You can tell a lot about a manager’s body language. In the case of Arsene Wenger, he seemed to be beaming inside after his team came back from a goal down to Paris Saint-Germain to draw 1-1 in the opening game of the UEFA Champions League Group Stage on Tuesday night.
It was an important result given that any points claimed away in Europe are gold. Wenger remained bullish in the post-match press conference talking about how he has his strongest and most experienced squad given the club’s average age of 24.
In Paris, the Gunners went behind after 30 seconds and alarm bells would have been ringing, but Arsenal to their credit held their nerve and forced themselves patiently back into the game to claim the draw after Alexis Sanchez’s equalizer.
Arsenal have qualified consistently for the premier European competition since the 2000/01 season, an incredible feat but yet that only counts by how one measures success. The problem for the North Londoners is that in that time they have only appeared in one Champions League final in 2006 and have, of course, never won it.
It is a title that has eluded Wenger and is an obvious gap in his resume. But as the UEFA Champions League enters its 25th season, Arsenal seems to have taken a step backwards.
The Gunners have not qualified for the quarter final stage since 2010 after being knocked out at the round of 16 for the past six seasons. Wenger’s men have failed to impress in the group stages thus finishing in the runners-up spot and then facing one of the better seeded teams and then the inevitable exit.
But in their first Champions League game for this campaign, Arsenal rode a storm and came out with a point to prove, an important point that they will now want to carry on for the remainder of the group stages.
The key for Arsenal is topping their group for the first time since 2009 and this should be able to give the team a deep run in the competition. Questions of course remain about the team’s mental strength — something that Wenger has always vehemently defended. But Oliver Giroud’s sending off after coming on as a substitution bore a familiar face that his players can still be easily wound up.
Not many thought that Arsenal would ever reach a final. They did so and now they need in what could be Wenger’s final season a real push in the competition’s anniversary year to go one step further. And they might just be able to pull it off.
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