Luis Suarez set to remind Wenger what might have been
Barcelona striker Luis Suarez will come back to haunt Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on Tuesday night – and the timing of his arrival at the Emirates may be a blessing in disguise.
Suarez’s presence as a leader of the Catalans’ all-conquering side confirms that Wenger’s pursuit of the Uruguayan forward back in 2013 could have been a game-changer for the Gunners boss.
However, that story is now old news now and in a season when their push for a first Premier League title in 12 years is at the forefront of all Arsenal minds, Champions League success has barely been on their radar.
While Wenger may still dare to dream that he could lift the European trophy that has eluded him, domestic priorities have superseded his ambitions this year.
Amid a campaign when so many of their domestic rivals have stumbled, Wenger can have no excuses if he fails to get his hands on the Premier League trophy, but he is predictably talking up his side’s hopes of upsetting Barcelona.
“There is an assumption that just because it is Barcelona, so we will go out, but we have a chance to find a way through,” argues Wenger.
“We beat them in the home leg back in 2011 and clearly we are a more mature side now.
“We have a winning spirit that has been built up over the last couple of seasons and this match is an exciting challenge for us. We are playing the defending champions and maybe the best team in Europe, but this is the kind of test top players should relish.”
Wenger has often been criticised for claiming he came close to signing some of the world’s top stars, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo and even Lionel Messi on his list of near misses.
Yet his pursuit of then-Liverpool striker Suarez in the summer of 2013 could have ended in what would have been a game-changing deal for the north Londoners.
Coming at a time when Suarez was exiled in disgrace as he served a ban for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, it was a bold move.
In the end, the Gunners’ shambolic attempts to trigger a release clause in Suarez’s contract by offering Liverpool £40,000,001 to sign him scuppered any hope of a deal.
Riled by Wenger and Arsenal’s bid, Liverpool refused to sell and Suarez became the talisman of their title challenge that came within a few points of the ultimate triumph.
Imagine if Suarez has been an Arsenal player that season...it is something Wenger must have pondered in the years since.
When quizzed on his previous interest in Suarez, Wenger offers this cagey response.
“You say we bid for Suarez, but I say nothing on that,” he adds with a smile.
“That situation is in the past now and I believe we have players who are at a similar level to Barcelona.
“Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil...we have top quality players here and they are ready for a challenge like this.”
You wonder whether Wenger believes that Arsenal can beat Barcelona in their last-16 tie, but just for once, the gaffer will be excused for overseeing more Euro agony if it paves the way for Premier League glory.
Arsenal are seen by many as the team to beat in the English title race with 12 games left to play and that has not been the case on any previous occasion over the last decade.
Just for once, Arsenal have bigger fish to fry on home soil, but avoiding a thrashing against Barcelona may be crucial to their morale for weeks ahead.
As we have seen with Wenger’s teams in the past, defeats hit them hard and often leave hangovers that can linger for some time.