Analysis: Arsenal’s Champions League History

For fifteen consecutive years without fail, Arsenal have qualified for the Champions League. However, despite such a steady qualification record, The Gunners are yet to get their hands on the elusive Eurpoean trophy. All in all, Arsenal’s Champions League history is a frustrating one.[quote_right]“Arsenal’s Champions League history is a frustrating one.”[/quote_right]

Not only do Arsenal qualify for the Champions League year on year, but they also have a habit of doing quite well thereafter. Over the last ten years, Arsenal have never been knocked out of the cup before reaching the final 16 knock-out stages.

Arsenal hold some pretty admirable records in Europe, and they are by no means an easy club to beat on their day. Yet, the Champions League Cup itself has managed to elude them completely. So, what’s going wrong?

[title]Always The Bridesmaid…[/title]
Poor Arsenal. Always the Bridesmaid, never the Bride. No Arsenal fan will have escaped the pain of the 05/06 Champions League final. The Lehman sending off, the Campbell header, and the subsequent Barcelona offensive onslaught that followed, robbing The Gunners of a dream victory.

Below, I have set out a Graph outlining Arsenal’s Champions League history compared with Manchester United, Real Madrid & Barcelona, over the last ten years. Granted, Arsenal have not been matching these elite clubs in recent years, but nevertheless, they been historic European & domestic rivals, and our aim should be to match their quality.

For me, the Graph illustrates two interesting points about Arsenal’s recent Champions League history.

Firstly, The Gunners have not dealt well with their defeat in the Champions League final in 05/06. The Graph shows that both Man Utd & Barcelona immediately improve when being knocked out of the Champions league at a disappointing stage. Arsenal however, have been on a steady decline since their defeat to The Catalans, seven years ago.

Additionally, Arsenal are far better suited to a league set-up, rather than the knock-out stages of a cup competition. When compared to Man Utd, Arsenal have advanced past the group stages more often, yet The Red Devils have had more success in the knock-out stages.

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[title]The Tortoise & The Hare[/title]

The Gunners are always in the race, but have never really steamed ahead. Evidently, ‘Slow & Steady Wins The Race’, does not apply to Arsenal.

With the emergence of super-clubs such as Manchester City & Paris Saint Germain, Arsenal need to re-evaluate their approach the Champions League. The squad needs to be built not just for longevity, but also for explosivity.[quote_left]“Too often, we succumb to pressure much less burdensome [than the Champions League]. How then, can we expect Arsenal to fight their way through the knock-out stages? The current Arsenal side is simply not built for cup competitions.”[/quote_left]

Arsenal’s current squad, much like the previous ones, is built solely to withstand the marathon which is the English Premier League. This is a noble approach, but the lack of success in knock-out competitions, especially in cup finals, is down to the fact that Arsenal lack a player, or a group pf players, who can turn a game on its head, whenever they please.

Since 2006, Arsenal have seen Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg & Robert Pires, all leave the club. Three highly dangerous attackers who can produce goals when they are needed. Players who penetrate defences both as a part of a team, and as a solitary force.

They have been replaced with players who have proven to be good goalscorers over extended periods, but who lack the ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck on a consistent basis.

Mikel Arteta, Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla & Theo Walcott currently make up the bulk of Arsenal’s midfield & strike force. Excellent players, but not amongst those whom you’d call upon in a scrappy, heated cup final where the pressure is mountainous. Too often, we have seen them succumb to pressure much less burdensome. How then, can we expect them to fight their way through a full Champions League competition?

The current Arsenal side is simply not built for cup competitions.

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[title]Now Or Never.[/title]

We currently find ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position. Arsenal have exited both domestic cup competitions, and in order to qualify for the Champions League for the sixteenth time in a row, The Gunners must chase fourth spot with only a slice of the season remaining.[quote_right]“The upcoming month of March is shaping up to be quite a story for both Arsene Wenger and Arsenal.”[/quote_right]

Pressure from fans and media alike are mounting on Arsene Wenger like never before. Big questions are being asked of him personally, and his ailing team of under-performers. It just so happens that tonight, (at the time of writing) Arsenal face Bayern Munich in the first knock-out stage of the Champions League. The scoreline could just sculpt the rest of Arsenal’s season.

Two weeks ago I suggested that Arsenal’s Top Four Status could be under serious threat, and nothing has changed since. It certainly seems that it is now or never for Arsenal Football Club. The upcoming month of March is shaping up to be quite a story for both Arsene Wenger and Arsenal, in both the Premier League, and the Champions League.

Lets hope it’s a story worth telling.

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