With injuries tearing through the squad like a plague once again, it’s looking more and more difficult for us to compete on multiple fronts this season. Many are hoping for an early European exit this season, so that Arsene Wenger can direct all his attention to winning the Premier League.
You can understand the logic behind that school of thought, and if someone offered us the Premier League title now in exchange for an early Champions League exit, then of course we’d snap their hand off. But it’s not as simple as that unfortunately, as is often the case in football.
First of all, we’d probably need to lose against Dinamo Zagreb this Tuesday if we want to finish bottom of the group, and finishing third is totally unthinkable. Competing in the Europa League would be worse for our Premier League title aspirations than being in the Champions League, so it has to be a case of all or nothing really.
We’d need to win both our next two games if we want to have any chance of coming second in the group, and we’d need to beat Olympiacos comfortably in order to go through based on our goal difference in the head to head. Even if we go all out there are no guarantees, so would it be better to bow out now?
Let’s have a look at the pros and cons:
Top players want to play in the Champions League, and our regular involvement in the competition is a large part of the reason we’ve continued attracting players like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil. Crashing out at the group stages – and rock bottom of the group to boot – would send out a bad message, and would show our current crop of players that we aren’t serious about competing in Europe’s elite competition.
As previously stated, having no European football to worry about, and therefore a far less congested fixture list – in particular fewer midweek games – would leave us free to concentrate on the Premier League. We’re already out of the Capital One Cup, so we’d only need to look at the league and retaining the FA Cup. Winning both those competitions would certainly soften the blow of our Champions League exit, and appease the likes of Alexis and Özil.
We’re not guaranteed Premier League success whatever happens in Europe, and imagine if we failed to win the Premier League (and even the FA Cup) after finishing rock bottom of our Champions League group? It would be an absolute disaster of a season, and there would be outrage from the fans.
All the pros have more or less the same conclusion – Premier League success – but it will take a lot to achieve that. Our squad isn’t the best in terms of depth, and we’re light in a number of areas. We’ve already seen the impact injuries are likely to have on our campaign, and we should see far fewer injuries if the players aren’t so tired.
There’s a huge amount of money in the Champions League, and whether you’ve got the finances of Manchester City or the self sustaining model of Arsenal, that amount of money goes a long way. We’re in a great position financially at the moment, so this isn’t as big a deal as it would have been a few years ago, but it’s still something you’ve got to think about.
How often have we progressed through the group stages with ease, only to get a horrendous draw in the last 16? Even when we go through top of the group, we still seem to end up getting a raw deal more often than not. Could we win the Champions League? Yes, on our day we’re capable of beating anybody. Are we going to win the Champions League? No, probably not. So is it worth the effort required to qualify if we’re just going to be knocked out by Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Bayern Munich? Especially when we know our resources could be better used elsewhere this season.
We wouldn’t be in the Champions League. Let’s be honest, some of the best games we have the pleasure of watching are in Europe, and the season is never the same without them. Our win over Bayern Munich at the Emirates may end up meaning very little in the grand scheme of things, and won’t go down in the history books, but how did you feel after watching that game? We got a 2-0 win over one of the best teams in the world, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable watch.
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In conclusion, there are arguments supporting both sides, but in the end Arsene Wenger is going to be the one who decides and takes the blame for whatever the outcome may be.