Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was in a no-win situation when it came to naming his squad for the Champions League match in Athens, Greece this week with Olympiakos. The Gunners took a 1-0 lead, but ended up dropping the game by a 2-1 score. They had already qualified for the next stage of the competition, but a win could have given them first place overall in the group.
Wenger fielded a weakened side for the contest, but it still featured some decent players. It’s understandable that he didn’t want to risk any more players to injury, but they can also get hurt during simple training sessions and even warm-ups before games. If he had dressed his top players and any of them were injured against the Greek side then he’d have been crucified for it.
But on the other side of the coin, each time he names a weakened side the chances of the team losing become greater. By suffering another loss, it almost tells the fans and the players that it’s acceptable to lose in certain situations. However, this isn’t a good signal to send them. Losing can definitely become habit forming and for a struggling team that is trying to break out of a slump and find its top form, you really need to be playing your best players.
Basically, Wenger couldn’t keep all Gunners supporters happy due to his team selection. There are millions of fans who believe you should be trying to win every game or don’t even show up and there are millions of others who believe it’s okay to lose in some instances. Those two sets of supporters will be debating this issue until kingdom come, but let’s look at the ramifications of ending up second place in their Champions League group instead of in first.
Where you place in the final group standings will determine which team you will play in the next round. As a rule of thumb it’s believed that you want to stay away from a first-place team because they’re considered to be stronger. This isn’t always true though. Certain teams have a history of playing better against other specific clubs. For example, you may historically have a better record against one of Europe’s powerhouses than you do against one of the lesser lights.
The other main difference about entering the knockout stage in first or second place is that you play at home in the first leg of the tie if you finish in second place and play the first fame on the road if you topped the group. Some managers prefer to play the second leg at home while others say it doesn’t really matter the order of the games. If the tie happens to be level after 90 minutes of the second match though, it means the home team has an advantage of playing extra time on their own ground.
Statistics over the past 18 years show that 13 Champions League winners had topped their table during the group stages. In addition, 15 of the losing clubs in the final had also been group winners. This means 28 out of the 36 finalists had been group winners with just eight group runners up making it to the Champions League final, which represents just over 22 per cent. But to put things in perspective, statistics don’t really mean anything since they’re all based on past history. The only statistic that matters is the final score at the end of each match.
There are those who believe it doesn’t matter who Arsenal gets drawn against in the next stage as they’ll lose to them anyway. That’s entirely their opinion and they’re welcome to it. Of course, it will all depend on who they get drawn against and what type of effort they put into it. The club has some injuries still at the moment and two more significant names have been added to it as Theo Walcott, the team’s leading scorer, is supposedly going to miss the weekend match against West Brom and Lukas Podolski will reportedly be sitting on the sidelines with him. Laurent Koscielny, Andre Santos and Bacary Sagna are also in the infirmary. Sagna has a foot injury while Koscielny has a thigh problem and Santos an abdominal issue. It’s hard to tell just how long Germany international Podolski will be on the shelf since he has an unpredictable hamstring injury.
There was some good news for Wenger and the supporters though as Tomas Rosicky returned to action against Olympiakos and scored on his return. The other big news of the week is that the Gunners all-time leading scorer Thierry Henry has confirmed that he’ll be returning to the side in January. The 35-year-old will play on loan until he’s needed back in New York to prepare for the MLS season with the Red Bulls.
Henry had an excellent season in New York in 2012 with 15 goals and 12 assists in 25 matches. He was nominated for the league’s player of the year trophy and came in third place in the voting. However, he did manage to win awards this season as the player of the week and player of the month. Fans are hoping he can replicate last season’s loan spell with Arsenal when he scored three goals in seven appearances, with a pair of them being match winners.
Welcome home King Henry