Arsene Wenger’s farewell tour had a low-key start on Sunday. The Emirates seemed pretty ambivalent to the imminent departure of the man who has led Arsenal for 22 years, making them not only London’s No1 club for almost all of that period but a global presence.
There were, as is becoming customary, empty seats. The team did not play like a side aiming to give their boss a memorable send-off. The crowd did not chant the Frenchman’s name with gusto until West Ham’s late collapse made the game safe. He may even get a more generous reception at Old Trafford on Sunday when he faces Manchester United, his great rivals, for the last time.
The Arsenal fans’ campaigns to drive the manager out hurt Wenger. The indifference yesterday might have been even more painful.
There is an air of listlessness and lack of direction at the Emirates that the 68-year-old’s shock announcement on Friday has added to, rather than cured. It is easy to understand Ivan Gazidis’s desire to keep the news of the parting of ways under wraps until the end of the season. Equally, it is obvious why the manager did not want to live a lie.
Now that the decision has been taken, Wenger is at pains to distance himself from the consequences of his departure. He has always made it clear that he would have no involvement in helping select his replacement. That job is for others. Wenger wants to underline that Gazidis has to take full responsibility for what happens next. He will throw the chief executive under every passing bus he can.
What the manager does care about is the Europa League. Unity needs to be salvaged for one last tilt at glory.
Everyone at the Emirates needs to ratchet the intensity up several notches against Atletico Madrid.
At least Wenger has the potential to win a trophy. He has that in common with Antonio Conte, whose Chelsea side booked a place in the FA Cup Final. The Italian will surely leave Stamford Bridge whether his team win the Cup or not. It’s ironic that these two clubs that have spent the season wrestling with doubts and dilemmas still have much to play for in late April.
Tottenham have little to play for. They are, at least in League terms, the capital’s new top dogs. Mauricio Pochettino’s team will end the campaign trophyless. Again. On Saturday, they managed to lose an important game where they dominated the early stages. Again. They should have been out of United’s sight by the time Jose Mourinho’s side equalised.
The semi-final defeat is a blot on Pochettino’s reputation. For much of this season it appeared that Spurs had shed their demons and were ready to assume their place in the elite. This latest blow - and the defeat by Juventus in the Champions League - suggests these hopes were premature.
Is it enough to be the highest-placed team in London if the season peters out like this every year? Certainly, the Tottenham fans leaving Wembley did not seem to think so. Qualifying for the Champions League trumps all domestic silverware except the title in football’s boardrooms. In the stands, many take a different view.
There are creeping doubts that Spurs can continue their progression. They went into the weekend with a set-up that was seemingly more stable than Arsenal’s and Chelsea’s but Pochettino, not to be outdone by Wenger and Conte, called his own future into question.
The idea that his Tottenham team need more time with “me or another coach” might have been fuelled by disappointment.
Despite his public pronouncements before the semi, the Argentine understands the need to win silverware and is desperate to do so.
It could have been a ploy to force a pay rise. Either way, Pochettino has always given the impression that he is passing through north London.
Tottenham could do without the uncertainty. Teams keep their best players by winning trophies or paying the going rate in wages. Spurs do neither. Next season will be a huge test for Pochettino. Keeping minds focused in the next month, when there is little to play for, will be a challenge, too.
Tottenham crave a cup. Conte can win one before he leaves. The 48-year-old should quickly get another job.
Wenger, though, will be the man in the spotlight in the coming days.
The most important night is Thursday. Players and fans need to make sure the Atletico game is remembered as one of Wenger’s great nights at the Emirates and not his final disappointment.