New-Found Resilience Gives Arsenal Champions League Hope

Arsène Wenger” (CC BY 2.0) by Ronnie Macdonald

Arsenal have struggled to make an impact in the Champions League since their run to the semi-finals in 2009. Arsene Wenger’s men have been a constant presence in the competition, but have been unable to mount a serious challenge for the crown, a run that has seen them dumped out in the last-16 stage in the past six campaigns.

The Gunners are embroiled in a battle with Paris-Saint Germain this term to finish top of Group A. Placing ahead of the French champions would hand Arsenal a favourable draw in the knockout phase, having already qualified for the next stage of the competition. Wenger’s men have always done enough to qualify out of their group, but have come unstuck against quality opposition in the round-of-16, including two defeats apiece to Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Losing out to the top sides has been Arsenal’s story over the last 12 years, failing to win the Premier League due to the displays of Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, while their endeavours on the continent have always seemingly been ended by the Catalan club, none more so than their defeat in the final in 2006.

As a result of their recent underwhelming performances in the tournament, the Gunners are backed in the latest Champions League betting odds at 22/1 to win the trophy, leaving them outside the leading contenders for the crown. However, there has been encouragement in their performances both at home and abroad, suggesting that Wenger’s men are becoming a resilient outfit.

In the club’s opening match of the Champions League season, PSG took a 1-0 lead in the first minute through Edinson Cavani. Arsenal teams of the past may have wilted and conceded a second soon after to leave them with an uphill challenge, but on this occasion they held firm and were rewarded for their stoic play at the back when Alexis Sanchez equalised late in the game to earn a point.

The Gunners faced an even worse deficit in their away clash against Ludogorets Razgrad, going 2-0 down inside the opening 15 minutes of the contest. However, Granit Xhaka brought them back into the game almost immediately while Olivier Giroud notched the equaliser before the interval. Arsenal were composed across the pitch and were clinical in the dying minutes when Mesut Ozil snatched an unlikely victory to seal the club’s place in the knockout phase of the tournament.

Mesut Ozil” (CC BY 2.0) by Kieran Clarke

Wenger’s men have translated that resilience to the Premier League, claiming a point against Manchester United at Old Trafford, despite being far from their best. Arsenal have talent in their team and could make a push towards the latter stage of the competition, but only if they maintain the character they have established thus far this season.

The club wilted in past first-leg ties against Monaco and AC Milan, leaving them with too much ground to overhaul in the second leg. They made those second matches close as a result of their quality in the final third, but due to their woeful performances in the opening clash it led to exits from the competition.

That should be a lesson to Wenger and his team, and should they utilise this new-found resilience in the latter stages of the Champions League, there is no reason why they cannot push for their best finish in a long while, and perhaps even their first title.


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