If the Premier League loses a Champions League spot, fourth-place regulars Arsenal the most likely to suffer. But at least it will give them the chance to finally win something in Europe – provided they’re prepared to roll their socks up on Thursday nights.
Back-to-back defeats at the hands of Dynamo Zagreb and Olympiacos, relative minnows when compared to sharks like Bayern Munich and Barcelona, typify Arsenal’s bizarre relationship with the Champions League; a tournament they’re desperate to qualify for every year yet always exit with a whimper just when things start to get interesting.
I have no doubt the players and Arsene Wenger want to claim the greatest prize club football has to offer. It would be almost sinisterly unnatural if they didn’t, considering it is the pinnacle of their profession.
[ffc-gal cat=”arsenal” no=”5″]
But from 17 straight seasons in the Champions League under Le Professeur, the Gunners have surpassed the quarter-finals just twice and been eliminated from the round of 16 or earlier on ten occasions. Perhaps most damningly of all, Arsenal have won the most games of any team not to win the title – a whopping 76.
Searching for reasons as to why brings up many potential factors. Arsenal fans will rightly argue that their transfer budgets over the last decade have been severely impacted by the move to the Emirates Stadium and although they’ve benefitted from an ‘acceleration in financial firepower’ in recent summers, to quote chief executive Ivan Gazidis, the north London outfit’s capacity to spend is still miles behind Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid’s – the Champions League’s last three winners.
Yet, in my opinion, the buck has to stop with Wenger. 17 attempts is a wide enough sample to equalise mitigating circumstance and a return of a solitary final in that period, the 2006 meeting with Barcelona, just isn’t good enough. It’s part Arsenal’s defensively-lapsed philosophy, part Wenger’s limited tactical nous and part his seeming nonchalance towards the tournament’s earlier stages, creating a cocktail of guaranteed failure in Europe.
Indeed, in the past five years Arsenal have claimed pole position in the Group Stages only once, missing out top spot to Shaktar Donetsk, Schalke and Borussia Dotmund twice – decent sides but not exactly elite opposition – in no small part due to the fact Wenger nearly always puts out weakened sides.
We saw yet another example against Olympiacos this week, with understudy David Ospina enduring a rather harrowing evening in the absence of benched No.1 Petr Cech. Not only does it downgrade the quality of Arsenal’s Xi, but it also sends out the wrong message to the rest of the team – essentially that they don’t need to be at the top of their game to win.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and that particularly applies to stubborn ones like Arsene Wenger. It also applies to Arsenal as a club who, for better or worse, seem determined to stick with the Frenchman until he decides to retire.
So although there will be obvious financial implications to missing out on the Champions League, perhaps it could be a blessing in disguise for Arsenal. The level of quality in its sister tournament, the Europa League, is much lower and far more befitting of a manager determined to field a second string side.
The Europa League gets a bad rap in England but in my opinion it’s largely unjustified. Of the last four winners, three have since won domestic titles and two have gone on to reach the Champions League’s semi-finals or further. It’s a competition that acquaints teams with difficult, tactical games decided by small margins whilst toughening them up through its hectic schedule and logistics, which are arguably more demanding than the Champions League itself.
Of course, winning the Europa League now means you qualify for the Champions League, hypothetically putting Arsenal back in the position in which they started. But if it secures the Gunners’ first European trophy since 1994, the journey is certainly worthwhile. Simply remaining in the Champions League just to be eliminated in the early stages, meanwhile, has become an almost pointless enterprise for a club as big as Arsenal.
— Titanbet (@TitanBet) September 30, 2015