Can Arsenal break their Champions League jinx this season?
Can they finally make it past the first knock-out round this season? Can Arsenal, against all odds, enter the quarter finals of the Champions League 2016-17, after stumbling at the round of 16 consecutively for the past six years?
After topping a group consisting of Paris SG, FC Basel and Ludogorets, they were offered a chance to have a go at presumably one of the “weaker” teams in the next stage. But were any of those really the weaker teams?
After the draw on Monday at Uefa’s headquarters in Nyon, Arsenal were drawn to face off against Bayern Munich, which will understandably lead to a lot of frustration among the club’s supporters. Having managed to emerge as group winners for the first time since 2012, they have drawn one of the toughest teams to beat in Europe!
For the past few seasons, Arsene Wenger has claimed to be building a squad that can compete in all formats. However, despite his
domestic successes (does winning the FA cup twice in the recent past count as a success?), the Frenchman has failed to win the coveted European trophy in his tenure of over twenty years, despite qualifying for nineteen years in succession.
The North London club have been playing with a distinct swagger in the premier league this campaign. Having built a squad around two world class players in Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil, they have been dominating most teams but have found it difficult to break down fellow challengers for the top four places.
Their form in European football has been better but have been guilty of two unnecessary draws against Paris Saint Germain, games in which their forwards should have been more clinical in their finishing.
This Arsenal squad has a healthy mix of young, talented players and proven, senior performers. Sanchez and Özil, along with Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka, are undoubtedly the key players in their squad. Keeping them happy and performing at a top level will be Wenger’s priority, if he hopes to have an extended run in the Champions League.
Younger players like Héctor Bellerín, Alex Iwobi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are top talents in the squad and have made important contributions to the team’s performances this season. Other squad members like Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud will have to be more consistent for the team.
Despite poor performances and regular criticism from connoisseurs of football, Arsene Wenger has shown faith in a lot of the players in the current Arsenal set-up. If there were a time for these players to repay it, this season is when they need to step up and deliver for the team.
The Gunners have promised so much in the past campaigns with their group stage performances only to falter in the knockout stages. They have admittedly been unlucky to come up with some of the big European names – Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, FC Barcelona – so early in the competition, but that is hardly an excuse and hasn’t always been the case; losing to Monaco two years ago was plain unacceptable.
From a realistic perspective, it is unlikely that Arsenal can be victorious over two legs against the Bavarians this year either. Despite this being one of the weakest Bayern teams in recent seasons, these players have a winning mentality in their DNA and are led by Carlo Ancelotti, a coach with a pedigree to win European titles.
Even if they manage to squeeze past the Munich team by a miracle, it seems improbable that they will be able to match up against the likes of Barcelona, Dortmund, Juventus and Real Madrid further in the competition.
However, Arsenal should not lose hope. English winners of the Champions League since the turn of the millennium – Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United – have had nothing short of a succession of miraculous victories. This is one of the best Arsenal squads in recent seasons, and with a little bit of luck, they could pull of the impossible!