ARSENAL THE BIGGEST LOSERS IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
The Gunners stand a chance of facing Europe’s best in the second tier competition.
When Arsenal finished fifth last season, missing out on Champions League qualification by just a point, a majority of their supporters were irked. The Gunners have qualified for Europe’s top competition for the last 21 years, a record on its own, even though they have never won the competition — their best finish was in 2006 when they lost to Barcelona. The season was a considered a disappointment, and only the FA Cup win to an extent soothed the already incensed supporters.
For Arsene Wenger, the chance to play in the Europa League is redeeming. He has not won an European title, the only trophy — or trophies — he hasn’t lifted as a manager. Many thought he should take a cue from the current winners Manchester United. The Red Devils finished 6th, even more disappointing for the team. But they won three “trophies”, the Community Shield, the Capital One Cup, and the Europa League. While the Former two might not be considered major trophies, the Europa League got them a backdoor into the Champions League. Wenger has not given the competition major priority, but he hasn’t ignored it either. Two wins from two have shown that Arsenal are probably using the United approach, except that now there’s one major flaw to their plan — the UEFA Champions League third placed teams.
Teams that finish third in the Champions League groups are usually “dropped” to its sister event and that is where the issue lies. Some of Europe’s heavyweights are third in their group right now and barring a miracle, an upturn in form or poor performances from the teams above them, Arsenal have an uphill task if they will lift the trophy come May.
Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli, and Sevilla are currently third in their respective groups, and if they eventually fall down to the Europa League, Arsenal have their work cut out for them. They are already favourites to win the competition, but if they eventually face any of these teams, it might not be smooth sailing as one would have expected. The Gunners have not gotten past the round of 16 in each of their last seven seasons in the Champions League and their omission this season looked like a sort of respite to them, at least. Failing to better that statistic in the Europa League will be nothing short of a disaster. But they have not just the Europa League regulars to deal with. The Champions League big boys are also coming, and whatever Arsenal thought they avoided there, it has come to find them. When it rains, it pours.