Is Champions League success the be all and end all?
This week Aaron Ramsey has come out to say that Arsenal’s season can still be a success in spite of Champions League elimination.
The fact that he felt the need to say anything at all is interesting insofar as it demonstrates the importance our players place on Europe’s premier competition in terms of measuring the season’s success, despite apparently having no chance of winning it.*
Speaking to Arsenal.com, Rambo said:
“We still have the FA Cup to go for and we’re in a good position in that.”
“There’s going to be twists and turns in the season so we just have to concentrate on our games and take full advantage of the points that are up for grabs. Hopefully other teams slip up. We’re still on for a successful season.”
“There’s only a one-point difference to the top two now, so anything can happen. We have nine games left so if we go ahead and win the remaining games, I’m sure we can achieve something.”
Fan expectations are always high – in the office sweepstakes I “predicted” that Arsenal would be one of the finalists at Wembley in May (definite possibility) and also top of the league at Christmas (still a long way off).
If the past is a reflection of the future, then Arsenal’s recent history forecasts a par score to be fourth place in the league, round of 16 in the Champions League and a decent cup run approximately every other year.
If we assume that the impact of our austerity regime ending is not going to be immediate (see Chelsea and Manchester City’s delayed success) then by the same measure we should perhaps have expected a small improvement from “par” for this year at the start of the campaign.
So what would that look like?
On your marks
Bearing in mind their limitless resources, at the start of the season I’d have said that overhauling Chelsea or Man City would have been a very impressive achievement, and with Man United free of the pressures of European football, they also represented a real threat.
A third-placed finish would see us negate the need to negotiate a Champions League qualifier in August, and if we could close the gap to the top to a smaller distance, then that would also give us a platform of belief to build on for the 2015-16 season.
In the cups, most of us put little store in the Capital One Cup, so it is really all about the FA Cup.
It’s rare for a side to defend the trophy – it’s been done ten times in history and by only six clubs.
It has only happened twice in the last 30+ years, and as most of us will remember well, one of those occasions was our own retention of the cup in the 2002/03 season.
Winning the cup for a second consecutive season would make the season a success, as long as it was allied with Champions League qualification, as it would be another trophy in the cabinet and a bit more momentum to carry into the 2015-16 season.
A strong but ultimately unsuccessful run, as long it was ended by a top team, wouldn’t be an unacceptable outcome in the overall picture, but it wouldn’t qualify the season as a success.
Finally with the Champions League – few Arsenal fans believe that we have what it takes to win the competition at the moment, and winning the group is an absolute must in terms of reducing the number of top sides you have to face en route to the final. The goal for this year would have been to win the group and hopefully get a kind enough draw to progress beyond the first knock out stage.
The difficulty is that the Chelsea side that won the Champions League back in 2011/12 was hardly streets ahead of this current Arsenal side, and enjoyed their fair share of luck en route to the title. You’ve got to be in it to win it, and once you get into the knock out rounds, you just never know.
In truth, success for me would have been progressing through every round until we came up against Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid, and then giving it a decent go.
So how are we doing?
Clearly the Champions League and League Cup races are already run for 2014-15, so it is a question of what success looks like in the League and the FA Cup from here on in.
We were probably average in the Champions League where some improvement on seasons gone by was needed, but with the right domestic achievements that could be overlooked this season as tournament victory was unlikely.
Success then, would be finishing third (or higher) as it would be an improvement on 2013-14 and would get us back into the reckoning for future titles.
It’s a shame we weren’t able to start more strongly and run Chelsea closer, but if we can get closer to them between now and May 24 then that is a positive outcome.
This season was always likely to be a step along the journey rather than the end goal, and if we can beat Chelsea in April and finish within a few points of them then that is a big step in the right direction.
In terms of the FA Cup, as long as we beat Reading and make it to the final then that’s a pretty strong achievement too – you can’t always legislate for the one-off nature of a final, but to get there would show a good level of consistency and an ability to challenge for trophies year on year. A victory would be the icing on the cake, and alongside a top 3 finish would make this a very successful season.
Look away people
Of course, until it’s mathematically impossible, it’s hard not to think about where we might be on May 24 if Chelsea lose to both ourselves and one of Man United/Liverpool. It goes without saying that to win the League would make this season an unqualified success. We’re definitely not getting carried away over at Cannon Towers though.
Everyone measures success differently, and maybe you have higher expectations of Arsenal than me.
All I know is that if Arsenal win the next eleven games in a row then this season has a chance of going up on the walls of the Emirates alongside those of 1997-98 and 2001-02.
So keep the faith Rambo, but don’t just sit around waiting for it to fall in your lap.
Go out there and make it happen.