Category Archives: champions league

Giroud – A Tainted Legacy

105 goals in 253 appearances.

Not a ratio to be sniffed at, but at the base level, this is what Olivier Giroud brought to the table for Arsenal.

Just looking at numbers renders other, valuable facets somewhat invisible however.

We overlook the way he held the line valiantly, alone, for so many seasons.

We miss out on him holding up the ball not only with his physical edge, but his nous in and around the box.

We also miss out on the fact he tarnished his Arsenal legacy with his actions in a Chelsea shirt.

Giroud came so close to cementing his reputation as a Gooner favourite. While we lamented the fact he was never a 20 goal a season man, the majority of us saw him and his talents as precious – he helped the team with his actions.

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He wasn’t just about goals, but the above ratio is not poor. Upon joining Arsenal, he had just been the talisman for Montpellier winning their first Ligue Un Championnat. He joined in the same window as Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski – we had signed attacking players that would boost our threat.

This was certainly true for the three above, but Giroud never materialised as we thought he would. He scored valuable goals and always earned a respectable number, but he was never a goal machine. Still, his biggest asset was that his touch and awareness led to him being part of some magnificent goals and moments.

In his career in our red and white, his highlights reel will live on. Some truly breathtaking goals were bagged, and his part in Aaron Ramsey’s late winner in the 2014 FA Cup Final cannot be overstated. Giroud loved the club while he was here and never wanted to leave, but squad competition meant if he wanted regular gametime, he would need to find pastures new.

His move to Chelsea was a stark reminder that professional football is still, at the bottom line, just a job to the majority of players. He made the right choice as his modus operandi in choosing a new destination was that he wanted to stay in London for family reasons.

Chelsea needed a frontman, and Giroud embarked on a trip to West London.

This was more than enough for some fans to cut the ties we had with Giroud, but his over-exuberant celebrations after one of our worst days on a football pitch – the 4-1 hammering at the hands of the Blues in the Europa League final – was the straw that broke the camels back in terms of his Arsenal legacy.

Mocking Arsenal

Olivier Giroud, if he had kept his nose clean and performed in the respectful manner that he did in his time with us, would have always had a home with the Arsenal faithful. We would always remember his efforts kindly. He stayed while we struggled. He gave his all for us and left us with some truly treasured memories.

Instead, he is now just remembered as being part of the Arsenal framework that led to our slide out of the Champions League. Even looking back at his famous, Puskas-winning scorpion goal doesn’t do it anymore. Giroud has burned the nerve endings.

Giroud

It isn’t as bad as the likes of Ashley Cole, Robin Van Persie or Adebayor – those players ended up being panto villains. But where there was real affection for the player – now there is just a vacuous space.

Oivier Giroud could have left something truly special, but in his job search and his antics thereafter – he tainted what he had left us.

 

Is The PL The Toughest League In The World?

They say the Premier League is the toughest domestic league in the world.

It may be hyperbole scripted by the TV Execs to justify exorbitant subscription fees, but there may be something in it.

Looking at the top European leagues, the usual suspects duke it out season after season for the top honours. In Italy, Juventus have won countless consecutive Scudettos. In Spain, if your name isn’t Barcelona or one of the Madrid’s, you aren’t welcome in the VIP section. Ditto for PSG, Ajax, PSV, Dortmund and Bayern in France, the Netherlands and Germany.

Of course, there are exceptions. FC Twente in the Netherlands, Monaco in Ligue Un, Leicester City and the odd guest appearance in the Champions League from a surprise runner means that there is indeed depth that on the surface appears to be non-existent.

But in the Premier League, the true fact is that every single one of the twenty teams that take part in the Premiership is capable of gunning down one another. Every weekend, the so-called ‘Big6’ go into their respective fixtures with a healthy degree of respect for their opposition. No matter if they are Premier League debutants or top-flight veterans, every club has the chance of ruining an accumulator.

The fact that it is now a ‘Big6’ rather than the already established ‘Top4’ shows that there is no room for error when fighting for the summit. It means that there are opportunities for those who invest wisely the ridiculous sums of money doled out for TV rights.

That brings us to a salient point for us Gooners.

Are we able to maintain the gap between us and the chasing pack?

 

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We have spent wisely in the summer and purchased players that will enable us to go the distance a little easier than last season, which saw us crawl over the finish line rather than kick on and claim our top four spot.

Then again, the peloton that is breathing down our necks have also strengthened significantly, and have owners more than willing to back their Managers to the hilt with regard to transfer activity.

Leicester City, West Ham, Wolves and Everton have been backed by their investors. They have been active and purchased players that wouldn’t look out of place in our squad, or even City’s and Liverpool’s talent pool.

The Foxes have made a strong start to this season, and the additions of Youri Tielemans, Caglar Soyuncu (from the previous season) and Dennis Praet mean that along with the likes of James Maddison and Jamie Vardy, boss Brendan Rodgers has all the pieces required to assemble a challenging squad.

West Ham have been very active, and spent heavily on Sebastian Haller up front and the highly-sought after Pablo Fornals in midfield. The Hammers now have a squad littered with top class names – enough to seriously trouble our hopes of re-entry to the Champions League.

Wolves, led by the tactical nous of Nuno Espirito Santo, went mightily close to piercing the Top 6 bubble. Up top they have the prolific Raul Jimenez who is ably assisted by Diego Jota. In midfield, Joao Moutinho rolls back the years and Connor Coady does the mucky stuff, and with Matt Doherty in defence providing a constant outlet, they have a spine that will continue to push bigger teams.

Everton have some serious wealth behind them. Their owners are not shy in their ambition, and that means Marco Silva has spent on some big name players. Moise Kean, Fabian Delph, Yerry Mina  (from the previous summer) and our Hale End product Alex Iwobi join an already dangerous squad, with Gylffi Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Adrien Gomes, Bernard, Michael Keane, Lucas Digne, Seamus Coleman and Theo Walcott showing that the Toffees are justifiably excited for this season.

While we have our eyes very much upwards, it means that points that were normally a lot easier to grab will now be a slog, and squad’s will have to rotate, but it will be difficult for manager’s who rotate heavily.

The same goes for the likes of Champions City, Liverpool and our top four rivals. No more points bagged as soon as the game is kicked off. These teams can not only hurt them, they can run for the majority of the season’s distance.

When the likes of Crystal Palace are beating United, promoted Sheffield United drawing with Chelsea and Burnley and Bournemouth doling out slip-ups on the regular, every game will need meticulous scrutiny before the game begins.

It means some trophies may have to be sacrificed, with our promising youth filling the void as our established players take a breather.

All of this makes for palpitations, and also is the perfect league to watch week in and week out.

Champions League Or Bust?

Can you lose your European pedigree?

 

Decades of dining at the top table of European competition, duking it out with the zenith of club football. It gives a club a credence, an allure. It allows a club to build a brand, something the business that football has become makes mandatory.

 

Constant presence at the top also makes them far more palatable to talent, talent that makes it far easier for clubs to extend their reservation at the most exclusive tournament.

 

Why would a player choose to join a club not taking part where the best of the best are represented? Players themselves are becoming brands, and while money talks – so clubs not currently plying their trade in Europe always have a slim chance of snaring a big name – the majority of the time when a star becomes available, the club that is battling in the Champions League is predominantly the more attractive option.

 

Arsenal have not been in the Champions League for two seasons now, and the fight to avoid a third season hangs on a knife-edge. The Europa League offers arguably the more enjoyable campaign, as the Gunners have a real chance of holding aloft the trophy come May. But the Champions League talks big, and players want to hear that famous anthem on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, rather than watching on TV.

 

Arsenal took part in the Champions League for twenty consecutive seasons. We were mainstays in the competition, and for a long time we belonged in the first pot of seeds. Our decline from contention in the Premier League also coincided with our fall from grace on the biggest stage, and the last eight or so seasons of taking part in the top competition in football was more about taking the cheque rather than having any serious notion of winning it.

 

Consecutive Last-16 exits cemented Arsenal’s label as an attractive option for ballers, but far from the cream of the crop. Embarrassing exits to Bayern Munich and Barcelona only served to underline us as 2nd class, watching on as the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, Chelsea, Atletico and Juve all fought it out for the grand prize.

 

Now, we are on the verge of re-joining the competition. Would most of us not want to remain in the Europa League? The excitement of reaching the business end of the tournament, knowing that each time our name pops out of the hat means we have a real chance of lifting the thing?

 

The Champions League though, is mandatory for progress. Like it or not, the beast that it has become means that the money generated from even a group stage exit means more than winning the entire Europa League trophy.

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This means little to us in the stands and watching at home. The problem is however, that the longer we continue to stand outside, pressed up to the window but not involved means we drift further from the pack.

 

It means finding rough diamonds like Matteo Guendouzi becomes imperative, as the real big names want what we can’t provide.

 

A third season outside the Champions League won’t harm us too badly. Our profit margins will remain healthy and we can concentrate on a real push for a better position in the Premier League. should we prioritise that over the Europa League? Perhaps, but our squad is deep and talented enough to be able to fight on more than one front. We can focus on both. We should put a real push for the top four at the front of every season, it is far from beyond us.

 

Arsene Wenger once said that the top four is almost like a trophy, and the majority of us scoffed. With football as cutthroat as it is right now, his words have never been truer.

 

Our recent FA Cup wins meant the world to us, but a failure to reach the Champions League in the near future would mean that trophies would become even more scarce.

Who Will Win The Top4 Race?

There was a time when making the top four for the hallowed Champions League spots was much maligned.

 

When Arsene Wenger performed miracles on a shoestring budget by squeezing his Gunners side into the top table of European football season after season, instead of being lauded he was ridiculed for valuing the financial merits of making the Champions League.

 

Now though, making it into the top tier of club football is a huge deal, and one that six teams not only desire – but in order to maintain their standing and financial clout – they also need.

 

This season looks to be the toughest to call in regards to who slips into the top quartet of the Premier League. Manchester City and Liverpool have gone from strength to strength as they propel each other in their title fight, but the other two spots?

 

That is a straight fight between four teams.

 

As you can see in the graph on this page on the Premier League odds, the current odds on which team will get into the top4 is an ever-changing landscape, and no team can be sure of where they will stand at the end of the campaign. Tottenham were shaping up to be a third player in the title battle only two games ago, and now they are looking nervously over their shoulder with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United breathing down their necks.

 

It is even closer between Chelsea, United and Arsenal, with one point separating the trio – should Chelsea win their game in hand.

 

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So who has the advantage in the run-in? Who is nearer to pocketing the 70-100m of readies for Champions League involvement?

 

Arsenal

 

Much will depend on their next two games. Fixtures against tottenham and United are huge games and neither can be confidently predicted..Once those are out of the way though, the key is the away games for the Gunners.

 

From the remaining eight games after the United match, Arsenal have four games on the road. With Unai Emery’s men far from convincing on their travels, they will need to take advantage of the fact that they will have played all of their games against their fellow top6 colleagues.

 

United

 

United have three fixtures left against their top6 rivals, and a key spell will be April 24-28, which will have United host City and Chelsea in the space of four days.

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made his team resurgent after the dour tenure of Jose Mourinho, and their climb up the table has been remarkable.

 

One thing to watch is their injuries, especially after three players were replaced in the first half in  their 0-0 draw with Liverpool recently.

 

If they can keep their big men fit, they will be there at the end. The likes of Pogba, Lindelof, Rashford and De Gea are vital to their cause.

 

Chelsea

 

March is crunch time for Chelsea. A London derby at the start of the month, then a trip to Anfield, a tough game against Burnley and then closing out the month with an away game against United.

 

Chelsea are also hugely reliant on Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante. Without those two and the Blues lack the proper world class to change games.

 

Maurizio Sarri has had a perplexing first season. On one hand, he has earned some big wins, and on the other hand, they have looked insipid at times, mocked by their own fans for their unimaginative substitutions. There have also been the odd blip – huge losses to Bournemouth and City made them look ordinary.

 

If Sarri can muster the better end of the blues performances, then they can keep pace with the pack.

 

So, to surmise, it is going to be ridiculously tight to call.

 

One thing is for sure, every match will be unmissable.

Pro’s and Con’s of a Winter Break

If you can make it in the Premier League, you can make it anywhere.

The lack of a festive break for footballers in the world’s most watched domestic league means that imports from other countries will face a baptism of fire when it comes to December.

While their compatriots will be sunning themselves in some far-flung destination, relaxing their weary bones, Premier League players will be going through the most gruelling spell of fixtures in the whole season.

Let us take our club for instance.

With European competition and domestic cup action, we have nine games to navigate our squad through, in 31 days. It is little over a game every three days.

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Even without European competition, and let’s throw an early exit in the Carabao Cup, it leaves every club with a bare minimum of seven matches.

December represents the toughest stage, and once through this imposing gauntlet, you know there are no more tests like it. There will be months that the going is tough, but none amount to the sheer physical exertion that nine games brings.

Does the festive schedule need to be binned? Some are of the opinion that because of the lack of a break, the England international team will always fall short. While their national rivals can call upon reserves of stamina, England will always be flat out, running on fumes and desperate for a rest.

However, Christmas and football are close bedfellows. Attending and watching games with family and friends is an institution, one that does need to be guarded to protect it for fans.

Could there be a compromise from the league that would fit everyone?

Probably not. Sky and TV companies hold the Premier League by the short and curlies, and can make it dance to whatever tune they wish. Abandoning the current status quo would seriously harm revenue, as figures over Christmas will be higher than any other time. It’s a captive audience, families indoors, watching the game with a box of Matchmakers.

The barometer for success can be found in European competition. The lack of success from English sides is tangible, while Spain reigns supreme. That means that Italy and Germany are also without any real progress, but they too enjoy a winter break.

A lot of this can be put down to the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona, but without them, Italy and Germany have had ever presents in the latter stages, where Chelsea, United, spurs, Liverpool, City and Arsenal have let the side down from time to time.

Can this be attributed to a lack of a winter rest?

Perhaps not, but it is probably a factor.

However, fan power does still have a part to play, at least in this situation.

If the festive schedule was taken away, and add to this the liberal peppering of international friendly breaks, supporters would not exactly be supportive of this. It would also cause a fixture scheduling hell, with clubs compromising fitness with games coming thick and fast for longer spells.

At this moment, it is just December that is packed full of games, but with a winter break, these nine games would have to be sandwiched unceremoniously throughout a season.

From a fans point of view, let us enjoy the many opportunities we are getting to see our side, and let our club, with their many resources, deal with the physical exertion.

Promises and Savouring the Journey

The season, Unai Emery’s first and the beginning of a new era of Arsenal, is in full swing.

 

The football is in a transitory stage, and when the dust settles, an Unai Emery modelled team will indeed make us a far tougher outfit than before. We can already see the seeds of Emery’s free-flowing attack in flashes – the non-stop movement and team-built moves that were the foundation of his success with Sevilla.

 

We also have a squad that is better equipped than in previous seasons. Defensive inequities remain, but this isn’t down to the personnel like in years before.

 

The future is bright, but for some, the future isn’t good enough.

 

Success is never quite close enough, glory always on the horizon but never within grasp.

 

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We are filled with promises from politicians that carry as much weight as the flakiest pastry, it is becoming the norm where someone’s word is worth nothing. So is it really surprising that we hold no optimism where the future is concerned?

 

Unai Emery will be painfully aware that he needs a modicum of success if he is to etch his name permanently into the annals of Arsenal. If he fails then he will be just another managerial casualty.

 

The requirements are simple, far simpler than at the majority of clubs. Do what Arsene failed to do in his last two seasons – reach the Champions League.

 

This means ousting two from Man United, Chelsea, tottenham, Liverpool and City. the Champions. Seeing as two of these teams look to be ahead of the chasing pack, that leaves two teams from four, including us.

 

The League is getting tougher and tougher to get at those pesky top four spots, but Emery’s prime objective could be fulfilled another way.

 

As aforementioned, our squad has been bolstered beyond what means we had for our last foray into the Europa League. We reached the Semi-Final then, with a tired team that couldn’t fully motivate in what was Wenger’s last season.

 

We now have a coach who is somewhat of a specialist in this competition. Like it or not too, if we were to lift this trophy, it would be our biggest European triumph. If Emery were to recreate his winning with Sevilla, it would be more than enough to sate the doubters and also the Board.

 

The Top4 may be a big leap, and so is the Europa League, but fighting on both fronts is a must. Emery is equipped to bring glory to the team, but his first season is a building effort. Targets may be in place but we must also realise that if we fall short, there are reasons why.

 

We aren’t where we need to be. We are building, pushing towards an accumulated effort which takes time.

 

We could lift a cup, we might not, but we need to enjoy the journey, as we are on the right path and progress is being made. If it doesn’t happen this season, we can at least rest assured that this is a lesson we need to learn to achieve more.

 

Patience is indeed a virtue, but we need to stop being so short-sighted and only see the struggle. Obstacles make the journey more exciting and for once, we need to have faith in the promises being made.

 

The struggle is real, but so are the words being spoken. We are on our way to silverware again.

Reclaiming North London Next Season?

For over two decades, North London was settled territory.

The equilibrium was undisturbed, and while there were tremors of change, Arsenal held dominion over Tottenham with a steady hand.

The last two years however – arguably three if it weren’t for a laughable final day drubbing at the hands of an already relegated Newcastle United – have seen Spurs break free from their shackles and usurp the Gunners.

The hard thing to swallow though, is that the team with a chicken atop a basketball for a crest have deserved to finish above us.

Every season represents another chance for redemption however.

Can we restore the status quo and reclaim North London this coming season?

Arsenal Vs Spurs - Who will be the Kings of North London next season?

Everything rests on Unai Emery’s shoulders.

Last season saw the gap become a gulf, at no point did we threaten to grab back the bragging rights from Spurs, as they comfortably earned a Champions League place while we duked it out with Burnley and Everton for the Europa League and the dubious honour of finishing 6th.

Arsene Wenger’s last season was not the way he would have envisaged signing off from the club he adored, but he did leave the club with its values intact and the foundations for something greater than the sum of 2017/18.

Emery and the recruitment team have acted quickly to remedy the gaping holes in our lineup, but it could be argued that it was never really personnel that has let us down – it has been tactical nous that has been our downfall.

Wenger gamely stuck to his guns even in the face of the fiercest critics, but his famed Plan A succeeded less and less.

The lack of a Plan B and the ignored scouting of opponents led to us tripping up far more than we should have done.

Our new Spanish boss is a stickler for detail, and former players under his watch have claimed that he was obsessed with videos of opponents, putting in the work to combat an opponent’s strengths.

Emery is also known for his pressing game, and swift conversions from defence to attack. This doesn’t mean he cannot play the possession game though, it just points to a team that will be able to mix it up to differing demands.

Spurs are on the precipice. For three seasons they have swaggered to the ring, welcomed by a bassy ringwalk number, only for them to duck out of the ring when the First Round bell signals the time for talking is over. They have arguably one of the most potent attacks in the League, and a settled defence. They have taken scalps and duked it out with the best – but crucially, they have won nix.

Their trophy cabinet – for all the pundits fawning, their players claiming they have what it takes, their manager being linked to the biggest clubs – is still bare.

Now, they have taken the next big step, and built a stadium with a capacity to enable them to cement their place amongst the biggest clubs. The only problem is, the debt they have now acquired could sink them.

This is where Wenger really excelled. When we took on all of the debt from The Emirates build – unlike Spurs who have had financial aid – we had to tighten our belts. We were on a diet of Djourou’s and Senderos’s, and we still maintained our Champions League presence, which was vital for our finances.

We fought our way out on our own merits. Spurs have a squad that deserves to be amongst the top earners, but in terms of other star men and teams, they are on a pittance. There is only so long players will stay at a club through devotion if they have no winners medals to show for it.

They know they can triple their income with a move away – so Daniel Levy must focus on tying down his gems before they jump ship. That inevitably means their transfer budget will require sales to bolster it. It could mean a few years scouring the bargain buckets of Europe – and this is where Spurs have a big problem.

Their squad last season fell short, and that is them at their strongest. If they are to take that final step and become bona fide challengers, they need to be better than they are now – and that means new personnel, which they won’t be able to afford.

This also means that we know what we need to do, to reclaim our spot in North London. We need to be better than Spurs were last season.

With this being Emery’s first season in charge, there are so many unanswered questions, and with change coming after Wenger’s two decades, we cannot claim to be able to foresee where we will be.

The signs are good though, and we can say this – this coming season will be far closer than the last one.
North London could still be back in our hands yet.

Chelsea and spurs Money Woes is Deja Vu for Gunners

The current situations of Tottenham and Chelsea are, first and foremost, hilarious.

Chelsea owe billionaire owner Roman Abramovich over a billion pounds in unpaid, interest free loans that the Russian has forked out since his time as Oligarch of West London.

The money has seemingly dried up at Stamford Bridge. Case in point was last season’s curb on spending that led to Conte having an unhappy attempt at regaining the title with an ageing and limited squad.

Now, plans for a lavish new stadium to replace the decrepit Bridge have been canned, with Chelsea accountants having kittens and waylaying any plans for growth in an attempt to get out of the red and back in black.

Chelsea and their plans for a new stadium

Then there is Tottenham.

Our neighbours in North London are currently way over budget for constructing their new home, as they seek to complete it in time for the 2018/19 season.

At this moment in time, this is looking unlikely, and an option to retain Wembley as their home ground next season is looking more and more likely to be taken.

The money situation is not healthy either for spurs. With the new stadium causing Daniel Levy to dig deep and the playing staff failing yet again to win a trophy, tottenham are on the precipice.

Do they spend what available loot they have to keep their key men? Or do they put it toward strengthening, and cash in on one of their big players?

The likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli both know that if they were to talk to interested parties, they would be hearing figures that absolutely dwarf their current deals. They know they can get far more elsewhere, so a contract extension must be a lucrative one for both of them.

Then there is the likes of Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld, Danny Rose and Eric Dier. All are wanted elsewhere, and all would command far more than they currently earn at spurs.

Levy knows this, but if he pumps all of the available cash into keeping them, then the status quo remains, and they can’t significantly strengthen. Pochettino has worked wonders at the club, but the bottom line is that even with their current squad, they are still potless.

So something must give.

Meanwhile, Gooners are sitting back and enjoying the cash crises that both clubs are embroiled in.

You see, we’ve been there, and we had to make those tough calls, we had to shed our leading lights, we had to endure the cheap purchases that risked much. We had to pay back the bills – and yet we managed to do so whilst maintaining a Champions League place.

What Arsene Wenger managed to do in the years that followed the completion of The Emirates is nothing short of miraculous, and should be seen as one of his finest achievements. He managed to keep a side that contained the likes of Philippe Senderos, Manuel Almunia and Andre Santos, and kept them on the straight and narrow, instilled the same attacking values that he had done throughout his tenure.

Chelsea enjoyed the fruits of Abramovich’s deep pockets unhindered for nearly fifteen years, spending lasciviously and flagrantly ignoring the concept of a healthy balance and an independent outlook to club ownership that didn’t involve relying so heavily on one man.

Now the piper is knocking on the door and wants to collect.

Chelsea, in order to truly keep their place amongst the elite, NEED to move to a new stadium, to build that complex. The longer they stay at The Bridge, the worse their situation will get, and the risks become ever greater.

Spurs need to ride out 3-5 years of cost-cutting and balancing the books. These years will either see them maintain their position as one of the perma-Champions League clubs, or they will slip and find it much harder to find their way back.

What about us though?

Well, we’ve got our new home, and we’re raking it in – but with our new owner almost invisible and minding the pennies, it isn’t as if we are out of the woods. It means that the positions that our London cohorts find themselves in is a leveller – and the next few seasons will be us duking it out for the supremacy of the capital.

Should be a real slugfest.

The Europa League – Arsenal In It To Win It?

For many, it was fair game for years. A laugh-inducing tool of procrastination, poking fun at our neighbours whilst looking down our noses from the highest of perches – the Champions League.

‘Thursday is Spursday’ was a typical favourite, and we all took part in dishing out digs, whilst we engaged in brandy and cigars with the power people in rooms behind closed doors. The Champions League is the desire of all teams who aspire to glory, and it was hilarious that tottenham continually missed out.


Eventually though, our grip loosened. The membership card we had for this exclusive soiree expired. We looked on at the entrance as the former butt of our jokes flashed a smug grin and was welcomed in.


The roles have been reversed, and the only door that is open for us is the Europa League – the very destination that generated hilarious memes and jokes aimed squarely at spurs.


Should we take this tournament a little more seriously however?










The Europa League’s stock has risen in recent years, through many different factors. Firstly, the number of Champions League-worthy teams has risen as money has poured into European football. A plethora of rivals in every domestic competition – none more so than the Premier League – means it is harder than ever to force our way into Europe’s premiere competition.


It has also helped that UEFA has decided to grant the winner of the Europa League a spot in the Champions League.


It has resulted in this 2nd class tournament elevating itself in its standing. Plus, with recent winners being Chelsea and Manchester United, if it is good enough for them, why can’t it be good enough for us to at least take seriously?


Whilst we see our team amongst the hierarchy in terms of European clubs, in terms of honours, we flag behind our esteemed brethren.


If we gauge in terms of European honours, then our Fairs Cup win in 1970 and our Cup Winners Cup triumph in 1994 are our sole baubles, on a tree that is sorely lacking in decorations.


Of course, it could have been so different if Paris had gone a little different, or even Copenhagen in 2000. Alas, it wasn’t to be, but what is clear is that our club needs to add to our accolades, especially in European competition.


The Champions League has been the table we have dined at for decades, and yet can we say it has been an enjoyable experience in the last ten years? Entering a place where you know you have a strict time limit before you are unceremoniously dumped out the door?


No, it hasn’t been fun at all. Thumpings at the hands of the clubs we claim to want to stand toe-to-toe with, which only serve to highlight the gulf in between us.


The Europa League gives us a chance to be the big fish for once, rather than swimming in a pond, fearful of being eaten with every movement.


The competition is more hotly contested than ever, but we should  be able to progress to the latter stages whilst simultaneously rotating our squad to deal with the more important Premier League fixtures. Let us not get twisted here, the Premiership should be our main focus, but there is no reason why we cannot fight on two fronts.


There will be difficulties of course. The fixture scheduling will take some getting used to, playing on a Thursday and then the following Sunday/Monday will be a task that requires all the skills of the myriad of backroom staff we currently employ. We have the squad to do it though.


Our group stage consists of BATE Borisov, FC Koln and Red Star Belgrade. Two difficult away trips, but there should be nothing there that should outwit us. Players such as Jack Wilshere, Reiss Nelson, David Ospina, Per Mertesacker, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud have all been used sparingly this season, and they have more than enough in their locker to match and surpass these teams.


We currently do not have enough in our trophy cabinet to snub this competition. The Europa League, if we won it, would be one of the finest triumphs in our history. We have some amazing memories, but in terms of European honours, we could really do with this trophy in our cabinet.


If we were lucky enough to do so, then the European Super Cup beckons, and also, the Champions League again.


There could be some glittering memories made under the floodlights in The Emirates during a successful run to the final.

Our stadium sorely needs things like this, as the shadow of Highbury still looms over it. 

​CL Final Shows Gulf In Class

Posted on Goonersphere.

A Champions League Final is not normally a hive of frenetic action, sandwiched by thrilling passages of play.



No, European club football’s crowning glory is usually poster child for tedium and anti-football. Y’know the types of games I’m referring to – just picture a game involving a Jose Mourinho team in an important fixture and you’ll get the idea.



It is completely understandable though. Since the European Cup transformed itself in the early 90’s, the current format has gone from strength to strength and is now the pinnacle of all achievements for any club on the continent.



So for a team to play ultra-cautiously in fear of losing is just another effect of the Champions League gravity ensuring everything in its orbit is affected.


The latest Final though, in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, was markedly and pleasantly different.



















Both finalists – eventual winners Real Madrid and beaten finalist Juventus – went at each other with vigorous enthusiasm, and the first half especially was a joy to watch. The ebb and flow of the game was akin to a tennis match, but don’t for one moment think that the defensive arts were maligned. With each attack, the defence for both teams were the craggy rocks which the marauding waves crashed upon.


Juventus’s almost mythical defence of Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini were eventually found wanting in the face of the Real forward line, but Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos also had a tough time tracking the movement of Paolo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain.


All parameters of skill in football were crammed into the ninety or so minutes, and what became increasingly apparent as the minutes whizzed by was that Arsenal – and the Premier League – are miles behind the level on show.


The Premier League’s biggest strength – it’s physicality and fizzing speed – is also its biggest flaw. It means that the technical ability that Real and Juventus possess and dole out on the pitch can slice through the crash and bang that PL sides bring to the table.


We have players in every PL team that can play in this manner. Some clubs have more than others, but the bottom line is that it isn’t just the Champions League finalists that have climbed above our best sides.


Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, PSG, Monaco, Barcelona. These teams, if drawn against one of the big PL sides, could slice us to ribbons on demand. Of course, Dortmund have seen better days, and PSG haven’t been at their best, but five English sides making the Last 8 in the last SIX seasons pretty much underlines it.


There are matches when English teams can raise their game and occasions when their play is breathtaking. At their best, they can stand shoulder to shoulder with these Euro giants.


The problem is though, is that they are standing on tiptoes, and this can’t be maintained for long.


We have some of the best coaches. We have the most money. We have the platform to grow and become giants, like we once were. 


There are other factors. A lack of a winter break leaves English teams with less capacity than their Euro brethren, and the frenetic nature of our League means stamina becomes an issue.


These are not the main reason though, and that is why this summer will be a big one for the big boys of the Premier League. 


These clubs are now the richest on the continent, and despite this, they still don’t possess the best talent that money can buy. Suarez, Neymar, Dybala, Higuain, Bale, Ronaldo, Reus, Douglas Costa, Lewandowski. These men are at the very top, and none play in England.


Hell, Real Madrid couldn’t even fit James Rodriguez onto their bench!


We have Ozil, Sanchez, Hazard, Aguero, Pogba, Koscielny, Kane. These players can hold their head high amongst these esteemed names, but on the whole, we have a huge amount of catching up to do.


On the pitch, and off of it, we will see a big change. This summer will be the start, as silly money gets chucked around so City, United, Chelsea and hopefully Arsenal, attempt to claw back their shortcomings.


The CL Final may just serve as a wake up call for the Premier League big clubs.