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Arsenal milestone turned into a millstone for Arsene Wenger

What a way to mark your 1000th game as Arsenal manager, eh?

Arsene Wenger suffered an abject days on the occasion of his 100oth match in charge of Arsenal Photograph:
Arsene Wenger suffered an abject days on the occasion of his 100oth match in charge of Arsenal Photograph:

Referee Andre Marriner's grotesque case of mistaken identity will dominate the headlines. And so it should. Apart from the fact that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs are light-skinned, black men with close-cropped hair who both were wearing Arsenal jerseys at the time, there is no plausible reason for getting them mixed up. One is slight, the other stocky. One wears 28, the other wears 15. The fact that an official in his ninth season in the Premier League, both his assistants and the fourth official could somehow contrive to get the two muddled up even after Oxlade-Chamberlain admitted he handled the ball is simply beyond the pale.

That said, it should not overshadow Arsenal's abject performance. Yes, when you are 2-0 down after 10 minutes and 3-0 nil down and with just 10 men after quarter of an hour, you won't be digging yourself out of that hole any time soon. The home fans completed the humiliation, singing "Arsene Wenger...we want you to stay!" before Chelsea added another to three to cement the 6-0 scoreline.

Wenger didn't turn up to the post-game media conference, with an Arsenal press officer explaining that the team bus was leaving.

Another major PR blunder. Because while Wenger did do some TV interviews explaining that he took "full responsibility" the excuse proffered took the definition of lame to new heights (or lows).

Chelsea are a London club. So are Arsenal. And Wenger lives less than 45 minutes from Stamford Bridge. The idea that he could not afford a cab or that the team bus could not wait another 10 minutes won't wash with anyone.

As poor as Arsenal were yesterday, you can find the mitigating circumstances. No side is going to come back after those early goals and that red card. To their credit, they tried to play afterwards, which is part of the reason they gave up six, rather than trying to contain the damage the way some might have done. And, yes, you can rattle off the absentees: Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere. But it only brings you back to the same, painful facts about this club. This is a team with an enormous cash reserve who makes a profit almost every season. A side that refused to address basic and easily-identifiable needs in the transfer market (another striker, defensive cover for the centre-backs).

One thousand games is something to celebrate. But the way this one played out only served to remind Arsenal fans that, when it comes to Arsene Wenger, you have to take the good with the bad. And while the former has been and can be fantastic, the latter is increasingly tough to bear.

The cast of characters is largely unchanged. In fact, it's remarkable how little turnover there has been compared to, say, two years ago. Jordi Alba (who was a La Masia product anyway) and Neymar, have joined Barcelona. Diego Lopez, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Dani Carvajal - if he gets a game - are now at the Bernabeu.

Beyond that, there are plenty survivors from the Pep v Mou wars, the time when Barca v Real was an ideological, quasi- religious clash. When either boss (OK, trying to be fair, it was mostly Jose Mourinho) was ready to take a leaf out of Malcolm X's "by any means necessary" philosophy.

When the intensity and the hatred were ratcheted up to suffocating proportions and the venom was felt across three competitions: Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions' League.

If it isn't like that tonight - and it won't be - it's largely because, while the core has remained the same, the men in charge are different. Carlo Ancelotti has mixed a turn-the-other-cheek mentality with an uber-diplomatic demeanour to forge a reputation as one of the game's nice guys.

He and his league titles in three different countries as well as his two Champions' Leagues tell their own story: you don't have to be an adrenaline pumped, in-your-face Alpha Male to succeed.

His counterpart, Gerardo "Tata" Martino has also adopted a softly, softly approach. In his case, it may be more by design than personality. After all, this is a guy who was coaching - with all due respect -Paraguay while Pep Guardiola was making history.

A man with no ties whatsoever to Barcelona, except for two things. At the end of his playing career, he turned out for the "other Barcelona", the one in Ecuador. And he was personally sponsored by Lionel Messi, who hails from his hometown of Rosario.

The contrast with Ancelotti couldn't be greater. One is pedigreed European football royalty, turning up at the Bernabeu with the requisite pomp. The other is a relative no-name charged with maintaining the legacy of Guardiola and his sidekick and successor, Tito Vilanova.

And yet both men are happy to cede the limelight to the superstars on the pitch. Which is why tonight's Clasico won't have the off-the-pitch circus that accompanied the previous ones, despite most of the actors being the same. In many ways, that will be refreshing.

Friday's Champions League quarter-final draw kept the big boys apart and limited the number of domestic clashes to one: Barcelona v Atletico Madrid. That's about all you can ask for when balls are being pulled out of a hat.

From the neutral's perspective, in a season which sees three outstanding sides - Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich - stand head and shoulders above the rest, the fact that they won't clash until the semi-finals is a good thing.

As is the fact that this may be the highest quality Champions' League quarter-final field in recent memory. Chelsea v Paris St Germain is the two dark-horse pretenders going head to head. The three bookies' favorites got the three weaker opponents (in relative terms). Sit back and enjoy.

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