With Arsenal poised to face Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-finals, I decided to take a look back at Wenger’s record in semi-finals while managing Arsenal. The man has, of course, won 10 trophies for the club (3x league champions, 7x FA Cup winners), but not many have looked into the decisive matches leading into those finals. Obviously, when you’re looking at the trophy cabinet, you can’t tell the difference between not qualifying for a tournament, losing in the first knockout stage, or even losing in the final. You either win a trophy or you don’t.
But, continued appearances in the latter stages of major tournaments can also be an indicator of club strength. It takes many successive wins and great performances to make it that far in competitions such as the FA Cup or Champions League. Wenger’s record in these vital matchups is certainly an indicator of Arsenal’s consistent presence among the top level of the English game but also a reflection of many Arsenal fans’ complaints that the club is just a step below the elite.
Under Wenger, the club has played in 21 semi-final matchups (this upcoming fixture will be #22). The most recent one of those matchups resulted in an Arsenal win over two legs against Chelsea in this year’s Carabao Cup. Arsenal’s record in these 21 matchups is 13 wins and 8 losses. Overall, that’s a pretty decent return considering the strength of competition you can face at that stage even in the League Cup. Broken down by competition, the record looks like this:
FA Cup Semi-Finals: 8 wins, 3 losses
League Cup Semi-Finals: 3 wins, 4 losses
UEFA Cup/Europa League Semi-Finals: 1 win, 0 losses
UEFA Champions League Semi-Finals: 1 win, 1 loss
Anyone familiar with the Wenger era knows that the FA Cup is his pet competition so it’s no surprise that he has a great record in that competition. 11 semi-final appearances have resulted in Wenger lifting the FA Cup a record 7 times. When Arsenal get going in the FA Cup, it’s hard to stop them. Looking at the other competitions, however, the same can’t quite be said.
Wenger has never really considered the League Cup a major trophy, but when you reach the final four of any tournament, you might as well try your best to push through. The Premier League top six as a whole don’t put too much effort in the League Cup, but the dominant clubs have still found a way to swipe up that trophy as well (Sir Alex Ferguson won 4).
Our main focus at this point will be European competitions. Honestly, it’s quite stunning that Wenger’s Gunners have only taken part in 3 major European semi-finals. 2 wins out of 3 is a pretty small sample to base any analysis off of, but it’s a decent return. The most damaging part of this stat is the fact that appearances at this stage of Europe are so low considering the club has qualified for European competition every season under Wenger (23 appearances not including this year). This is why I mentioned the sentiment that many fans (including myself) see Arsenal as a great club, but just a step below the top level, where we want them to be.
As an Arsenal fan, one has to hope that any European hoodoo will be forgotten by the players on the pitch. Instead, if the players can perform just as well as they have in FA Cup semi-finals, they have a great chance of beating Atletico Madrid on the way to a Europa League trophy, and most importantly, a Champions League slot in the fall.