It’s The ‘It’s The Champions League & We’re Not In It’ Post

Twenty years. Two decades waiting on Europe’s top table and not even a tip. If it wasn’t for us, Barcelona and Bayern Munich wouldn’t look so good in European competition but what do we get? Nada, nichts; nothing. Not even a “so long and thanks for all the fish”.

Now we’re the snot-nosed kid at the window watching the clubs stick their snouts into UEFAs trough. Winning the Europa League is the smear we’ll leave on the glass; it’s the only smear we can leave.

We knew this day was coming. For too many seasons we’d rode our luck on finishing in the top four and it game back to bite us on the Arsenal. So much navel gazing has taken place that we know they are spotless; there’s no need to look down any more.

And before you think this is some sad lament of yesteryear, think again. I’m not going to pine for a golden age that never was or tell you that you never had it so good. It wasn’t and you didn’t; Europe has long been the graveyard of our dreams. 2006 gave us false hope that we were on the up, only for PSV to bring us crashing down to earth a season later. 2009 gave a vision of what might be only for the fog to descend in eight minutes of madness in the semi-final second leg.

It’s not much to show for twenty years at the top, is it? Oh but what about the great players we’ve seen grace the Emirates turf? This is true but I can see them every weekend on television; I couldn’t in decades gone by. And honestly, I can live without the ritual humiliation the Round of Sixteen routinely descended into.

Don’t Be Sad

No, I won’t miss the Champions League. I’m not a fan of its format as regular readers know.

Before the Europa League gets its hopes up, I think that’s crap as well.

It’s the format; I genuinely can’t stand the group stage. European competition used to hold some mystique. That was the era as much as the format. A quick delve into the memory banks – and I could be wrong about this – but I think Ajax and Standard Liege were the only clubs we’d played twice in European competition prior to the Champions League’s inception.

Not such a rarity these days; you can almost lose count of the sides we’ve faced twice or more. There’s very little about the Champions League which is ‘fresh’ or new these days. From my perspective, that’s a two-fold problem; the regularity with which the same clubs finish in the qualifying places, as well as the seedings.

Listing eight champions as the first seeds didn’t change much for us; the same faces stood in our way at some point, underlining just how much of a closed shop the competition is becoming. While UEFA felt the need to overhaul the tournament thirty years ago to exploit money, they need to do the same now. It’s stagnating.

The big clubs won’t like it. Anything which is a threat to their fiefdom is not going to be welcome but for most, qualification isn’t an issue. It’s only the English clubs where there’s genuine competition for places and the elite don’t care for that.

The financial might of the Premier League has long been a source of jealousy, particularly to the Spanish. Sr. Tebas railed against the wealth of City but quietly left out the support Real received from the city of Madrid elders. A simple oversight, I’m sure.

Say It’s Not The End

The emphasis placed on the Champions League means there’s no prospect of a return to the unseeded round-robin cups without the creation of a European Super League.

While it can’t be ruled out, the prospect fills me with even more dread if it is deemed to replace domestic football. The novelty has long worn off; the Champions League gave us a front and centre view of what that world looks like. Dull and uninspiring, for the most part.

Some fans love it, sucked in by the view that Arsenal are one of the elite. Financially we are; in the sporting sense, we’re further away from that than ever before. Our prospects of being thought of as one of the top eight declined as we grew more comfortable at the Emirates. Too comfy by far and not hungry enough for success.

’til Tomorrow.

65 thoughts on “It’s The ‘It’s The Champions League & We’re Not In It’ Post

  1. I can just imagine Arsene Wenger in twenty years time, supported on the arm of his nurse, as he staggers towards the tunnel after another three points dropped, waving to the team and in a weak, quavering voice saying “You’ve all done very well!”

  2. I am looking forward to the Europa – not for the competitions itself but from a team perspective.
    We should get to see some interesting lineups and some players who would normally only get a game in domestic cup games.
    Plus depending on how seriously we end up taking it we might even have a chance of winning it – more than we ever would the CL, anyway.

  3. Champions League…arguably the biggest error in nomenclature by UEFA.

    A significant number of the teams are not their nation’s champions and it’s not a league. It’s a cup with group stages, like the World Cup and the European Championship. Maybe I am being a pedant, but despite it’s name the sheer size of the CL was always going to kill off the lesser european cup competitions and will forever over-shadow the second-tier, or should that be fourth-rate, Europa league. There is also the domestic ramifications of the CL qualifying places being better (for the club/CEO/owner) than winning a cup competition, despite the fans wanting silverware.

    From a football perspective it may have been better for the Champions League, nay the European Champions Cup, to only have two teams per nation – their league winners and their premier knock-out cup winners – plus the winners of the preceding seasons Europa League. So what if the English entries in 2013/14 where Manure and a freshly-relegated Wigan. That’s the magic of cup competitions.

    A scaled down elite tournament, would also bolster the second-tier Europa League. With the likes of Citeh, Chelski and Arsenal (using the 2012/13 finishing positions) up against many of the bigger teams across Europe who came second/third/fourth in their own leagues. It wouldn’t be the perceived joke that it is, although yes, I would like us to win it. But then I’d like Arsenal to win every tournament even the League Cup – I can’t call it the EFL cup or Carabao Cup – with it’s China-friendly draw times.

    Where would this leave the likes of BATE Borisov, Crvena Zvezda and Everton? Well, erm, at home (wherever that is) watching the fruits of performing just that little bit better. Or a third tier event.

    Not that it matters. It won’t change; certainly not for the better. It’s all about the money, money, money….

  4. I see Wenger is getting his excuses in early, “it’s short between Thursday and Sunday” “We have to think about that for the Koln game”.

    He surely can’t be worried about playing two games in four days at this stage of the season. Oh! Wait a minute we’ve got to travel half way across London on Sunday morning. That’ll be enough to wear the players out.

  5. I’m looking forward to going to the game on Thursday evening. Not so much for the football, but for a chance to meet some friends and have a night out. Thursday is the new Friday!

    The pricing of the tickets has opened the game up to a lot of people who would not normally be able or inclined to go. £15 is much more like it. The number of tickets on the exchange indicates to me that many season ticket holders are only interested in the ‘big’ Champions League games.

  6. Jonny,

    Oh yes, the Milk Cup! After the Milk Marketing Board sponsorship, I was hoping for sponsors such as the British Egg Council, the UK Tea & Infusions Council, Nescafe/Douwe Egberts/Kenco, or French Connection UK.

    Alas, we got Littlewoods and Rumbelows!

  7. I might like the CL and miss it more if Arsenal could actually get out of the quarters. Since it will have been 10 years this Winter since AFC beat a major European club in the knockout stages of the competition (AC Milan in 2008), it is hard to enjoy even the more exciting part of the competition. But I do enjoy watching good other teams competing from the quarters on.

    I am looking forward to Europa. Not because it is a great competition or format but simply because it poses something new for AFC to deal with, opportunities to play different teams and in different lineups/schemes, and the possibility we might have an impact on the competition instead of just making up the numbers if AW decides to take it seriously.

  8. Interesting read there Yogi.

    Personally, I grew tired of the CL simply because there was zero chance of us winning it and have said for a couple years I wanted to see how we would do in the Europa League. I think the thing about it is not only do we stand a chance but we are able to play players and ‘rotate’ to see some of the squad players and youngsters get a chance in senior European competition not just their youth European competitions. The other thing is that sometimes its just about winning in a different environment and maybe a run or lifting the Europa League crown will give the players more confidence in Europe, not from a “we can roll through the CL” mentality but more of, this is what we need to do to be more successful in Europe.

    The one thing that I must say that I do STRONGLY STRONGLY DISLIKE about the PL and England’s view of the Europa is that it is viewed as some cut rate tournament that most don’t care about and view as an annoyance. Look at the rest of Europe, clubs talk about wanting to win the Europa because your still winning a European competition. People bang on about Athletico but their ‘springboard’ if you like was winning the Europa League. Non-English players care and want to win Europa, I’m not sure if its because of the lack of winter break or simple ‘arrogance'(nothing personal) but the view taken by the PL and many British is a headsccratcher.

  9. Jonny,

    Wish PL teams could stream from club website as well. Getting closer to happening perhaps but the international rights will be complicated, maybe, to work out. Currently get all the matches on regular sports package except for the odd Arsenal league match and domestic cups on an expensive optional channel that costs $20/month on its own. I’d be delighted to scrap that.

  10. Pete the Thirst,

    This is a great development for younger and thrifty gooners. League Cup and Europa provide new opportunities for supporters. I expect the atmosphere to be better than some jaded types are predicting. Get a crew of teenage gooners together to have fun with friends and the fun starts. Best time I’ve had in terms of atmosphere was a home CL match v Galatasaray sitting in from of 20 young guns who sang the whole time, joked and laughed.

  11. I do wonder if the lack of interest or whatever it is is due exclusively to the group stages and because of that people lose interest not realizing that the knockout stages really do pit you against some quality opponents. If things in the CL work out like I think they will and all the 3rd place clubs drop down we could see a knockout stage that features:

    Basel or Benfica
    Celtic or Anderlecht
    Roma
    Sporting or Olympiacos
    Spartak or Liverpool
    Feyenoord or Shakhtar
    RB Leipzig or Porto
    Spuds

  12. Yeah, I’d like for clubs to be able to stream their own games too BUT and it’s a big one – the money has to be shared out among the premiership in a manner that is something akin to what we have now (though personally, I’d lean towards something more egalitarian).
    We cannot allow it to be a move towards clubs negotiating their own rights.

  13. C,

    Unfortunately the players are also prioritising the CL. Players talk about joining clubs who compete in the CL, rather than clubs who compete in Europe. Lacazette was originally cautious on joining Arsenal because we couldn’t offer CL football this season. Amazing what a big fat wage packet does though.

  14. Great post Yogi

    Like it or not CL qualification has become the Holy Grail for Arsenal. The FA cups have been nice but finishing in the top 4 every year sometimes against the odds has been the one thing that Arsene can point to as his major accomplishment during the Emirates era. If we miss the CL for the next 2 seasons then for the first time the status quo might be threatened and I think there is a risk that Arsene might not be offered a contract renewal in 2019. With regard to the Europa league I think we will need to use our squad players a lot in the group stage but we have a chance to win but we have to take it seriously and not hesitate to use some or most of our first 11 especially when/if we get to the knockout stages. Realistically Spurs have been a significantly better team then we have for the last 2 seasons and they quickly bombed out of the Europa league knockout stages because they did not care about winning. This is much more important then the FA cup and we may need to prioritize Europa league over the PL depending on our table position at mid season

  15. We actually have a deep squad this season with almost 2 full internationals at every position. The back up senior squad players such as Chambers, Holding Wilshere, Iwobe, Walcott, Giroud Ospina Elneny, Le Coq (when he returns) and even Welbeck or Sanchez make a full 11 for the group stage games and they will all need minutes. I hope we don’t take a league cup mentality and start a team that has several u21’s this Thursday. That sends the wrong message about our intentions. There is a reason we have never won the league cup. Let Nelson, Jeff, Bielek, Akpom, Maitland-Niles etc etc knock themselves out in the league cup and the early round FA cup games.

  16. Afternoon,

    I’d certainly echo the sentiments of several others today – that I’m looking forward to the variety the Europa promises. Also, the nature of the defeat in that Galatassaray final has always bugged me and I want some afters.

    I hope we don’t rotate too heavily in the “lesser” cups this year. The younger players benefit more from sitting next to a senior player than one of their own. Did Holding suddenly get crap? Or did he go from playing next to Per to being the only CB in a back three with only Bellerin & Ozil for protection?

  17. I know most of you don’t pay attention to the USMNT but for those that do, Alexi Lalas went on quite a IN-GAME (during an MLS game not a USMNT match) rant about the USMNT after they lost at home to Costa Rica and got a draw against Honduras. Have to say, it made me chuckle:

    “It’s dark days, indeed, but this is a time for leaders to step up,” he began. “And so to the supposed leaders, I will say this….

    “Tim Howard. Tim, the Belgium game ended three years ago. We need you to save the ball now. Geoff Cameron. Clean it up, or let’s get someone who will.

    “Clint Dempsey. Yeah, you’re a national team legend; now we need you to be a national team leader.

    “Michael Bradley. The U.S. does not need you to be zen, the U.S. needs you to play better. Jozy Altidore. Is this really as good as it gets? Because it’s still not good enough.”

    “Bruce Arena. Jurgen Klinsmann lost at home to Mexico. You lost at home to Costa Rica. This is now all on you, not Jurgen,” he continued.

    And he also took a shot at young star Christian Pulisic, adding: “And, oh, by the way, to all the guys that I didn’t mention, it’s because you don’t even warrant a mention. That includes you too, Wonder Boy.”

  18. Wavey,

    Don’t get me wrong, players want to play in the CL, but once a club is in the Europa League, outside of Mourinho last season after it was perfectly clear that they weren’t going to make top 4 and then Di Mateo with Chelsea, most PL clubs and most supporters are very dismissive of the Europa League compared to Spain, Germany, Italy and France.

  19. Bill,

    You do realize that youngsters will be needed and since when have those senior players produced so much. I mean I think that we will see a line-up something like

    Ospina
    —-Holding—-Mert—Chambers—–
    Maitland-Niles—-Elneny—Jack or Iwobi—-Nelson
    ——Theo———-Giroud——-Iwobi(if Jack starts)

    Playing youngsters doesn’t mean that its a League Cup mentality, actually in the Europa League its quite the norm. I think what your talking about and what most people are talking about are two completely different things. Arsene isn’t going to field the U23’s squad for the Europa League but I fully expect to see Nelson, Maitland-Niles and Bielik(upon his return from injury) to all feature and quite regularly in the group stage. We are talking about the group stage NOT the knockout stage when things get more serious.

  20. I can’t remember playing Standard Liege twice. We murdered them on the way to winning the Cup-Winners-Cup in 1994 and lost to Royal Liege in 1963/64 in the Inter-Cities Cup. My first visit to Highbury was in 1955 and, including Reserves and Youth teams, I have attended between two and three thousand Arsenal games. Right now I don’t care how many times we have played against anybody and that will continue to be the case as long as the current Manager clings on to office. I am now even nostalgic for bad seasons in the past because back then the Manager was accountable and was removed when it was the right thing to do. Crayston, Swindin, Wright, Mee, Neill, Howe, Graham and Rioch all experienced that. I, therefore, do not care about being in the Champion’s League as it would mean more money for be-syruped one, the snake-oil salesman and le fraud whilst losing terribly in the last 16.

  21. I don’t know. For me saying Europa League is more our level than the CL is kinda like saying we don’t belong in the PL because we get spanked by other top sides more frequently than any other club our stature and we are not likely to win the title, which of course is true.

    We may not get beat 10-1 on aggregate in the EL but we are just as likely to be out in the last sixteenth to any number of Clubs from Spain, France or even Italy.

    Even the mighty tactician, Mourinho, only made it to the final last season because the Celta Vigo missed a sitter in the dying minutes of the semis at OT , which would’ve put them through on away goals.

    There are plenty of quality sides in EL , Arsenal can , and most likely will lose to especially when Wenger prioritizes the league because finishing outside top four two years running would do further damage to his ego and legacy.
    It would put the previous twenty years of uninterrupted CL qualification in a proper perspective.

  22. I think one thing that will be interesting to see against Koln is who starts upfront and how many mins they get. Does Arsene start Sanchez to give him match time before starting him at Chelsea or does he give Sanchez the full 90 and start Welbeck against Chelsea?

  23. C,

    I think either Alexis starts and is subbed off at 60, especially if we are leading, or he comes on from the bench around 60/65 to get more fitness work. I would personally play Welbeck at start since I can’t see AW failing to start Alexis at the Bridge.

  24. Good Day to All,

    A very good Post, YW, written from the heart of a long time jaded and frustrated fan.

    I empathise with all you have said and share your feelings, altho I confess I am exactly the type of fan that some would say is arrogant, blah dee blah, etc because I want, and indeed expect, the Arsenal to win things — games, cups and leagues with each new game or season respectively that starts and indeed those two things are contiguous and complement each other.

    It happens all the time — and I suppose in the way of the folk who attend AA meetings, I need to stand before you and say — “My Name is HenryB, and I am an Arsenalholic”.

    The thing is tho, that even when my deepest desire for the boys in red and white to thrash all and sundry 5 : 0 does not actually come to pass, which is nearly all the time, and I am despondent, disappointed and miserable [yes, I do sometimes feel all three at the same time 😀 ] – multi-tasking don’t you know? – I do not stay so for long. The disappointment and such like is soon consumed by the past, and I quickly look to the next game with the same, somewhat irrational hopes, of beating the next team, and the next.

    It is all grist to the mill to me, and whereas the past is fixed and unchangeable – no one can change it – but the future is full of mystery and surprises — full of possibilities.

    “Sucked in to the CL or the EL?” Yup – no doubts about it – so bring them on. Let’s see the kids play in the Big Boys’ league matches, how is Jack the Lad recovering, what ecstasy awaits us – what sorrow — to me I live for the day, and I know we have discussed this before Yogi, but for some of us, hope does not kill – it keeps us going, it makes supporting the Gunners addictive, and leaves us gasping for more.

    Contrary? No.
    For me, and of course others may have their own way of coping, it is a genuine statement of being.
    Extinguish the hope – and everything else is pointless.

  25. Jonny,

    Your interesting comment caught my eye, — “the money has to be shared out among the premiership in a manner that is something akin to what we have now (though personally, I’d lean towards something more egalitarian).
    We cannot allow it to be a move towards clubs negotiating their own rights.”

    Real Madrid and Barca have been doing separate TV deals with Spanish and Catalan authority approval for years, to the financial detriment of all the other clubs in La Liga and their success is testimony to the success of that system — for those two clubs.

    The Citeh and PSG owners could not give a stuff, on the other hand, as they have all the money needed to buy the best players anyway, and the FFP is proving to be something of a farcical defense by UEFA. Plenty of rules — no teeth.

    The way of the world.

  26. According to German futboler ‘expert’ Lee Price, Arsenal are going to offer Low the managerial position to replace Arsene.

  27. Orson.

    I am not sure if Arsene plans to start Welbeck or Sanchez against Chelsea. I would start whichever one is not in first 11 at Stamford bridge on Thursday against Koln.

  28. I think I will enjoy CL more now that we aren’t in it. Today Roma/Atletico and Barca/Juve looks interesting. Tomorrow Leipzig/Monaco and Spurs/Dortmund. The only one I don’t have a strong rooting interest in Roma/Atletico–I like both those teams.

  29. Limestonegunner,

    I’m really interested to see what comes of the Barca v Juve match, though its not on TV here, unfortunately I get Manure v Basel. Tomorrow, I will definitely be watching Spuds v Dortmund because Dortmund could play them off the park because Spuds will try to press and you have players like Sahin, Gotze, Weigel(reports say he could be fit) to play and I will be really interested to see how Pulisic gets on with his pace and quickness. Spuds will try to press them but Dortmund press as well so they won’t be phased by that.

  30. There are two different reports out about Ozil’s contract, one saying that Arsenal have broken off talks while the other says that there hasn’t been negotiations since February.

    Santi is not in the official team photo because he had a follow-up appointment in Spain according to Arsenal’s official twitter. Sounds like something is amidst.

  31. C,

    I don’t often care so much about US players but I am eager to see Pulisic and hope he carves up the Spuds defense. I’m lucky my broadcaster is carrying Barca-Juve. I would hate to have to watch MU Basel instead. I will keep an eye on it for you and report how Dybala does. He’s the player we missed out on–seemed very interested in coming to Arsenal his last season at Parma. Classy, elegant player.

  32. C,

    He is decent but I’d prefer a club experienced manager like Tuchel. Been a while since Low dealt with the demands of club football.

  33. Limestonegunner,

    Pulisic is an interesting player and part of me wonders how long that he will actually continue to play for the USMNT, but for club he is splendid to watch. I also think that Aubameyang is on a real mission this season because he is scoring goals but working harder for the team from the couple of matches I have watched. Thanks for keeping an eye, I was hoping for Barca v Juve not just for Dybala(who I actually think a deal was close before Arsenal got cold feet when it came to money, no surprise there but he did seem interested) but also to see how Dembele is getting on with Messi and Suarez because I think that boy could end up being a top 5 player in Europe.

  34. Limestonegunner,

    While your right about Low, I think the one thing that he can do is get the best out of players and while it might be different for club, I think he would be a brilliant get. With that said, I wouldn’t be opposed to Tuchel either.

  35. Pogba looks to have done his hamstring 17′ into the game and immediately went down. That is a massive blow for Manure because he is starting to unlock his vast potential.

  36. Mhlitaryn just missed an absolute sitter, hit the near post. All he had to do was hit the open goal and he found a way to hit the post.

  37. I thought Neymar moved to PSG to become a king since he could only match a regent’s stature at Barca…. But I think he’s gonna have to work for that crown…. Mbappe (the next big star) is as exciting and has hit the ground running really hard…. while Cavani scores like it’s out of fashion.

  38. Jonny,

    Agree entirely and with the blog YW
    CL is so dull compared to knockout days and is clearly a transition to closed shop billionaire club competition
    (Which we are second tier)

  39. Stu,

    I remember being an honorary Oxford fan for the day vs QPR 1986
    Aldridge Houghton Billy Hamilton
    Great atmosphere 3-0
    “We’re gonna score in a minute!” rang out and they did

    I never felt too conflicted by that one and like a shooting star…they list all their players

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