Champions League Dreams, Aspirations And Desperations

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Morning all, despite Franco’s best efforts, tonight sees the first Spanish invasion of Portugal in two centuries. In celebration of the Champions League final, today’s playlist is from Iberian bands and rather cracking it is too. Click here or use the Spotify widget in the right sidebar. If it was appropriate for this evening’s Madrid derby, even more so with the transfer talk firmly focussing on La Liga‘s finest joining Arsenal. Cesc, Griezmann, Vela, Juanfran; it would come as no surprise to find that Arsène has booked a villa on the Catalan coastline for a couple of weeks prior to flying to Brazil. Purely as a convenient base for transfer expeditions, you understand Ivan, and in no way is it a holiday; it’s all work, work, work. Would he have chorizo for breakfast?

Just over twelve months ago, I lamented how Arsenal were continually missing out on the FA Cup final. A year on, I had to edit that as we reached Wembley. So fate, if I do the same again today, do you think…? Yes, I know, it’s holding out for the same sort of superstitious nonsense that others hold out for.

In my adult life, I have been fortunate enough to see Arsenal win a European trophy, lose three. Two pre-Wenger, two during his reign; a nice symmetry, if you like that kind of thing. I do think back to the gut-wrenching disappointment of Paris. How did Thierry Henry not score at least one of the very presentable chances he was faced with? You can’t argue with Lehmann’s dismissal; I remain surprised the referee blew so quickly, particularly in this day and age when playing advantage is played so readily.

But for me, it isn’t the biggest disappointment in Arsène’s reign as far as Europe is concerned. It isn’t even Copenhagen, even if losing to Galatasaray still rankles. No, I always think the biggest missed opportunity was Chelsea in 2003/04. It was one of the weakest quartets of semi-finalists in many years. Certainly I believe Arsenal could have beaten Porto, Monaco and Deportivo. It’s subjective of course but you can’t help wondering how different things might have been, particularly Wenger’s record against Mourinho.

This was a team that Arsenal had beaten twice (2 – 1 on both occasions) in the Premier League. The DA Cup too, the same outcome, the same scoreline. Indeed, it had been twenty-two matches in all competitions since Chelsea had emerged victorious. Nothing could go wrong could it? But it did, despite Arsenal taking a, yes, you’ve guessed it, 2 – 1 aggregate lead. It completed a miserable week, the treble for which Arsenal seemed to be destined, was gone. I am sure the defeat to United and the performance that led to it, had a deeper impact than we hoped. Perhaps even feared given the brutality United meted out in the encounter. One of the consequences of the defeat was Freddie Ljungberg missing the second leg against Chelsea due to a broken hand.

It was/is a defeat that cuts to the bone, the opportunity missed.

So can Arsenal ever repeat reaching the final, to put things right as Atletico have the opportunity to do? Of course, you can never say never but as the players repeated the same mistakes in the Premier League, they and the manager have done in Europe repeatedly. Luck of the draw maybe in meeting the dominant teams but that is the price you pay for not winning the group. And even when they have won the group stage, they had a nightmare in Milan. European campaigns are following a predictable pattern, the only shaft of light this season came with the home victory over Napoli. The home legs are proving to be a problem with Schalke and Dortmund taking three points home with them. The results in both those return matches making defeat all the more galling.

I guess the question is whether you believe Arsenal over or under achieve in the competition. Is the last sixteen their natural position in the pecking order or should they be progressing further with the nearly twenty years of experience in the competition Domestic form in recent years – top three or four finishes – suggests that is their natural level, on a par with their peers in Spain and Germany, lagging behind those above the top three in those countries as well as their own. This year saw the gap close in the Premier League so should we expect more from Arsenal next year, presuming they qualify for the Champions League proper in the first place?

If Manchester United had qualified for next season’s tournament, Arsenal would be the lowest ranked of the top seeds, the next ones to drop into the second pot and I don’t think that we can argue with that happening; it’s the price of failure relative to UEFA’s complex system of coefficients. Continually reaching the last sixteen keeps Arsenal in that group on their own performances, the country rankings ensure it. Arsenal sit tenth for 2015 In the club rankings, falling to twelfth two years later, before intervening season’s performances are incorporated. That puts them into the second pot of seeds, a fair reflection of current achievement levels. Or a signal of significant over-achievement?

If we feel a sense of disappointment, imagine what it must be like for Wenger. The only manager to lose in the final of all three European competitions; an unenviable record, one unlikely to be equalled with the number who lost the cup winners cup finals still in gainful employment, diminishing by the season. To lose every final must be galling for him and leave a burning desire to rectify that perceived wrong. It would fill the hole in his CV, as the media so like to call such things. As if a manager of his standing has a CV.

The changing nature of Arsenal, of the wider European game, strike me as making it harder for the club to progress in this competition. Atletico prove it is possible with the right team, draw and tactics; their stars have aligned and it would be reassuring if they triumphed tonight, a victory over the excesses of the modern game. FFP has proven toothless with UEFA now procrastinating over whether Manchester City’s 21-man squad must include 13 homegrown players. Paris St Germain meanwhile pay £50m on a transfer, what was supposed to be the sum total of their original punishment negotiated away, along with the credibility of the financial regulations. Mistakenly, the governing body thought the bigger clubs would agree and comply, embarrassed that two of the richest drove a horse and cart through their pipedream of the perception of equality in football. No matter what contrivances Platini and his acolytes may put in place, the only place where that perception can become a reality of sorts, is on the pitch. Any bloody noses administered along the way are always welcome.

’til Tomorrow.

95 thoughts on “Champions League Dreams, Aspirations And Desperations

  1. By the way, Norther, as you spelt it wrong you have been disqualified and I am the winner – FIRST – thems the rules, I’m afraid!

    Oh and good morning to you too! 🙂

  2. Morning Yogi

    Wow, Chorizo got a mention in a ACLF post!

    We all have dreams don’t we? I have dreams (although as I get older they tend to become less ambitious) everyone has a dream of some sort! I often wonder what Wenger dreams of? For a guy who can say he has everything one could hopefully wish for, what else could he possibly dream of achieving?

    His European disappointments must weigh heavily upon him, Paris must have been a severe dent to his ambitions.
    So what, Mr Wenger do you dream of? Most probably no different to Arsenal fans the world over……. a Champions League Trophy. It would be the ultimate success for the manager, proof that he is up there with the best, proof that all this time he has been doing the right thing and aiming to be one of the best in Europe.

  3. “The only manager to lose in the final of all three European competitions; an unenviable record,” How many have the enviable record of contesting the final of all three European competitions I wonder?

  4. I love the games in Europe but it’s the PL that must be our main target.

    We could, and probably should, have won the ECL twice in Arsene’s time. we will come close, or better, one year.

    The PL? Not serious contenders since ’08. That must change.

  5. Greetings all…………..Chelsea lost in 03/04 was for me a very big missed opportunity,had Henry put those chances into the net in Paris years later we will singing a different song now.If Wenger retires without any European trophy he wont forgive himself he has stayed long in the game to get atleast one european trophy

  6. HenryB’s school report:

    Effort 6/10
    Application 5/10
    Progress 2/10
    Learning potential 3/10
    Imagination 10/10

  7. Good morning all
    NB I’m afraid you new avatar is but a pale imitation.
    Henry B if you can’t win fairly then cheating is the answer.

  8. Hi Consols,

    Yes agreed. We were not serious contenders this year and 2008 was too long ago.

    No worries at all regarding our previous encounters and I accept the apology even though I was not on here to see it! It was never personal – we are just 2 passionate Gooners with different opinions. Sounds like there may have been some convergence on opinions though!

    Still basking in our Cup win!

  9. The way the Pl panned out this season is interesting, comparing the amount of days top of the league actually ended up in reverse.

    AFC…………. 128 days
    CFC…………..64
    LFC…………..59
    MCFC………..11

    Final league positions in reverse!

  10. Excellent stuff, YW.

    I feel we have historically underachieved in Europe. Why? apart from overall quality of our players, i’d day tactics and defensive set up are key in European knockout play anc tgag isn’t Arsenal’s strength. AW builds for consistency over a leagur season.

    We don’t deserve now to be in the top 5 teams but we should with our resources and experience stay in the top 8. Benfica, Atletico, Porto… These are the sorts of teams whose co-efficients are starting to rise above ours on half the budget. Juventus and Dortmund will rise when fallow years fall off the averaging range of five previous seasons. And it is all because we never get past the first knockout.

    That would be one of the big goals for next season. Challenge for the league and improve in Europe to get to the quarterfinals for once. I think those are achievable goals but, of course, only with serious recruitment of better players and a less mistake prone defense in big European games, some of which is down to tactical preparation and set up.

  11. I think the league is also a more realistic target for the reasons I mentioned above. But let’s face it, Arsenal will never be ranked with the likes of RM, Bayern, Barcelona, MU, Milan, Inter, Juventus, Chelsea, and Liverpool until we win in Europe. For all the talk of being a superclub, you can’t claim that status and appeal if your history doesn’t include achievement at the highest level of club football.

    First step first–win the league–then we can hope to contest the CL. But improvement in Europe is needed to progress as a club. I agree with Cbob; we should have won it twice under AW. He might have one more good chance in the three years of this latest contract.

  12. I was listening to the Tursday Club and the fellows made the observation that the Armoury is closed for renovation to be re-opened in June. So Arsenal win a trophy for the first time in 9 years but its main club shop is shuttered when 200, 000 delirious celebrating fans are hanging around the Emirates! Oh dear… Is this what the marketing people get paid the big bucks for?! It was a pretty funny observation. Let’s hope the rest of our summer business is conducted more sharply!

  13. I was surprised and disappointed that Chuks Aneke has been shown the door. Presumably it was because his progress has been blocked by all the current first team players.

    It is a shame but then I read that there have been about 900 other players, mainly youngsters like Chuks, and I suppose that puts things into perspective.

  14. NB,

    That is the best school report a blogger could ever want – and all done without even a sniff of a chorizo.

  15. Morning AIC.

    Welcome back. Yes, views have converged. Time makes fools of us all eventually.

    Ribbons and glory, that’s what it’s all about. If not, then what?

  16. LSG, @ 10:51

    I understand what you are saying and cannot disagree, but personally, much though I enjoy the CL, it is after the group stages a cup competition, and that brings the usual question of luck.

    Winning the CL is essential in the broader scheme of things to be considered a top club and indeed manager, but when Chelsea won it even their fans admitted there was an element of luck involved as the poorest team in the semi and final won it.

    Manure also won it when they were nowhere near the best team in the competition and they are not the only ones to succeed.

    Anyway, I am desperate for Arsenal to win it and get the recognition we deserve. 🙂

  17. If we had been drawn against either Millwall or Sunderland in the FA Cup semi 2004 rather than Manure , I`m convinced we`d have won the treble.

    The Barca final was impossible for us once Jens had been sent off. They just wore us down. TH14 had little left when those chances came his way.

    As for now , we appear to be a long way off winning another European trophy, although the Dortmund result was one of the best this season.

  18. Nice to see two Arsenal bloggers making up over past differences.

    There is hope for us yet.

    “Yes, views have converged. Time makes fools of us all eventually.”

  19. Afternoon all. I’m on the Severn toll bridge. A day out at the rugby to see Saracens take on Toulon. Wilkinson’s last hurrah.

    Its raining. Stupid Wales.

  20. Afternoon all,

    Very good post YW, I remember the home loss to Chelsea in the QF. We had the best team left in the competition, but the equaliser was a big blow and changed the balance of the match. What was it – half an hour left and level on aggregate – They had nothing to lose suddenly even if they let in a goal one for them would win it and we got nervy and they did score. Can’t ever remember Wayne Bridge doing anything else useful for his team) in his whole career.

    As to FFP – I thought the restriction on PSG was 60m NET, so they can buy Luis and others too if they sell.

    Also – I may be wrong – the issue with City’s squad of 21 is whether they have to keep 8 home-grown (and thus only 13 “foreign”) or if the HG quota was reduced pro rata – which means 6.72 (or 7 in whole people), allowing one more foreign player.

    The other FFP issue was both ManC and PSG had their wage bill frozen, didn’t they? I don’t know if this applies to the squad, or the whole playing staff, or complete total (including grounds-men, physios, programme sellers etc etc). Do you know the answer to this?

  21. I think how the game is officiated tonight could be a decisive factor. If Atletico are called for lots of fouls and get early yellows for their physically robust play, they could be in trouble. But can the European referee be as permissive as typical LaLiga refereeing? I’m not educated enough on LaLiga to know and I haven’t yet looked into the referee for the final.

  22. Yogi

    No Wenger won’t envy the fact that he lost all three finals but others will envy the success in reaching them. No doubt some will envy his record of CL qualification too but you wouldn’t normally envy your own ‘successes’. Envy doesn’t work that way. In any successful career there’s much for others to envy – but the regret will usually be yours.

  23. I don’t know if anyone will envy reaching those finals because they were lost. It’s too romantic a vision to suggest people would be envious of that record. They might before the match wish they were there but on losing? No, I don’t think so.

  24. I’ve watched Arsenal in two finals and we lost both. Bloody awful. All I remember is the disappointment followed by an irrepressible need to get to the pub.

  25. @consolsbob,
    I’ve watched many more than that and whenever we lost I was consoled (sorry about that!) by the fact that 99% of teams in the land envied our runners-up finish 😉

  26. Yogi

    Would you expect someone to envy a record of reaching the semi-finals of three different European competitions because they were won then? While it’s fine to envy recent winners of the Europa League they might also regret they were knocked out of the CL in order to be in the position to win it. It’s quite possible to envy the achievement and also regret the result. I’m pretty sure there’re plenty of Everton and Spuds supporters who envy the fact that we succeeded in reaching 4th spot even though we might regret that doing so meant we didn’t win the league. It’s perfectly understandable that they might see some success in what we might also see as a failure. Enviable success is just as relative as success. Pointing out the regret doesn’t mean that there’s nothing at all to envy in competing and while the silver medallist will always envy the gold medallist it wouldn’t stop those in bronze position envying the next spot on the podium.

  27. I reckon 99% of that 99% were quite pleased to see someone else get beaten.

    I have never enjoyed a loss, I’ve been calm about them, accepting, even, never enjoyed them though.

    Funnily enough, at the time when I could usually get Cup Final tickets, the only one I didn’t get to was the win against Man. Utd, being in India at the time.

  28. False comparison, Amos. Winning a silver or bronze medal in, say, the olympics, is a trememndous achievement, recognised as such

    There is only ever one winner in football.

  29. We are too light weight up front to challenge for the CL.

    That and we are too stubborn to play on the counter like Athletico Madrid.

    Plus we always make a hash of the group stages and end up facing a difficult team.

    Basically just not good enough at this present moment.

    But we are good enough to win the PL though, i honestly believe we can do it. Just need tp be clever about away games to the big clubs.

  30. I’m with Bob, EPL is always the first target in my mind. I cannot help it, the tradition for me on winning the league is always going to be the greater prize than Europe though that bit of fluff would not be a bad get by any stretch.

    50M for Luiz, had to laugh, the sums are simply stupid.

  31. It’s not a false comparison between envying achievement and regretting failure consolbob. I’m sure a losing semi-finalist can still envy the opportunity for a winning semi-finalist to fail. The only difference between the achievement of coming 2nd in a 100m sprint final and 2nd in the CL final is that one comes with a ‘trophy’ and the other doesn’t (though maybe a runners up medal does count as equal). Either way the achievement is the same

    Everyone wants to win first prize but I don’t really buy the idea that if you don’t win the final of a football competition then everything that comes before it amounts to nothing. I don’t know how many who share the attitude that it does can get any joy out of football. Sadly that seems to be the case for a good part of football’s fanbase now. I don’t envy them that attitude. It must make them awfully miserable at times.

  32. 48 years old and I react to Arsenal’s first trophy win in nine years by getting my first tattoo. When am I going to grow up? Probably never. It’s Arsenal cannon and it’s great.

  33. This is a silly discussion. You want to win. Getting close is an achievement, a stimulus to do better, but not success.

    Besides, the real question is can we get back to a European final? It has been a very long time since Paris and we only once since then made it to a semi by beating lesser opposition in 2009 (Villareal and Roma) before getting beat in awful fashion by the first big team we played, ManU. It has been since AC Millan in 2008 that we had a successful knockout tie against a major European power. First step is the league and getting past the round of 16 for the first time in several years.

  34. Nah, Amos.

    losing is part of football. No problem.with that. Its not real life, especially these days. Doesn’t make.me miserable.

    Winning has to.be the point though. The target for every team. Runners up? Like against Birmingham?!

  35. QPR are going to be cannon fodder next season. They will have to park the bus against every team they come across in the Prem. Do they have much money to spend in the summer?

  36. Kind of amusing to see the QPR players all celebrating when a number of them are not going to be there next season. Richard Dunne and Bobby Zamora were interviewed, will they really be there?

  37. Sure losing’s a part of football consolbob. Even the ‘unbeaten’ side got knocked out of three competitions. But in order to contest a final it involves a series of wins – some of which, on occasions, may actually be more challenging than the final itself. My comment, which is all it was, simply makes the observation that such an ‘unenviable’ record must contain an ability to perform at a level that can be the envy of others. If others prefer to see it in simpler terms in that only the final result matters then so be it but I don’t think that should prevent, just for example, anyone envying Dutch football because their national team has contested the most world cup finals without winning one.

  38. Thing is Cesc could have come back last year. He had the opportunity. But declined. Then we went and bought Ozil. He should have taken the chance when he had it last year. Stupid boy.

  39. Expressed in US dollars, $84m is an astonishing sum for any defender. David Luiz, excellent ball player that he is, isn’t worth a cent more than 60% of said amount.

  40. In order to be considered an elite footballing club on the international stage, Arsenal need to be winning the EPL title with regularity – an attainable target (in the current climate) if you ask me – more so than the lofty dream of CL glory.

    Order of priority for me:

    EPL title
    FA Cup
    Coca Cola Cup

    CL Cup miracle

  41. Poodle,

    In all honesty, we have no need for Cesc now. With Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Rosicky and Wilshere all capable of replicating close to what he delivers (in one form or another), transfer funds could be better spent on procuring the services of a goal ace, a mean DM and that Ivorian kid.

  42. Jonny – it always rains in Wales. Toulon a touch of class. Great to see the other sir jonny go out in style.

  43. Ah despite the magic injections, Costa could only play 9 minutes – could be a real tussle tonight.

  44. the only way i can accept 2nd is if its in the league..
    its a different menality if you are runners up in the bread and butter its been a good show..
    the cups however, to finish second is devastating..i dont count any runner up medals in cups as success i try not to remember it at all..no matter who weve lost to in whatever comp, swindon or barca its best erased..

  45. How many of us are assessing Benzema tonight?

    Hello Clocky…. how was the party?

  46. i really want atletico to win this..
    this is their chance, after this year i assume it will take them another 10-15 years to win something else because half of this team will be poached..
    especially now chelsea have got close to 100mil to spend with mata and luiz being sold..
    i think roman has accepted hes not the biggest bully in the playground anymore and is quite happy to abide to the rules after years of cheating..dont think jose will like it very much but hey ho…
    i wonder who psg are set to sell though to balance their books?

  47. Me too Jon Jon……. Atletico for me. Their counter attack is looking dangerous.

  48. Hi north! Great thank you. Bit tired mind – long out of practice, but gave it my all!! Trying to stay awake to watch the Spanish brawl! 🙂

  49. I like the pale background on your avatar, not sure about the anemic saucisson?!
    Ooh funny goal keeping not!! Atl might just have a chance!

  50. dont mind a spanish brawl..
    its when barca and madrid play and they all start rolling round on the floor looking at the ref..
    at least atletico give them something to roll around for 🙂

  51. When you’re team has the same wage budget as Fulham then it is inevitable you play deep and on the counter.

    Unlike Jose who spends close to a billion and parks the bus.

    What’s the point of buying those players?

  52. Just a shame that Costa being out of the game so early denies us the spectacle of him and Sergio Ramos at each other’s throats the whole match. Costa seems to love to try to wind him up and Ramos bites every time.
    I can’t see how Simeone will still be in Madrid next season. If he wins tonight he will have done it all with AM and must be expecting Barcelona and Real to come back next season. There was a rumour that Chelsea would ditch Maureen to bring in Simeone. Clearly just nonsense from the gutter press, but it would be hilarious if true.

  53. Enjoying Atletico’s blue collar boys frustrate and physically distress RM’s preening superstars so far.

  54. I feel bad for Casillas though. Good guy makes a bad mistake.

    Too bad Arda Turan is injured. He’s an exciting attacker. But no Atletico just need to keep grinding out this game, defending collectively, keeping concentration, and wearing down RM players on the ball. It will take some individual genius to crack AM’s defensive organization. I think the biggest threat comes from di Maria making something happen.

  55. Ooh! North – intriguing!

    Come on you athleticos – I’m tired and I wanna go to bed!!

  56. Watching how well Adrian has been playing this season. He has largely had to play cameo roles as he has been on the bench when Costa is fit, but he appears to have got his confidence back. I think we were talking about him as a potential Arsenal target a couple of seasons ago and I didn’t think much of him. Considering his mostly substitute role this season I think he was looked pretty good and some of his running with the ball tonight has been impressive. We clearly have other requirements, but he is an interesting option as a winger/striker.

  57. What a load of namby pambys out there tonight – they would do well to take a leaf from steffon armitages book….quit falling down!

  58. Someone totally lost it at the end there. Whether you agree with the ref or not, you can’t really lose it like that.

    A pity for AM though considering their budget. With Costa not really available to them they didn’t have that out up front.

  59. Best side won. I’d have preferred Athletico but that is football.

    Think how people see Arsenal when we fail. Recognise the winners.

  60. oh well I’m off…. it was a good match though. Don’t know what happened at the end there but Simeone had something going on against Varane?

    Bonne nuit

  61. Disappointing result, unsurprising though once Real equalised. Hey ho. Still tomorrow’s post is ready to go, be up from 8am GMT. Which is more than I will be, to be fair…

  62. Two players tonight and a manager this afternoon who have achieved something by leaving the spuds.
    Always glad to see a nasty piece of work like Simione get some back with a dollop of crap on top too.

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