Johannesburg - If Arsène Wenger was playing tennis, he would already have been knocked out of the competition.
Luckily for the Frenchman, losing a match point in football does not automatically mean you are out because there are more match points to be faced.
The first match point the beleaguered Arsenal coach had to deal with was the final of the Carabao Cup two weeks ago. Manchester City outplayed The Gunners and won 3-0.
With league results not improving, the calls for Wenger to be sacked have increased and – if truth be told – had he not been at the club since 1996, he would long ago have joined the list of unemployed managers.
A top-four finish for the Londoners seems far-fetched as they are 13 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur and, as a result, cup success seems the last hope Wenger has to see out the two-year contract he signed last year.
Having been knocked out of the FA Cup (as the earliest holders since the 2011/12 season) by lower-league club Nottingham Forest, and having been defeated in the final of the League Cup, the Europa League is his last chance saloon.
There was little to suggest that Arsenal could salvage their season as they travelled to Italy for their round of 16 clash against AC Milan.
Having lost three league games and the cup final in a row put tremendous pressure on the team, which Wenger admitted to ahead of the game.
“We are going through a tough, tough time. That has never happened to me before in my life, and you can see that the team struggles at the moment. They have no confidence. But we have to get through this period,” he said.
Wenger’s side performed in Milan, enabling him to stay in the game.
Goals by Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey gave Wenger some breathing space and see Arsenal take a huge advantage into the return leg in London next week.
Conte singing the blues
Another coach who needs cup glory is Chelsea’s Antonio Conte.
The Blues went into the season full of hope and expectation, and, like their London rivals, have seen much of it go up in smoke.
Though not as far off the pace as Arsenal in the league standings – Chelsea are five points behind Spurs – a fifth place is not what Chelsea fans, nor the club’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, will want.
Beaten by Arsenal in the League Cup semifinal, Conte needs success in the FA Cup or the Champions League (preferably both) to salvage the season. Having drawn 1-1 in the first game, Chelsea travel to Camp Nou for their Champions League round of 16 clash against Barcelona with a mountain to climb.
They are still in the FA Cup and face Leicester City away from home in the quarter-finals, and will fancy their chances to go through.
Surprisingly, Conte has openly criticised the club and its transfer policy, which has not gone down well with Abramovich.
Former Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, who has taken a year out of the game and brushed up on his English skills, is considered the favourite to take over from the Italian should he be shown the door.
Chelsea’s recent defeat at Manchester City was widely considered the club’s worst performance for many seasons, and prompted speculation in the British media that Conte was trying to force Abramovich to sack him. Conte’s first day of reckoning will come on Wednesday as they take on Barcelona, with the FA Cup being played next Sunday.
Being knocked out in both competitions is unthinkable for Chelsea fans and could see Conte lose his job.