The UEFA Champions League.
Football’s most exciting spectacle after the World Cup of course. A competition where Europe’s finest showcase their talents on the world stage producing epic encounters that remain in the hearts of football fans for years to come.
Till this day, no Manchester United fan will ever forget the class of '99 that won the Champions League right at the death. 2005 will always be a year AC Milan fans will want to forget as their fabled impregnable defense of Paolo Maldini, Jaap Stam, Alessandro Nesta and Cafu capitulated in grand style against Liverpool despite running away with the contest with an unassailable three-goal lead.
The competition is currently in its knockout stages with two teams already assured of a quarterfinal berth while two other teams adventures have ended prematurely.
Manchester United, on the other hand, will feel that they have every right to be livid with the officiating, as the man with the whistle brandished a red card to Luis Nani after a malicious yet unintentional challenge. Contrary to the angry emotions on that decision in cyberspace, the intent is an unnecessary complication of the rules in my honest opinion.
Was Nani’s foot up beyond shoulder level? Yes! Were his studs showing? Yes! Was there a dangerous impact on Alvaro Arbeloa? Yes!
If I take you down memory lane if you permit me, Arsenal hosted Swiss outfit FC Thun in a Champions League encounter in the 2005/06 season. Robin van Persie attempted to control a high ball with his foot but accidentally caught Orman in the face as the Thun defender tried to head clear.
There was no malice, there was no intent—but the card was red.
Unlike the likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United that go into the Champions League with plans to win the competition, Arsenal is usually there to make up the numbers and their performances in recent seasons can somewhat justify these claims.
After the amazing run to the final in 2006, Arsenal was knocked out by PSV Eindhoven in the first knockout round of 2007, Liverpool in the quarterfinals of 2008, Manchester United in the semifinals of 2009, Barcelona in the quarterfinals of 2010, Barcelona again in the first knockout round of 2011 and AC Milan in the first knockout round of 2012.
In Arsenal’s defense, these are very strong European sides but to win a competition as prestigious as the Champions League, you have to beat the best teams.
This season, Arsenal is already one foot away from the Champions League following a shameful 3-1 defeat to Bayern Munich, but there are five reasons why they might not get a chance to play against the German outfit next season.
Without further ado, here’s my take on five reasons why Arsenal might not qualify for next season’s Champions League.
This is the primary reason why the Gunners might not qualify for the Champions League. The forms of some players and the team at large aren't encouraging to say the least.
In one game, Arsenal would play like the best team in the world, and in another, one would wonder what went wrong with the team. This season, Arsenal has failed to perform up to scratch against their fellow “big teams” with the only exception being the spirited 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium in September.
Since then, the Gunners have been shambolic home and away against Chelsea, woeful away to Manchester United and Laurent Koscielny’s stupidity made things hard for them against Manchester City at home.
When Bayern Munich came to town, we expected to see one of those great European nights where the Gunners would put up a great show against a football juggernaut at home but it wasn’t to be as the Gunners slumped to the Bavarian outfit.
Even against the “smaller teams”, the Gunners have also struggled as teams like Swansea and Norwich bested Arsene Wenger’s men to get all three points. Arsenal’s last game at home was against a struggling Aston Villa side but they had to wait for a late goal from Santi Cazorla to get all three points.
Last Sunday, the Gunners faced Tottenham in a game that all they needed was a draw at least but more atrocious defending paved the way for a derby victory for Tottenham, increasing the gap between both sides to seven points.
If the Gunners continue to exhibit that kind of form, Champions League qualification will be drifting further away from them.
Tottenham is odds on to finish the campaign in third place
With Manchester United running away with the Premier League, the teams in the chasing pack have shifted their focus to qualifying for Europe’s elite competition next season.
Manchester City still harbors false hopes of winning the title but a second place finish won’t be as bad as it seems, even though the quality of Roberto Mancini’s side would have been good enough for his team to retain their title.
With two other places up for grabs, Tottenham and Chelsea have been winning games when they matter, and after Week 28, both London sides lead Arsenal with seven and five points respectively. With Arsenal running out of games, they’ll have to win all their remaining Premier League games and hope for either Tottenham or Chelsea to drop points.
The sad part is that Arsenal can’t be banked upon to win all their remaining matches.
Michu: The Scourge of Arsenal in recent times
With the curtain closing on the Premier League, Arsenal still has fixtures against Everton (H), Swansea (A), Reading (H), West Brom (A), Norwich (H), Fulham (A), Manchester United (H), Queens Park Rangers (A) and Wigan (H).
Looking at this fixture list as well as judging from Arsenal’s current run of form, I don’t expect the Gunners to sweep past every team on this list. I’m actually tipping the Gunners to drop points against Swansea, West Brom and Manchester United.
This time last season, Arsenal went through a purple patch with a mazy run that saw them win seven league matches in a row. It would be hard to replicate such form with the absences of three players that were instrumental in that run—Alex Song and van Persie that have been shipped out and Tomas Rosicky, that has become a fringe player in recent times.
With the Gunners potentially dropping some points while their fellow Champions League hopefuls are on the rise, you need no soothsayer to tell you that they might be playing some Thursday night football next season.
At the start of every Premier League campaign, the club registered 25 players and according to the rule books, players under the age of 21 are eligible to get playing action without being registered.
As the season progressed, the starting XI more or less picked itself with Wojciech Szczesny in goal with a defensive rearguard of Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs in the fullback positions while the captain, Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker played in the heart of the defense.
In midfield, Mikel Arteta played the holding role while Jack Wilshere stars in the box-to-box role, linking up defense with attack superbly. The advanced playmaker role has been manned by Santi Cazorla.
In the forward line, Olivier Giroud spearheads the attack with Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott providing support through the flanks.
However, there have been times when these players got injured and a deputy had to come in their stead.
In goal, Vito Mannone had a brief stint during Szczesny’s ankle injury and he didn’t do enough to challenge the Pole for his place. This also became glaring when Wenger opted for Szczesny in cup matches as well.
In the defense, Carl Jenkinson and Laurent Koscielny have been impressive in their brief cameos but any time the name “Andre Santos” get mentioned, I get chills down my spine. The Brazilian fullback has been so appalling this season that the manager didn’t blink twice before delving into the transfer window when Kieran Gibbs got injured.
Stand-in midfielders like Abou Diaby, Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin haven’t been bad as well but I have major concerns with Arsenal’s deputy attackers. Gervinho and the Ox have been very poor this season and they haven’t done enough to command first team berths this season.
It’s really shameful to know that when Arsenal fielded Gervinho and the Ox in the starting lineup, they’ve really struggled and after 70 minutes or so, the manager puts them out of their misery by substituting them.
Against Bradford City and Blackburn, Gervinho missed clear cut chances that came back to haunt his team. I’m sure that many Arsenal fans will be happy if he’s shipped out this summer.
When Manchester United surrendered the Premier League to their “noisy neighbors” last season, Sir Alex Ferguson and everyone concerned with the club were distraught. This season, they responded in the best possible manner, signing Japanese sensation, Shinji Kagawa, from high-flying Borussia Dortmund as well as Arsenal’s talismanic striker, Robin van Persie.
Arsenal on the other hand, wasn’t concerned when Chelsea became the first London team to win the Champions League. With the club only concerned about its profits, Arsenal went on to sell their prized asset to their eternal rivals as well as one of their most improved players when Barcelona came with wads of cash.
When Arsenal struggled in the league last season, CEO, Ivan Gazidis, went as far as saying that the club’s self-sustaining model would see it survive the backlash of not qualifying for the Champions League (via the Daily Mail).
This kind of lax attitude rubbed off on Arsene Wenger and probably his squad, but for the sake of the fans, they managed to overturn a large deficit to leapfrog Tottenham in third place.
A club like Chelsea with a trigger-happy chairman like Roman Abramovich has wasted no time in sacking coaches that couldn’t match his ambition. At Arsenal, it’s a different ball game and the players probably have a hunch that nothing could go wrong if they fail to qualify for the Champions League.
However, I remain extremely optimistic that Arsenal could start another surge that would see them reach the Promised Land but if they fail to qualify, I wouldn’t be surprised.