That’s the fate that apparently awaits Arsenal in Group F of this year’s Champions League after drawing the mighty Bayern Munich, and the supposed pushovers Olympiacos and Dinamo Zagreb.
It’s a story to which we have become accustomed, one which repeats each year – a tough draw and finishing a close second to a more consistent team, followed by the worst possible draw in the knockout stages and a valiant but ultimately fruitless effort.
Which begs the question: should we even try to win the Champions League?
Eighteen years straight is an impressive feat, but with only one final and one semi-final to show for those efforts, perhaps our focus (in the short term at least) should be elsewhere?
The two Bayern games will be insanely difficult in order to top the group and theoretically get an easier tie in the last 16.
No, until we have the ability to play two tough Premier League games either side of a long away trip somewhere in Eastern Europe, or a clash with one of the regular names in the latter stages of the competition, maybe we should stop trying to spread ourselves so thinly?
Before Christmas, Europe’s elite competition brings six competitive fixtures, and the overall schedule is hardly kind. Zagreb away is sandwiched by games against Stoke and an early kick-off away at Chelsea, our first match with Olympiacos precedes a trip to Old Trafford and our trip to the Allianz comes days before the
first second North London derby of the season.
Meanwhile, Chelsea face a terrifying home tie against Maccabi Tel-Aviv prior to our league clash, United’s pre-Arsenal fixture is a home tie against a Wolfsburg side likely to be without De Bruyne, and Spurs will presumably have some sort of minnow from a league no one has heard of in their Europa League fixture.
In the grand scheme of things, would we rather win these games against Chelsea, United and Spurs, or progress in a competition where we haven’t made it past the quarter finals in years?
Can the kids win anyway?
With our Capital One Cup tie drawn this week as an away fixture to our local rivals as well, it’s hard to envisage Arsene Wenger starting some of the youngsters who would have hoped to play if we had drawn Carlisle for example. The likes of Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Alex Iwobi and co. must surely have been expecting first team minutes until the outcome of the draw was revealed.
Now, with the pressure of a local derby at stake, it’s likely that we will see a smattering of first team players instead, as well as a number of seniors who are very experienced but out of favour, form or both at present.
There’s an argument to say that with the money flushing through English football this summer, four of the fixtures in our European group may prove easier than domestic clashes in any case.
If Arsenal make it through to Christmas with second place in the bag and a greater chance of success in the league, that could represent an improvement on previous years when although we’ve made it through in Europe, our domestic form has suffered. How often have we heard tales of Arsenal’s traditional November form? (Thanks for the fantastic birthday presents over the years chaps.)
What would it take for us to win the Champions League?
If Chelsea could win Europe’s elite competition with the squad they had back in 2012, then we can absolutely win the trophy. However, the likelihood of us achieving that kind of success is pretty slim in the grand scheme of things and relies on a combination of luck and aligning of stars, just as it did them.
We’ve long been eating at football’s top table, but if we wish to sit at its head, we need to master our own domestic competition first. We’ll never be regarded as a great European club until we win the Champions League, for sure, but right now ending the wait for a league title has to take priority.
So why not play the kids (and the reserves) in our group stage fixtures, or at least a smattering of them? It reduces the chance of injuries and fatigue decimating our best line-up, and if we do get out of the group then we have the opportunity to change tack come the new year once we know who we have drawn for the knock out rounds.
After all, if we do top the group playing our kids, then that’s exactly the kind of signal which shows the stars are aligning for us, and we should go for it! However, in the meantime, though it kills me to say it, maybe we should start prioritising.
I doubt anyone will complain if it results in Mr Arteta raising the Barclays Premier League trophy in May.
What do you think? Am I the only one getting increasingly prepared to sell my soul (giving up on a competition) in order to secure a domestic league title and end another outdated millstone?