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

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high