Should making the Champions League really matter so much to Arsenal fans?

UEFA Champions League - Match Day 1 Emirates S...

Would we really miss it?

Arsenal’s focus since their elimination from the Champions League by Milan back in March (or February if you accept the tie was over after the first leg) has been on securing a top four place in the Premier League. Tottenham’s remarkable collapse has even made third place a likelihood now, which is just as well given Chelsea might take the fourth English club place in the competition if they win in Munich on May 19th.

It is interesting that over recent seasons, the club, and especially Arsene Wenger, have raised the importance of taking part in the Champions League, to the extent that fans now care passionately about the team’s chances of qualifying for it, and indeed for Tottenham not to. Yet it was ventured to me during Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Stoke that, although there are good reasons why it should matter to the people running the club, why should it really matter to the fans? Their reasoning was simply that it would not actually change anything if Arsenal were not in it. Granted, the club make extra money – estimated at around £40 million a season, but what difference does this actually make to the supporters?

If the club did not take part, Arsenal would not be able to sign major stars because they would not be interested in coming to a club that was only looking at Europa League football. And when, exactly, did the club last sign a major star? Andrey Arshavin over three years ago would count as one, and he arrived in the middle of the campaign ineligible to play Champions League football. Before that… do we count Tomas Rosicky as a major star? I guess we did when he signed. So that would be 2006. Anybody else? Perhaps the confirmation of the signing of Lukas Podolski negates this argument, but if so, then it indicates a shift in normal policy.

Ok then, how about this one? If the club were not in the Champions League, they would not be able to hang on to their best players. Do I need to go through a list of the dearly departed, going all the way back to the departure of Nicolas Anelka in the summer of 1999? He left and went on to actually pick up a winner’s medal in the competition in his first season at Real Madrid. Not much chance of that happening at Arsenal.

Right, let’s change tack. If Arsenal were not in the Champions League, they would not have the chance to win a trophy that has eluded them thus far, in spite of their unbroken run of attempts since 1998-99 to land the cup with the big ears. Obviously they came closest in 2006, but since the move to the new stadium – the one, remember, that was supposed to allow them to compete with the big boys – as a rule, whenever they face a major team, they have been eliminated, with the exception of AC Milan in the last 16 tie of 2007-08. But since the Emirates became home, elimination has been inflicted by PSV Eindhoven, Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona (twice) and AC Milan. The scalps in the knockout rounds have been the aforementioned AC Milan, Roma, Villarreal, Porto and er… that’s it. Four wins from ten knockout ties. The conclusion seems to be that Arsene Wenger is not tactically acute enough to cut it at the very top level. Yes, his team made the final once, but given the roster of players at his disposal between 1998 and 2006, frankly, his failure to get past the quarter final stage in the first seven campaigns under his tenure is serious underachievement. So no, being in the competition may be one thing, but as an avenue to actually winning it, the club cannot rely on the current manager to deliver. The Champions League has become an annual disappointment. Qualification from the group stage is normally a formality, but to win the thing, even with a kind draw at least two pretty significant names must be overcome. In 2009, the club enjoyed some good fortune to face Roma and Villarreal before meeting a real European big boy – Manchester United. Sadly, the memory of the second leg with a 1-0 deficit to overturn still scars.

However, I bring good news. For fans, the Europa League – although possibly offering a few more interesting away trips – would mean Thursday evening matches, and not many on a Saturday. There is no-one I have spoken to that prefers Sunday games to Saturday ones, and the idea of watching an Arsenal game on a Thursday night just seems plain wrong. The last time I remember that happening was the FA Cup final replay in 1993, although I stand to be corrected if someone wants to point out that matches from the UEFA Cup campaign (after Champions League elimination) of 1999-2000 did actually take place on Thursday evenings.

Ultimately though, if you accept that Arsenal are not going to win the European Cup under Arsene Wenger, the benefit of repeated Champions League participation is financial. Granted, fans can look forward to big nights once a season when their team face a club that will eliminate them, but the group stage is invariably a series of matches against lesser lights that create little in the way of tension or excitement. The only real issue at stake is whether or not the players can be fired up enough to actually win their group or qualify as runners-up. And that only matters in as much as it delays facing the team likely to eliminate them for an extra round. But the £40 million income that it brings means that club profits are secured, and that certain of the players the manager rates can be paid disproportionate sums of money. Sums that the everyday fan has difficulty believing given what they see said players deliver on the pitch.

So Champions League qualification is good for the business plan and the players’ bank balances, but until there is a change in ethos at the club – one that addresses the continued failure of Arsenal to challenge creditably in the competition (as Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool all have during Wenger’s tenure) – then it will be largely meaningless to the rank and file, or at least it should be. “Fourth place is a trophy.” “I would accept second place for the next 20 years.” Such an outlook does not forge the mentality of winners. It simply sends out the wrong message. Remember Chelsea’s performance against Barcelona in the Nou Camp and ask yourself if an Arsene Wenger team is capable of that. Now ask yourself why not.

The one time Arsenal did finally make the final, the team was stuffed with experienced players – most of whom were genuine big name stars – who did not require coaching to play result football. Things have changed a lot since then.

13 Comments on "Should making the Champions League really matter so much to Arsenal fans?"

  1. So, we have to suffer your doom mongeting overly critical ultra negative anti-Arsenal bile on 2 effin blogs do we? Not a surprise Insider have made room for you on here given how prone they have become to doom mongering w@nkers.

  2. I agree. 
    Actually, I think it would be best if we were relegate to like division 3 where we could add that Johnson’s Paint Trophy, or whatever it’s called, that has for so long eluded the tactically inept Arsene. Maybe even, dare I even dream it, The FA Trophy!!!  
    Get rid of all these highly paid prima donnas competing at the top level an replace them all with good ENGLISH semi-retired, semi-professional geriatrics who are in it for the love of the game. Fans could come and watch for tuppence or maybe trade in old jam jars! Now that’s the real football that Arsenal fans love!

  3. BoredByNegativity | 03/05/2012 at 16:36 |

    “Remember Chelsea’s performance against Barcelona in the Nou Camp and ask yourself if an Arsene Wenger team is capable of that.” Yes I remember, Chelsea pretty much copied Arsenals tactics who were winning before the ridiculous sending off of Van Persie. Unfortunately Bendtner wasn’t up to completing the job. Still the 2010/11 season is such a long time ago.

  4. Surely if you’re competing in the top competition you’re ranked as a top team?

    I’d rather us at least be in with a chance of winning this prestigious trophy than competing in lesser domestic competitions, what’s the point of setting low  aspirations. On our day we can beat anybody, I’d rather us go down fighting.

  5. I don’t disagree with you on a lot of these points, but while it’s true that the club have never gone out and bought big stars, the financial and transfer realities are different now. 10-15 years ago, Arsenal really only needed compete with United in terms of being able to offer good money and top-competition football with a real chance at success. The buying power of nouveau-riche Chelsea, City, and PSG have minimized the importance of what Arsenal did/does best – player development. The new financial realities mean that a club like City can just reload over and over. and sooner or later Arsenal will be forced to compete with that if they want to realistically be in the title hunt.

  6. Arsene Wenger needs to learn he needs “steel” in the back with a hard nosed #6(Viera,Toure type)…..His Playmaking toys(Rosicky/Wilshire/Fabregas/Pires) can work their magic and not constantly be playing catchup because of soft defending. United, Chelsea and City are superior defensively. M’Villa would be a piece and add a couple more center halves for depth….and let the playmakers shine….   

  7. MDoss-ForeverGooner | 03/05/2012 at 17:19 |

    Since the last season when Arsenal won the FA cup (2004-2005?) and came out of the Champions  League, I always remember saying to myself – on my way back from the pub where I watched their elimination – that AW will never win the Champions League … and sadly I still have been proved right since. Seriously, Arsenal needs a new challenge and, probably, with a new manager!!!

  8. Give me a FA Cup and league double and keep the champions league for champions

  9. NickGoonerCharles | 03/05/2012 at 18:16 |

    When was the last time Barcelona beat Arsenal without the aid of a red card?

    A long time.

    Most of the big stars at that finaal game you mention became so at Arsenal.  That really hasn’t changed.

    I’m sorry you feel that all the bad luck and incompetent refereeing aimed at Arsenal over the years are deserved failures of an incompetent management.  Sad world view, that.

  10. Awww, poor ickle you. Have not won a trophy have we? Gone all sad and sulky? That nasty Mr Wenger still at the club, is he? Just ask mummy to make you a nice cup of nesquick and tuck you in beddy bed and you’ll have sweet dreams of one day when you’re the manager of a big club and bring home all those nice shiny cups. Nighty night now, little boy.

  11. Arsenal Fc should be about winning titles and not trying to make 4th and better each year, I have used this as my argument for years, as a Spurs fan we know we are not in the same sentence as Arsenal when it comes to trophies, but the board and management of AFC have allowed us to close the gap by settling for second best, it has got all out of hand, players cliaiming they would sooner play for Newcastle next year than Liverpool you mark my words, take tomorrow FA Cup final day, we took a right royal spanking against Chelsea in the semi final did it hurt ? yes but only for 10 minutes, then back to normal life, where are the days of Villa, Sunderland at the far post, big willie young bringing Allen down, Aldridge penalty being saved by an ecstatic beasant, Houchens flying header or Mabbutts own goal, who won the FA Cup in 2006, 2008 , 2009 i couldnt tell you without cheating yet I could name every winner from 1950 to 2000 and the goalscorers…Football is on it’s arse ! so much so that I tried getting a tee off time tomorrow at 5pm right in the middle of cup final introductions and they are fully booked, in my day Golf was for the rich, Football was a working mans game where winning was everything and second best was piss take time…£60 for a match ticket or a months membership on a golf course ? no brainer !
    this sounds daft but i would give anything even as a spurs fan to see football back to the Thomas last minute winner, the atmoshphere, the smell, the rivalry, this weekend is about the glamour of finals, and 2 teams contesting a title..sooner watch the pain on dalglish’s face when Arsenal won the title all day finishing 3rd or 4th and partying is nothing short of bollocks, be it Arsenal or their laughing second rate neighbours I adore !

    • I don’t think AW aims for anything less than the league title and he always fields a strong team for the FA Cup whilst minding players need a rest now and again to be at their best.
      The game has changed and I agree…give me the old times but like everything else in this world it’s unlikely to revert.

  12. | 05/05/2012 at 20:03 |

    Arsen wenger onely had success with george grahams left overs which arsen manged to get good results with there sell bye dates gone, but rember arsen has a policy policy being once you are over 30 you dont realy fit in the squad.Arsen wenger has lost the plot he is deluded and AFC will not be winning anything untill there are big changes in the whole of AFC including directors and owners. I have been a arsenal fan since birth and I lived in highbury since birth. One more example to give when we sold cole to chelse not that I like him as a man but a fine player we lost him to chelse for $5000 a week was it worth it? Are we just a feeder club I want to give up but its in my blood

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