2 wins, 2 draws, 4 losses… That is Arsenal’s record against clubs in the Russian top flight. There’s no doubt that the competition in the Europa League is tough this year. Extremely tough. Last year’s final 8 included Anderlecht, Celta Vigo, and Genk. This year there’s Atletico Madrid, Lazio, and RB Leipzig. On paper, CSKA Moscow is one of the weaker sides, but a bad record against Russian clubs combined with a tense political climate could make for an interesting tie against CSKA Moscow.
Arsenal’s first encounter against a Russian (Soviet at the time) club was back during the 82-83 season when Arsenal finished 10th in the league. After earning a spot in the UEFA Cup by finishing 4th the year before, Arsenal had a rough season. This certainly showed when Arsenal lost to Spartak Moscow 8-4 on aggregate in the first round of the UEFA Cup. Arsenal couldn’t cope with Spartak Moscow’s high-power attack. Arsenal wouldn’t return to European competition until the 91-92 season after that walloping.
The Gunners’ second trip to Russia wasn’t until the Wenger Era in 2000. The opposition was the same as before, but would the result be any different after almost two decades of improvement? In the second group stage (yes, apparently that was a thing back then) of the Champions League, Arsenal suffered another bad defeat to Spartak Moscow in its first game, 4-1. That was the club’s biggest loss in 18 years since… you guessed it… the previous loss to “The People’s Team.” A Thierry Henry goal gave Arsenal a 1-0 win in the reverse fixture, helping to propel the Gunners to a quarterfinals appearance.
Continued Champions League appearances meant that Arsenal wouldn’t have to wait another 18 years before facing another Russian opponent. Only 2 years after that last win saw the Gunners come up against Lokomotiv Moscow in the 03-04 Champions League group stage. The future Invincibles made an easier time of the ordeal by getting a 0-0 draw and a 2-0 win against Lokomotiv. Lokomotiv finished second in the group but couldn’t make it past the round of 16. Ironically, it was still Russian money that ended the Invincibles’ European dreams when the newly minted Chelsea won 3-2 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.
Coming full circle, the latest appearance against a Russian club was none other than CSKA Moscow in two Champions League group stage matches in 2006. The North Londoners won the group stage again, but only managed 1 point from two matches vs CSKA Moscow, who finished third in the group. That brings us to the present day. With an April 5th match-up at the Emirates approaching, can Arsenal put aside all of the noise? A bad league season, a manager with weakening power, rumours of players leaving and coming in, political tension… It’s time for Arsenal FC to put all of its cards on the table and show Russia what a real football team is made of.