Tottenham's hopes are over, but Arsenal's Champions League delusions abound

Arsène Wenger insisted there was 'no reason to panic' after the draw with Paris Saint-Germain, but it provided only more evidence that the Gunners will not go far in this competition

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There was a Captain Mainwaring moment from Arsène Wenger late on Wednesday night. There was “no reason to panic” about what he admitted was Arsenal’s sudden inability to win games he said. His prime cause for concern after holding a lead for only 18 minutes against Paris Saint-Germain seemed to be what word he might employ. “I have to be careful on the choice of my words. I say 'stuttering' and it comes back at me…”

There are moments amid the grey, increasingly meaningless choreography of the football press conference circuit when the truth mocks the whole charade and this was one of them. Wenger was boasting about his team having gone through their group undefeated and outside in the tunnel Carl Jenkinson, the full back, was agreeing that Tottenham would have given anything to be in the place where Arsenal found themselves. “Exactly. Getting to the last 16 is not the easiest thing in the world to do anyway.”

Yet Arsenal had just played like stink, revealing in the process that there is no reason on God’s earth to believe that the team will mark Wenger’s 20th year by venturing deep into the competition knock-out stages. Nothing seems to have changed.

Mesut Ozil: invisible; Olivier Giroud: isolated; Jenkinson; incapable of attaining the level required of a world class, Champions League winning full-back. (Twice, Alexis Sanchez pointed out to the Englishman a position he had failed to take up.) The other Premier League side with big ambitions in the competition had not sparkled either, though Manchester City are operating under a new manager, who is trying to locate a new system for the continent. For Wenger, this has been a Champions League work in progress for 20 years and still looks no closer to winning the thing.

In the Old Trafford press conference room on Saturday afternoon, Wenger told us that his players had been anodyne because of a “mental block” that stadium holds. In the Emirates press conference room, he told us that his players had allowed Paris Saint-Germain to “play too comfortably” in a first half they dominated. “We dropped off. We didn't maintain the pressure.”

It was the way he said this - calmly, phlegmatically and seemingly impassive to whatever the French champions happened to bring into the game - that was significantly. It is fair to say that Guardiola would have been on the touchline, eviscerating his team if they had allowed opponents to “play too comfortably.” From the very outset, when Wenger was pictured shaking the French players’ hands in the tunnel, there was a lack of something visceral.

He also said of his side that “it was difficult for us to find the right positioning on the pitch from the start.” Is it not the manager’s job to decide where those positions should be? In the new midfield combination of Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin, there was little sense of balance. Ramsey’s performance against PSG divided opinion. There was certainly a strong tackling dimension to his game in the early stages, but the French side’s playmaker Marco Verratti was immeasurably better.

“We played against a good team, of top technical quality,” Wenger insisted. PSG are currently third in France’s Ligue 1. No-one can claim that the side who will edge out Arsenal as groups stage winners once again are going to be striking fear into the continental elite come the semi-finals.

There was at least the satisfaction of Tottenham’s elimination for Arsenal. A London Evening Standard headline in which Toby Alderweireld declared: “We can win the Champions League” was circulating on Wednesday. Though Spurs’ own performance in Monaco was further evidence of tactical flabbiness – allowing the opposition full backs free reign to cause havoc – it can at least be said that Mauricio Pochettino is in unchartered waters.

“We have held our own and are joint top at the end of the day,” reflected Jenkinson. “The only thing that is holding us back is the… rule, which [means] our goal difference counts for nothing. The way the competition goes, you can get drawn against anyone, you never know.” From top to bottom, it was a night of delusions for Arsenal.

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