James Lawton: When will Arsène Wenger's Arsenal enter the Champions League as anything but a disposable asset?

For all Arsenal's dreams and prettiness there must be nagging sense of futility

The margin was so fine, so gnawing at his peace of mind, that Arsène Wenger now knows how it is to step down from the dock freed from the heaviest of charges.

One of them, though, has to remain on the indictment sheet and it was never going to be removed by Arsenal's survival in the late scramble for Europe. It alleges that for some time now he has been presiding over a team geared to ensuring a profit – and another £30m was accrued yesterday – rather than making a serious challenge for the peaks of the game.

What you had to believe Wenger achieved with the fourth qualifying place was one last chance to re-make a team that is now only a shadow of those created by his most brilliant work.

He arrived in Newcastle bristling with that routine pride he has attached to all the years of unbroken Champions League football but soon enough you had to wonder all over again about the value of the journey.

You had to reflect that but for one near miss in Paris seven years ago and a night of thrilling promise in San Siro, it has a significance reflected almost entirely on the annual balance sheet.

Arsenal may believe they have earned the right to permanent membership of club football's most lucrative competition but the big question could have hardly have been more pressing on Tyneside. When are they going to enter it as anything more than a sometimes decorative but ultimately disposable asset?

As Arsenal listened nervously for news from White Hart Lane, the answer remained as remote as it has been for most of the 15 years of straight qualification.

There was that night in the Stade de France when Thierry Henry was a millisecond slow to pull the trigger on what might just have been a dramatic final victory for 10-man Arsenal over the emerging dynasty team Barcelona.

There was also that last great gesture of Cesc Fabregas as the club's midfield master-elect when he tore to pieces the ageing reigning champions Milan on their own soil. Yet for the rest of it what can we really say but that for all the dreams and the prettiness of much of their football there has to be the most nagging sense of futility.

The idea that the current team has any greater chance of a serious impact was of course brutally exposed when Bayern Munich came visiting earlier in the season that ended so tautly yesterday and it was not hugely allayed when Laurent Koscielny conjured from nowhere a breakthrough goal early in the second half. Certainly it had the benefit of soothing some distinctly frayed nerves, and not least those of Wenger.

He was hardly sanguine, though, and nor could he be so on the evidence of all that had gone before.

Arsenal were supposed to confirm the strength of a revival that had seen just one defeat in 15 games but here, with their fate entirely in their own hands, was much less than the required authority. Indeed, Wenger might already have been speculating on his uses of a reported war chest of £70m.

It didn't help that some seriously talented, and rewarded, Newcastle players appeared to be intent on ransacking the place in search of some remnants of lost pride after Koscielny hooked in the opener after Lukas Podolski had helped on a free-kick.

Newcastle, having escaped relegation at the end of a season of dismaying regression, did have the professional obligation to dispel at least a little the worst of the memories of their recent stripping down by Liverpool in front of their own fans.

They pursued it with enough force to bring fresh concern to the face of the Arsenal manager. Distractedly, he patted the hard-working Podolski on the shoulder when he was replaced late on by Olivier Giroud.

Heaven knows, it has been a wearing campaign for the great football man who won his last trophy eight years ago.

It was around about that time that he said winning something like the FA Cup – Arsenal's last prize, of course – had been utterly devalued when it was compared to qualifying for the Champions League. Now his proprietorial view of Europe was surely blurring. For a football man of such distinction, it was plainly an excruciating experience because if you took away from this Arsenal the highest level of European football what would you really have?

You would have a club detached from their last formal – and financial – link with the idea that they are still a major force at home and abroad.

When the worst didn't happen, when Newcastle couldn't find a killing touch and when Theo Walcott's shot against the post proved less than a fatal failure to insure against the potentially devastating effect of Gareth Bale's last rocket of the season, Wenger's relief was, naturally, exquisite.

It should not, however, delay him one second from delving into that war chest.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test