott might have to wait a bit longer for their chance.

If the patriot felt sorry when Arsenal went out of the Champions League on Tuesday night, by Wednesday morning the football lover was equally glad to find Barcelona still there. In that sense Bendtner and his wellies did the competition a big favour.

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