Tuesday night’s 0-2 home defeat to Barcelona has left Arsenal with virtually no hope of qualifying for the Champions League quarter finals, if ever there was any.
The loss – not an embarrassment by any means based on the score and team performance – was an all too familiar display from the Gunners, who seemed so close yet so far from their opponents’ level. While Arsenal have always been in Europe’s top-flight under Wenger, there has been a recurrent hopelessness about their European campaigns. Tuesday was the latest example.
In the past 20 years, Arsenal only reached the final once, and they have failed to make it past the last-16 round since 2010. Even during English teams’ strong dominance phase before the recent surge of Real/Barca/Bayern, Arsenal never looked the part. So what can they do to turn things around?
Had Giroud and especially Oxlade put away their chances, the story may have been different. And if he didn’t need 5 clear cup opportunities to hit the back of the net, Theo Walcott may have been picked ahead of them.
The point is at this level even more than in the domestic league, putting away golden opportunities can be the difference between a narrow win and a hammering. Arsenal still lack a top class finisher. It’s a bit of a problem in the Premier League, and certainly a deal breaker in Europe.
Pundits often discuss having a large squad as an essential aspect to winning a longly-fought league campaign, and something of lesser importance when it comes to cups. The problem with Arsenal and indeed other English clubs, is that playing in the
best most demanding league in the world has an impact in Europe.
Not only is the physicality of the Premier League draining, but because there are no easy games teams cannot afford to field out second sides ahead of big European clashes, like PSG or Bayern regularly do. If Arsenal want to be successful on any front, they simply need more players. This will also force some of the underperforming players to step up, or aside.
Having a large squad would of course help Arsenal at home, which would lead to domestic success and in turn better seeding when it comes to the group stages. Out of the total 8 Champions League matches Arsenal will presumably play this season, 4 will have been against either Bayern or Barcelona.
The reason this has happened is Arsenal because drew Munich in the group stages as their Pot 1 opponents, which made it hard to top the group, and ultimately led to the Barca tie. Until Arsenal can go back to being a top team domestically, this will keep happening.
Manage the games
Arsenal’s current team is an experienced side, which includes several World Cup winners, one of the world’s best goalies and plenty of senior internationals. They have no excuse for managing games so poorly.
Messi’s opening goal on Tuesday was very reminiscent of the goal Monaco scored at the Emirates last year, with Arsenal’s defense so poorly aligned it allowed the opposition striker enough time to check his text messages before scoring. In order to progress, the team must learn from its mistakes.