Who do we blame for the seemingly over-hyped status of Champions League football? Uefa? Television broadcasters? It’s sold as a means to build, with the financial windfall seen as the primary prize rather than the actual trophy. It’s a competition that has nothing to do with what it’s name suggests, and yet countless non-champions feel they have a right to play on the field’s of Europe’s true elite.
Arsenal would go into meltdown if they don’t quality for and compete in Europe’s elite competition, or so we’re led to believe. Arsenal have become one of the leaders of that other group of teams who go into the Champions League. There’s Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United, all of whom have targets of at least reaching the semifinal, and even that is sometimes not good enough. Arsenal, however, take the financial advantages and any appearance late in the competition is just a bonus.
Maybe that’s an unnecessary dig at the club. Maybe not. Maybe the real ambition comes with buying players who are good enough to fulfil the list of “ambitions” that are laid out at each AGM, you know, that list that has the Premier League title at the top followed by the Champions League. I doubt Arsene Wenger believes this current Arsenal team to be anywhere near good enough for victory in Europe, and for all their flaws, I don’t believe the board do either.
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So what’s the point? Isn’t there a decent level of thinking that would suggest the Champions league is nothing but a hindrance on the club? Well that idea goes straight out the window as soon as you bring up the necessity to receive the £30 million-plus the competition provides. But as I’ve said on a number of occasions, Arsenal are not in the verge of crumbling. And in any case, they’ll just identify their best player and sell him off when the opportunity arises.
But why should football fans concern themselves with the finances of a club? Why should the basis for playing European football be completely monetary? Arsenal aren’t good enough to win it, so why bother competing? Why not focus the little (again, apparently) resources the club have on the most important factor in sports: silverware.
Not qualifying for the Champions League shouldn’t be a bad thing for Arsenal—and please try and ignore the financial side of it if you can. Arsenal are at a point now where they’re stretched, they’re on the back foot and they need reshaping and something fresh to kick-start the club. I’m not suggesting that missing out on European football would be the kick that the board members needed to spring into action, although it may go some ways to doing that. But rather, a year away from the added schedule European football provides can be a good thing.
Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Juventus and many others have had to drop down a tier or even out altogether from Europe. None of them had a right to be playing among the elite on Tuesday or Wednesday nights, so why should Arsenal be above something similar?
It would give the club time to re-evaluate and to put the real priorities of football first. It’s hardly conceding defeat, especially considering Arsenal’s current position and form. However, it’s one thing to take the Champions League for granted, but do the majority of fans really enjoy it? It’s enjoyable if you’re a good team who can make progress. Dortmund may go someway this year and Shakhtar also have a good team. Could Arsenal beat either of them? At the Emirates, maybe, at Signal Iduna Park and the Donbass Arena, definitely not. That’s not even to think about Barcelona or Bayern Munich.
Arsenal, more than anything, need to go back to the drawing board and start afresh. The lack of Champions League income may hinder how much movement the club have, but there’s plenty of cash sitting around collecting dust.
For those fans who would be considered “regulars” in the Champions League, the group stages are seen as nothing more than a boring formality. More often than not it’s easy to predict who will go through. And while it may provide fantastic nights like Celtic’s win over Barcelona or Ajax’s performance against Manchester City, the competition only really comes alive in February.
It doesn’t matter where Arsenal finish in the group, they’ll still stumble at the start of the next round. Arsenal topped the group last season and went out to Milan. The year prior, they finished second and Barcelona knocked them out in the first round, despite that home win at the Emirates. It really doesn’t matter.
It’s hard to see an Arsenal team which has been built on it’s previous squad rather than replaced. For that, the team will never be good enough to be stretched over four competitions.
Going without Champions League football for a season wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Unless, of course, financial rewards take precedence over trophies.