UEFA Champions League: 10 Reasons Why Arsenal Can Win the Competition
Despite suffering a disappointing 3-1 loss to Greek champions Olympiacos in the final match of the UEFA Champions League Group F, Arsenal finished first and therefore advance to the round of 16 in Europe's most prestigious competition.
In what was a arguably one of the toughest groups of the 2011-12 tournament, consisting of German giants Borussia Dortmund, French giants Olympique de Marseille and as mentioned Olympiacos, the Gunners prevailed strongly, securing some doughty victories and now have the chance of encountering a team well below them.
This is one of the few tournaments Arsene Wenger and Arsenal for that matter have failed to win and despite the horrific start to 2011-12, there is an elated spirit to the North London giants and with the current form the strongest XI is currently exhibiting, there is no reason why Arsenal cannot win the UEFA Champions League.
BleacherReport establishes 10 reasons just why Arsenal can indeed win the tournament every side aims to one day win.
10. Vito Mannone Will Not Be the Goalkeeper
A little humour and fun to start of with. Arsenal's third choice shot stopper Vito Mannone received his first Arsenal appearance in well over a year after deputy Lukasz Fabianski was forced off injured after 25 minutes. Fabianski had not been overly impressive but Mannone made all Arsenal fans wish the injury had not occurred.
The Italian has received limited chances in the Arsenal first team, amassing just ten appearances since 2009. Mannone is best known for a heroic display against Fulham during the 2009-10 season in which he made a large number of fantastic saves. However last season injuries seriously thwarted the former Atlanta keeper but Mannone still managed ten appearances on loan with Championship side Hull City, where he greatly impressed.
However this error (see video) was immensely costly as Olympiacos secured a soft second goals. This would never occurred had first choice keeper Wojciech Szczesny been present.
9. Last Campaign's Heroics
Arguably the feature for Arsenal of their ultimately disappointing 2010-11 season was the stunning 2-1 defeat of European champions Barcelona at the Emirates. A terrific match in which the Gunners came from behind to defeat World Football's strongest side at their own game.
Although Arsenal eventually lost the second leg in controversial circumstances, this was one of the greatest victories in the North London giants history. This experience will serve monumentally this campaign and though one may argue this was a side that had Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas present, it also had inexperienced duo Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou in the defence, alongside Gael Clichy. Thomas Vermaelen was absent, Per Mertesacker and Gervinho were not present and the maturity gained by Alexandre Song and Theo Walcott this season was non existent.
This will serve as a basis for momentum, inspiration and experience as Arsenal make their way through the competition.
8. Defensive Depth
Arsenal actually boast one of the strongest defensive lines in Europe, when fully fit. Despite the portrayal that the Gunners are frail in the air and physically weak defensively, Wenger has at his disposal a quality defence.
Defensive leader Thomas Vermaelen is one of the best defenders in the English Premier League and potentially Europe whilst Frenchman Laurent Koscielny is well on his way to developing towards that praise. German giant Per Mertesacker is composed and experienced and his height enables great aerial security. Imposing Swiss Johan Djourou has tremendous UEFA Champions League experience and is more than capable all across the back line.
Right back Bacary Sagna, who is expected to be fit by February, when the competition recommences, is considered one of the best full backs in World Football whilst left backs Andre Santos and England international Kieran Gibbs are also of high esteem.
Last season the Gunners had three fit central defenders for most of the campaign yet still managed to defeat Barcelona before narrowly losing the second leg. This will serve magnificently with the mid week, intense matches.
7. Leadership and Experience
This may be a different Arsenal squad from last season but despite the quality of Cesc Fabregas and the occasional brilliance of Samir Nasri, Wenger's men are greatly enhanced in a number of areas. Fabregas was always a fearless leader who lead by example with his sublime skill and quality. However the Spaniard never appeared a vocal or influential captain who rallied the troops.
This season however the Arsenal roster is compacted with leaders. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, who may be young and relatively inexperienced, is vocal and demanding to his defenders whilst Thomas Vermaelen conveys tremendous leadership with every game.
Alexandre Song made his debut as an Arsenal captain this term and following the departures of Fabregas and Nasri is considered the midfield leader. Aaron Ramsey is the current captain of Wales whilst Yossi Benayoun leads Israel, Andrei Arshavin captains Russia and Tomas Rosicky is the Czech Republic's main man.
Finally current Arsenal captain Robin van Persie has the respect of the whole of Europe let alone his team mates.
Furthermore the majority of the squad is sufficiently experienced in the intensity of Champions League football combining to produce a coherent, capable squad.
6. Evasion of Big Guns in Round of 16
Thanks to the Gunners' strong group form, Wenger's men will have benefit of the draw ensuring they do not have to encounter the biggest sides in Europe until further notice. Arsenal avoid Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Chelsea as these giants all top their respective groups.
This also ensures Arsenal could potentially face opposition such as Zenit Saint Petersburg, Bayern Leverkusen, FC Basel, Trabzonspor and SC Napoli, all sides the Gunners would achieve favouritism over. However as is almost always the case in the UEFA Champions League, the impossible occurs.
5. 2010-11 Bitterness
Despite that outstanding victory against Barcelona in the first leg of the Round of 16 last season, the Gunners' exited the competition with bitterness and regret. The second leg saw an injury stricken Arsenal take on the might of Barcelona before having Robin van Persie sent off in controversial circumstances.
The North London giants would have learned greatly from the experience but also had an instilled desire to go further than a disappointing round of 16 exit. Arsenal are a team expected to easily advanced to the quarter finals and with a burning desire after last seasons tragedy, this will provide much inspiration.
4. Robin Van Persie
Arsenal's fearless captain boasts 39 goals in 43 appearances for 2011 and is currently the most dangerous and inform striker in World Football. Not only is he scoring, the Dutchman is also a consistent with his goal assists and a monumental part of the Gunners' attack.
The 28-year-old is skilfully, efficient in the air, powerful and a natural leader. The man is currently unstoppable and when the Netherland's international is playing the Gunners' rarely lose. If van Persie is fit for the UEFA Champions League in the new year then Arsenal are one of the most dangerous sides in Europe.
3. Potentially Arsene Wenger's Last Season
Since arriving at Arsenal in 1996, Arsene Wenger has achieved the English Premier League three times, the FA Cup four times and the FA Community Shield four times. However the Frenchman has never won the UEFA Champions League.
Currently there is much speculation over Wenger's future and whether or not 2011-12 will be his last season at the North London helm. Earlier in the season there were high calls for the 62-year-old to be sacked following the Gunners' poor start however they has since ceased.
Only Wenger knows if 2011-12 will indeed be his last and if it is, the Frenchman will be desperately eager to add the most prestigious club football trophy to his ranks and of course Arsenals.
2. Realistically Last Remaining Competition Capable of Winning
Arsenal's poor start to 2011-12 have effectively ruled out an opportunity to achieve the English Premier League title in 2011-12 but the Gunners' are well on course to secure a top four finish. Last week Wenger's men saw elimination from the Carling Cup quarter final after a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City.
Although there is still the FA Cup to compete in, Arsene Wenger often uses the tournament as an opportunity for fringe and reserve players. The UEFA Champions League is the best tournament in terms of quality for the Gunners' to secure silverware.
Least we forget, Arsenal still have the burden of sixth successive seasons without a trophy hanging over their heads and just because 2011-12 started so poorly does not mean the Gunners' cannot finish strongly.
As Arsenal are in the round of 16, much emphasis and intensity will be shifted towards the UEFA Champions League and with every victory, the focus will begin to be all Europe.
1. Because They Can
Arsenal have one of the best managers in World Football and history. Arsenal have some of the best players in World Football. On their day the Gunners' play a devastating, exciting, clinical game which is capable of beating any one.
There is the desire, the team efficiency and coherency, the need and the quality. There is no reason why Arsenal cannot defeat the biggest sides in Europe and triumph in the UEFA Champions League.