Uefa Champions League: Arsenal's Achilles heal
http://gty.im/493570912 Arsenal entered Tuesday night’s clash with Bayern Munich as underdogs, and nothing less than three points were required to keep their Champions League ambitions alive. Manager Arsene Wenger had taken some heavy criticism following their opening two games against Dynamo Zagreb and Olympiakos, both ending in defeat. There was a call from many fans to “go strong” and Wenger took the advice starting big guns Petr Cech, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil; who all put in big performances as the home-side finally got off the mark in their group with a 2-0 victory at the Emirates.
Wenger’s side approached the game with a compact style, yielding possession to the visitors who had won 12 games on the bounce. Guardiola’s Munich side were the most in-form team in Europe going into the 7:45 pm kick-off but failed to make the most of their controlled possession, Cech denied the prolific Robert Lewandowski on numerous occasions as the former Chelsea keeper showed why he is still rated so highly at the age of 33.
It was almost make-or-break for Arsenal which many would have not thought when the Champions League groups were initially drawn, every man and his dog would have had Arsenal finishing a close second to Guardiola’s side. The victory sees Arsenal still bottom of their group but with such a victory comes a morale boost of epic proportions, not many teams keep a clean sheet against the Bundesliga giants and that is something Arsenal can take huge credit for.
Will this transform Arsenal’s chance of European glory?
In truth, this type of performance has happened many times before, most notably there was that inspiring 2-1 win over Guardiola’s Barcelona side in 2011, however the celebrations were short-lived as they crashed out in the last 16 which has been the case in each of the last five seasons.
Arsenal are undoubtedly the biggest side never to win the prestigious European cup; but what is the real reason for this? It is no secret that as much luck as possible needs to fall your way throughout a campaign. You would have to question whether Arsenal’s squad have enough characters with the right mentality to “do what it takes” and “win at all costs”.
Wenger is blessed with some of the most talented football players in European football. Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil would make the grade in most clubs on the continent but have the squad got enough winning desire and grit to sustain a charge on two fronts? has their squad got enough depth when it comes to the crunch? that is still yet to be seen.
Arsenal’s Champions League record
Firstly, Wenger has worked wonders to sustain Arsenal’s impressive Champions league qualification record. To qualify for this illustrious trophy for 19 continual seasons is something that must not be overlooked, after-all you have to “be in it, to win it”. Once qualified, there seems to have been a huge stumbling block in the last decade. Arsenal fans will still remember that fateful night, the venue was the Stade de France in 2006. There were some contentious decisions that night, and Barcelona eventually ran out winners thanks to their Brazilian defender Juliano Belletti who completed a turnaround for the Catalans late on. Barcelona were 1-0 down before Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o levelled, followed by the Brazilian’s winner.
In the nine seasons that followed, Arsenal have reached just two Quarter Finals and one Semi-Final. That leaves six seasons where they have only managed to reach the knockout stages of the competition, this usually is down to finishing second in their group and facing one of the “European elite”. Last season was their biggest disappointment, drawn against what was perceived to be a weak AS Monaco side, whether it was a case of bottling the big occasion or underestimating the opposition is neither here nor there and they crashed out at the last 16 stage, yet again.
What does this season’s Champions League have in-store for the Gunners?
It is still too early to really give an in-depth assessment of the performances but if they can harness the type of solid and methodical performance shown on Tuesday night there is no reason why they can not progress to their benchmark last 16. But, the squad like previous campaigns must not get ahead of themselves. You have to question the mindset of being able to beat the in-form German giants, but slipping up against the so called “whipping boys” of the group.
It comes down to priorities, it is debatable as to whether Arsenal have a deep enough squad to challenge on both fronts and the immediate priority will be challenging for the Premier League for longer than a six month period. Wenger’s approach in the transfer market come January will be an interesting one, with the need to bolster the squad in the defensive midfield as well as adding a striker to the mix, it will be eye-opening to see whether he uses Arsenal’s now considerable financial clout or sticks with what he has, as is normally the outcome.
What is certain is that the Emirates faithful pay some of the biggest if not the biggest ticket prices in world football and they feel they deserve a bit more for their Great British Pound, Wenger has just two seasons remaining on his current deal with much speculation of him stepping down in 2017. Without winning either of the big two trophies that are desired by Gooners, it would not be implausible that the powers that be at the Emirates will seek a change.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Ronnie Macdonald
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