Why Arsenal need the UEL?

by - August 15, 2017

Last season, between January 31st 2017 to April 30th 2017, Arsenal won just 4 league games, two of which were against teams now playing in the Championship  (2-0 vs Hull City, and a 2-1 win at The Riverside vs Middlesbrough).
Arsenal lost 6 games, and drew 1, the vast majority of these defeats coming before the 10th of April. The Gunners conceded 3 goals in 4 away games on the bounced, and looked doomed to finish below an apathetic Man United and maybe even battle it out for Everton in 7th.
However, a tactical switch to 3-4-3 from Wenger after a 3-0 reverse from Palace, meant that Arsenal won all of their remaining league games, with the exception of a painful 2-0 reverse at White Hart Lane against the old enemy (which in all honesty, would have been 5 or 6 if not for the much maligned Petr Cech) and also beat both Manchester City and Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup semi final and final respectively.

Arsenal "missed out" on a top 4 birth on the final day of the season, despite an impressive display against an Everton side managed by Ronald Koeman, a man with almost a Mourinho style hoodoo over AFC, a 3-1 win despite playing with 10 men for over 70 minutes did little to soften the blow, as Liverpool beat a woeful Middlesbrough 3-0. This, in truth, was a blessing in disguise for Arsenal. Arsenal are where they currently should be, the UEFA Europa League. All of the jokes about travelling to Macedonia and Albania aside, the snobbery around this competition from a fanbase which has seen a 9 year trophy drought and 2 European trophies, as well as a heartbreaking defeat in the UEL's predecessor, the UEFA Cup, on penalties to Galatasaray in 2000 is frnakly staggering. Arsenal have been knocked out of the Champions League round of 16 every single season from 2010/11 to 2016/17, the last time Arsenal went into the second leg with a realistic hope of qualifying for the last 8 was in fact 10/11, against arguably the best side the London side faced in that period, as an Arsenal fan, who resents Wenger's excuses regarding referees and other cynical deflections often, I was genuinely angered by the injustice we faced. At 1-1 (2-3 on AGG to Arsenal), we were stifling Barcelona, outside of an individual mistake from Cesc Fabregas combined with a moment of magic from Lionel Messi, it was all going to plan. We all know what happened next, Van Persie was sent off for a genuine attempt on goal, which was deemed to be "kicking the ball away", the game changed and Barcelona won 3-1 on the night, winning 4-3 on AGG. This is an acceptable way to go out, Arsenal fought brilliantly against a technically better opponent and bigger club, genuinely competed and were unlucky not to go through. However, since then, Arsenal have gone into second legs trailing 4-0 vs a declining Milan side, 1-3 vs Bayern at home, 0-2 vs Bayern again at home, 1-3 at home vs a Monaco side who a few months later failed to get out of a UEL group containing Spurs, Anderlecht and Qarabag, 0-2 vs Barcelona at home, as well as the Bayern debacle last season. One could argue many of these were tough draws, however, in 10/11 12/13, to some extent 13/14 and 14/15, Arsenal threw away the chance to top their group for an "easier draw". In fact, in 14/15 AFC drew Monaco and Borussia Dortmund, who finished top of Arsenal's group (despite their woeful league form that term) drew Juventus, you could easily argue that Arsenal have had their share of luck, and merely wasted it.

So, why the snobbery? Well, many Arsenal fans feel like the competition is beneath the football club, an entitlement perhaps as a result of Arsenal seemingly been at the party for years, but without actually talking to any of the beautiful women there. But just because Arsenal were invited into the club, despite doing nothing while there, the fans are like a man down on his luck in this regard, who refuses to briefly lower his standards and earn his stripes. Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Man United are all recent UEL winners, it isn't the UCL, obviously, but it is more prestigious than domestic English cups, which many of the same fans have used to justify Wenger staying on. Winning the UEL would increase our prestige in Europe, would atone for the heartbreak in 2000, would secure a UCL birth and a place in the UEFA Supercup and the best part is, Arsenal could easily win this competition. AC Milan have invested well this Summer, but do not have the quality or depth of Arsenal's squad, Everton under Koeman are always a threat, but were knocked out of both domestic cups at the first hurdle last season and despite investment, are not in Arsenal's league in terms of quality and depth, Man United were helped by the fact that clubs like Sevilla and Benfica, who traditionally do quite well in the UEL, did not drop into it last season via the UCL, so it will be tougher for Arsenal, but from a realistic point of view, barring a shock third place finish from a European powerhouse in their UCL group, Arsenal have to be favourites for the UEL, as long as they strike any form of decent balance between resting players and ambition. Wenger has often been accused by critics of requiring his squad to have technical superiority over his opponents to win, hence his brilliant record vs the likes of Hull, Sunderland and Norwich and his poor record in big games at times, especially away from home, even if this was true, Arsenal's technical superiority could be enough to beat the vast majority of teams in this competition, but we have also seen changes from Wenger, for example the aforementioned games against Chelsea and Manchester City last season. Arsenal have cover everywhere on the pitch, have found a role for Mertesacker (as the central defender in a 3 ATB), have different options up front in Lacazette and Giroud, meaning Arsenal can exploit space with an out and out striker, break down teams who play a deep block, and also perhaps play two up front if need be. The Londoners have no excuses not to win the UEL, they are wrong if they don't take it seriously due to a European history of failure, and if they do take it seriously and fail to win it, with that squad, then questions must be asked.

Let's hope Arsenal can embrace Eastern Europe and hostile, unfashionable environments, and deliver the club's third European trophy since it's formation in 1886. Arsenal have been 10 or more points off of the title winners (including vs Leicester in 15/16) in every season since 2003/04 except 2007/08 and 2013/14, even if the UEL does affect league form, it is a small price to pay for a major European trophy, especially one that guarantees Champions League qualificaion.

Thank you for reading, leave a comment below to tell me your thoughts! ☺

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