Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark pretended to see what the future will hold in 198o but very few in the media would have foreseen Arsenal providing five players for an England XI a few years ago. Gibbs and Chambers did well enough at full back but there was precious little for them to do. Did Gibbs do enough to give Roy Hodgson pause for thought? It’s hard to do so in a match like that but let’s just say he didn’t do anything to make the England manager think it was a hideous mistake including the Arsenal left back in the starting line-up.
Further forward, Wilshere and Welbeck acquitted themselves well, particularly Jack who pushed the attacking play on even if he did run into the massed ranks of the San Marinese defence whilst Danny Welbeck led England’s line with the usual energy and a mix of wayward finishing and a well-taken goal. His strength is an almost belligerent willingness to put himself into the same position time and again.
Man of the Match though was reserved for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain by all but Vauxhall, who proved they know even less about football than they do cars. It’s an interesting time for him. Just as an opportunity appeared to be opening in the Arsenal XI with Mesut Özil’s injury, he chose to put I a good performance with the knowledge that he is going to get a run in the side whilst Theo Walcott is eased back into action. It’s up to Ox to make Wenger’s decision a tough one but encouragingly, the signs are that he is in frame of kind to do so.
Elsewhere, Laurent Koscielny has apparently got tendinitis and came home whilst Santi Cazorla probably wishes he had following Spain’s defeat last night.
The international week is a good time for national associations and governing bodies to sneak out what they perceive to be good news with media attention drawn toward the impending qualification fixtures. The Premier League started it with the resurrection of the 39th game except this time it’s going to be one of the 38 ordinary fixtures that they move abroad. Yet again in his Indecent haste to promote the English game on a global stage, Richard Scudamore gets it horribly wrong.
Leaving aside the abysmal premiss upon which this concept is formed, there is no sporting equity in having one fixture moved to a neutral venue. For the ‘visiting’ team, it doesn’t make a great deal of difference, playing away from home is playing away from home even if there is a certain familiarity in knowing the ground you are playing at.
The core of Premier League grounds do not change and whilst newly promoted sides will be excited and perhaps fearful of visiting Arsenal, City, Chelsea, over time, the ‘intimidation’ factor of a stadium diminishes, particularly if a team’s fortunes are waning. Old Trafford is no longer the graveyard it once was for ambitions with smaller clubs winning there on a regular basis, relatively speaking.
The bigger question is why would any club cede home advantage. In a competition where every little ‘plus point’ is clasped firmly to the chest, why would you let the biggest one slip through your grasp? It doesn’t make sporting sense and is there really that much more money to be made from transporting one match around the globe compared to the prize money and differential which might accrue with three points from a home fixture? Imagine missing out on the Champions League because you played one ‘home’ match in the USA, for example? Whilst it involves supporters from abroad, it’s not going to be a popular decision here and more importantly, do not be mistaken that the motivation behind it is anything but money.
At least UEFA are trying to hide their decision to restructure the seedings in the Champions League behind the charade of sporting justice. As if they have ever been worried about that. The first inkling that the proposed change was coming, emerged when Pedro Lopez Jiminez, a Madrileño vice president, noted last week that, “there is a need to defend big clubs because we are not only in the biggest sport in the world, we are in the biggest show business in the world“. He was cautioning against FFP becoming too stringent in its application but the move to make the first pot of seeds in the Champions League the defending cup holders and the champions of the seven richest, sorry, biggest leagues on the continent, has little to do with anything other than money, appeasing some of the fallen giants and upstarts that their sporting achievements are duly noted.
For Arsenal, it has just hastened the natural fall from grace. To be honest, staying in the top pot for so long has been a marvel of under-achievement by others and over-performance from other English clubs. It has very little to do with Arsenal themselves as their performance when in the competition has been nothing more than distinctly average. I have long argued that we place too much store in a top four finish; it is nothing more than a bulge in the wallet and holds little by way of sporting achievement. Perhaps that is the limit of the club’s ambitions at the moment.
Being in pot 2 (at best) puts pressure on the manager and players. They are going to meet at least one good side in the draw – as now – but with everything shuffling around, it strikes me that the finalised changes may be deeper with the mooted qualifiers being put in pot 4. That eventuality means, potentially, two good sides and possible elimination at the first hurdle. The paucity of performance in the competition would hit home in those circumstances.
There is a ‘but’ in all this, you know that is coming. Pundits and the media generally, have long written Arsenal out of the top four of the Premier League and the club has defied the odds on every occasion. Perhaps the changes will be the jolt the manager and the players need in the Champions League, the trigger for them to no longer accept turning up in three out of the six fixtures and muddling their way through one other to qualify for the knockout stages. I don’t have a problem going into the Europa League, some do. I would on some levels, rather see Arsenal compete for a trophy that they have a chance of winning that playing two games that you know will end up in elimination.
No guarantees of winning anything, of course, but surely we would be more competitive. And, in the grand scheme of things, Arsenal’s sporting position in Europe would be clear. Financially, comfortably a top ten club and credit to the executives for that but at the end of the day, this is about football. All the money in the world is meaningless if you are not achieving anything on the pitch.