By Tony Attwood
Well ok, not quite a big debate, but it is getting a bit of an airing.
In the coming weeks we will find out whether we are playing in the Champions League, the Europa or neither. And the question is, should Arsenal play to their strengths in every game and try and win whatever competition we are in, or not?
To get into the Champs League we need to beat Dynamo Zagreb and Olympiakos (the latter by a couple of goals). And the noises off suggest that is what Arsenal will got for. And then if we should get through the resultant games will be taken with deadly seriousness, of course. You don’t muck about with Champions League knock out stages.
But supposing we don’t quite make it. Supposing Arsenal aren’t quite good enough, or supposing something else happens – after all both the teams we are playing have senior men suspended from football because of enquiries, and in Olympiakos’ case there are enquiries into their entire approach to football in the last seven or so years. And in the case of Zagreb one of their players was drugged in the match against us.
So if we get second, we go for it in the knock out stages. But if we finish third, then what. In what was frankly one of the most bizarre commentaries on this possibility the Independent newspaper said, “With a squad as thin as theirs, a Europa League campaign must be avoided.”
Now what does “With a squad as thin as theirs” actually mean? Are they speaking of the fact that the Ox and Theo got injured at the same time? Or that Bellerin has been out for a bit following some amazing performances? The fact is that like all teams, Arsenal have around 23 over-21 players who are registered for the Champs League, and can also play a wide ranger of under 21 players.
The fact is that Arsenal also have rather a decent record of late…
- Leicester 2 Arsenal 5
- Arsenal 3 Man U 0
- Watford 0 Arsenal 3
- Arsenal 2 Everton 1
- Swansea 0 Arsenal 3
- Arsenal 1 Tottenham 1
So a thin squad? We are limited by the same regulations as everyone else, but tend to have an excellent range of players at the under 21 level at any time able to take the stage.
But against this there is no doubt that if Man U and Chelsea go through to the next round of the Champs league along with Man C and Arsenal don’t, we have an interesting range of choices, while our rivals (well ok Chelsea isn’t a rival any more but they are a London club so still are rivals in that sense), will have the extra problems of high profile Champs League games.
If we are fourth in the table the issue for Arsenal is settled, we are out. But if third the only question then remains what to do with the Europa League.
The names of the teams likely to be in the Europa do not make wholly frightening reading. Apart from the teams finishing third in the Champs League there are clubs such as Molde, FC Sion, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli, Rapid Vienna, Braga, Lazio, Lokomotiv Moscow, Basil, the Tiny Totts, Schalke, Athletic Bilbao… I’ve just listed those currently at the tops of their groups.
Nothing very frightening there, and that leaves the choice: do we think against such opposition we could win the Europa, or do we think it will still be a distraction from winning the Premier League? If the latter we could rotate the players quite a bit, or even put out our League Cup team and more than likely go out early.
So the point is that getting into the Europa could give us a chance to pick up some more injuries and reduce our League chances, or be a reasonable chance to win another trophy.
Interestingly, the clubs that drop out of the Champs League into the Europa don’t automatically do very well in their new-found competition – only five times this century has a Champions League team won the Europa – one of those being Chelsea. Also interestingly, not too many people outside the club that won, remember who won the Europa. This century there have been two Premier League winners. One was Chelsea as above, and the other… Liverpool.
So could it be that actually winning the thing is not a preface to greater glory. Certainly not in the case of Liverpool in 2001. Chelsea on the other hand have done ok since 2013, winning the League and the League Cup last season.
For the last two years the Europa has been won by Sevilla who currently this year are in Man City’s group in the Champions League and are in the same points position as Arsenal, and looking fairly certain for the Europa again. In their domestic league they are not doing too well either being in 10th.
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And because of the lopsided nature of Spanish football, rather like German football, being 10th out of 20 isn’t actually that clever as it leaves them a lot closer to relegation than it does to the top two.
So we might argue that competition in the Europa is not going to be that tough, and we could win it. Or that it will be a distraction from winning the Premier League.
As I said at the start the Indy’s phrase, “With a squad as thin as theirs” was just plain daft, but it would most certainly be terrible if an injury to Alexis or Ozil in a Europa game meant we slipped up in the League. All things considered, I’d still prefer not to take the risk. The FA Cup and Premier League will do for me this season.
15 November 1924: First game for Dan Lewis: Everton 2 Arsenal 3. In a Fifa commentary on the change of rules to allow goals to be scored direct from corners it is suggested that this game was the first in which this then happened but there are several reasons to believe the history Fifa presents is not 100% accurate. James Howie Ramsay scored two of Arsenal’s goals
15 November 1950: Leslie Compton won his first full cap for England, having won 12 war time caps. He was the oldest player ever to win his first full cap – at the age of 38.