Europa League offers campaign, career redemption for Arsene Wenger

Why Arsene Wenger can't to let go of Arsenal (5:33)

ESPN FC's Julien Laurens believes that managing Arsenal is so ingrained in Arsene Wenger he'd be lost without it. (5:33)

Arsene Wenger had some salutary advice for his Arsenal team ahead of their Europa League last-16 match against AC Milan on Thursday. "In life you forget quickly how good you are," the Gunners boss said. "When you have a bad week, players change their minds about their own quality. So [it is important] not to forget that we are good football players."

It could have been easily forgotten amid a run of four defeats in all competitions, but the question, as ever, is not about the quality or the ability of the players, but the manager responsible for signing them, developing them, and bringing them through to the first team. If the Arsenal team are going through a crisis of confidence then one man bears responsibility for that heading into what is effectively the only meaningful match on Arsenal's calendar.

Both domestic cups are finished; Arsenal are 13 points off fourth place with nine games left; the domestic season is effectively over bar an undignified tussle with Burney for sixth place. As depressing as that scenario is, Arsenal now have to consider the Europa League as their only potential salvation this season, the only thing which can redeem an absolute horror show. After a night when Tottenham saw their European hopes ended by Italian opposition, it would be a welcome boost indeed.

In fact, it might mean more than either of the two domestic cups, if not as significant as the Premier League. It is one of the quirks of Wenger's reign that he has won 10 domestic trophies and not a single European prize. Wenger has the unenviable hat trick of having lost in the final of the Champions League and UEFA Cup, with Arsenal, and the Cup Winners' Cup, with Monaco. It is the blackest of black marks.

Finally winning a European trophy would surely be some kind of closure for one of the great modern managerial careers, albeit one which has petered out to a desperate end. Get past AC Milan and Arsenal are five matches away from their first European trophy since Alan Smith scored against Parma in 1994. John Major still had three years to run as Prime Minister the last time Arsenal lifted a European trophy.

It is an era ago and yet with their domestic campaign in utter disarray, the lure of European glory is the only thing sustaining Arsenal right now amid intense recriminations over Wenger's position. Winning the Europa League this season would be an achievement to crow about, but also an inducement for Wenger to walk off happily into the sunset. As such it has a dual function, in fact triple, if you include the financial boost of Champions League access next season, which only winning the Europa League will now secure.

Thursday's opponents do not invite favourable memories. The last time Arsenal faced AC Milan, they lost 4-0 at San Siro in 2012 only to come within a Robin van Persie finish of forcing extra-time in the second leg, a 3-0 home win eventually doing them in. The absence of Hector Bellerin heading into Thursday's match does little for Arsenal's plight: deputy Calum Chambers has looked ill-suited to the right-back role of late.

But still, anything Arsenal try and pull off is essentially fiddling around the margins while Wenger remains in charge. His future was one of the key themes of his prematch press conference, and every other one of late, and he was even able to muster a joke about the precariousness of his position when invited to give advice to his opposite number, the inexperienced Gennaro Gattuso.

"I don't give him too much advice," Wenger said. "He's a guy with much experience. I'm not doing well so I can get advice from him!"

Wenger might be right. At least about how to organise a defence, perhaps, or stop losing all your away matches. Milan have not conceded in their past six games and are unbeaten in their past seven on their travels; Arsenal have kept one clean sheet in 11 and won just one in eight away from Emirates Stadium.

Either way it is high time that Arsenal started remembering that, yes, they are good football players, if only their manager would give them the platform to show it.