Arsene Wenger doesn't often follow in Jose Mourinho’s footsteps, but that's the path he's taking right now.
Ultimate failure is staring Wenger in the face, his tenure at Arsenal under threat like never before with his team sixth in the league and just the Europa League to play for. There’s just one basket now, and Wenger’s eggs have been in there for some time now.
Just as Mourinho did last season, Wenger is aiming to take the scenic route back to the Champions League—via, Milan, Moscow and now Madrid. But Mourinho’s Manchester United took the gamble and it paid off; United won the tournament and are back at Europe's top table.
Arsenal’s season boils down to three dates: April 26, when Atletico Madrid travel to London for the first leg of the semi final; May 3, when Arsenal make the return fixture; and May 16, when Wenger will hope to be in Lyon, the host city for the Europa League final.
And so the visit of West Ham to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday (April 22) is something of a distraction to Wenger. He has made clear his intentions in the Premier League, taking the opportunity to bed in youngsters with potential while saving his superstars for those key fixtures.
It has left the Gunners even more vulnerable. Sean Dyche’s Burnley, on a run of five consecutive victories, are now just two points behind Arsenal. They travel to the Emirates on the penultimate week of the season, which could see the humble Clarets leapfrog Arsenal.
Dyche will know Arsenal are beatable. Newcastle United, with a team made up largely of the squad that was competing in the Championship last season, did so with relative ease on Saturday.
Islam Slimani showed that the back line can be bullied. That will have been noted by Marko Arnautovic, the summer signing who manhandled Southampton in a 3-0 win that dragged West Ham away from the relegation zone and into a resurgency.
The following week the Hammers deserved their draw against last season’s champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. By the time they travel across London on Sunday, they could be nine points clear of the relegation zone, as they host second-bottom Stoke City at the London Stadium on Monday.
West Ham are still in need of points, though. Chelsea was the start of a tough run-in that includes the trip to Arsenal, followed by hosting Manchester City, Manchester United and then Everton on the final day of the season.
David Moyes, the West Ham manager, will sense the opportunity his team has. He will tell his team that the points are there for them to take. Arsenal and Wenger’s focus will be firmly on the season-defining game against Atletico four days later. The Hammers can put another nail in the coffin.
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