After Arsenal’s comfortable victory against Dinamo Zagreb in midweek, they now face a do-or-die match away at Olympiakos, which they must win in order to progress to the next stage of the Champions League – the knockout stages, which they have been accustomed to reaching yearly in the past under Arsene Wenger.
While many fans will wail and gnash their teeth at the mere thought of another season passing without their side making it to the quarters and semis of this great competition, I wonder if any will consider that the possibility of an early exit might actually boost their chances of domestic glory?
While Arsene Wenger and his players would never be able to suggest this openly, it could well be the case that they feel their chances of winning the Premier League could be significantly increased by being knocked out of Europe’s premier competition.
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We have already seen in these last few weeks that Arsene Wenger does not have the league’s strongest squad at his disposal. With injuries seeming to derail their chances in most competitions every single year, surely one less trophy to worry about would be a good thing?
The fact is that, due to not recruiting in the same way as most of their rivals each summer, Arsenal simply do not have as deep a squad as other title contenders.
This means that when the players regularly have to compete on two fronts every week, injuries and tiredness inevitably follow. Together with Arsenal’s quick, fluid passing style that encourages opponents to stick their foot in, is it any wonder Wenger is constantly bemoaning the crowded Emirates treatment room?
If Arsenal go out of the Champions League, they can pour all their energies into the two competitions they have done the best in over the last few years; the league, and the FA Cup, which they won in 2014 and retained last year.
They will not have to worry about either picking their first team in two matches a week and running the risk of fatiguing them, or playing a mix of first team and players who would otherwise be on the bench and losing anyway. As seen when the Gunners took on Sheffield Wednesday in the Carling Cup (losing 3-0 and seeing Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain injured in the process), these cup competitions can prove costly.
With only one game a week, Wenger can afford to spend that whole week training and getting his players ready for that specific match, which will also mean the team has more time to get ready for whatever that particular opponent will throw at them. Organisation and planning would improve, and no doubt Wenger would also be happy with the chance to spend a serious amount of time getting his team ready for big Premier League games, and not constantly having to give up a day to recovery with players exhausted from midweek exertions.
There is no doubt that going out of the Champions League group stages would hit Wenger and the team hard. It is possibly the world’s most prestigious competition, and Arsenal remain one of the biggest clubs never to have won it. Going out before Christmas would be something Wenger and his players would have to live with for the rest of the season.
However, these blows could yet be offset by the advantages gained – advantages which could see the Gunners maybe even go all the way in the Premier League title race.