Were it not for the Europa League, and if Arsenal was a normal football club, chances are Arsene Wenger would have been sacked by now.
The Gunners have under-performed in the league, sitting a massive 33 points behind champions Mancehster City, and at the time of writing they languish 14 points behind rivals Tottenhan, who are in fourth.
By any standards that kind of performance would be disappointing, and by the standards set by Wenger during his time at the club they’re even more so. When you add to that the fact his team have yet to win a single point away from home in 2018, as well as a litany of bad results and displays, it would be enough to cost most managers their job.
And yet Europe provides a chance of salvation. Win the Europa League and not only would Wenger do something he’s never done in his 22 years in North London — win a continental trophy — but he would also ensure Arsenal have a place in next season’s Champions League.
As the sales team at the club desperately embark on a mission to sell expensive corporate tickets for the 2018-19 campaign — including the 600 or so extra Club Level seats they’re installing this summer — the draw of facing some of Europe’s big boys, rather than the second or third tier sides that punctuate the Europa League, would make that job a lot easier.
There’s also a real irony that at a time when attendances at the Emirates have been steadily dwindling — in large part due to the old familiar failings and the lack of competitiveness — Arsenal are attempting to gain extra revenue by installing more of the most expensive seats in the house.
Which, perhaps, is another indication of how this is not a normal club. The main reason for that, however, is Wenger — whose tenure sets him apart from every other big club in Europe. Nowhere else has a manager been in a job that long, and nowhere else does he have that amount of power and influence.
While there have been moves to change that, with the appointments of Sven Mislintat as Head of Recruitment and Raul Sanllehi as Head of Football Relations (essentially Director of Football except he’s not allowed to be called that because of Wenger’s objections to that term/position), but make no mistake, the Frenchman is still the most powerful football figure at Arsenal.
His relationship with Stan Kroenke, the one man who can actually make executive decisions, remains strong, although rumours that Josh Kroenke might play a more active role in the running of the club may make the situation a bit more precarious for the 68-year-old.
Much depends on Europe, because without a Europa League triumph there is simply no case to be made for allowing him to continue in his job. Fans have become apathetic to the point where they simply don’t turn up to games despite having already paid for their tickets, and the appetite for change is as great as it ever has been.
Yet even winning it — as fine an achievement as it would be — ought not to mask the deficiencies that Arsenal have displayed all season long. It seems weird to suggest that bringing a trophy in at the end of the season is a good time to get rid of a manager, but with Wenger and with Arsenal it would make a lot of sense.
It’s clear this is a team that struggle under a manager who in turn struggles to produce a cohesive unit from the players he has expensively assembled. There’s a steady decline in league performance, they’re heading towards a record low in terms of points and a record high when it comes to goals conceded.
Wenger winning the Europa League would be the perfect time to say goodbye. For the club it would mean a fresh start with Champions League football; for the fans something new to get excited by; and for the manager a glorious moment to walk away with enormous goodwill after what has been remarkable career in North London.
The alternative, of course, is that win or lose in Europe, he stays for the final year of his contract. Not something too many others would choose to do, but then this is Arsenal, and Arsenal are not normal.
Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC’s Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.