Tag Archives: UCL

Europa League: It's all ours, whether we want it or not…

So. It comes down to this. Arsenal’s annual assault on the run-in, the one that sees us seize something resembling victory from the jaws of imminent defeat, has run ashore on the shoals. Despite having won seven of our last eight, we’re still very dependent on help from the likes of Middlesbrough and Watford if we expect to elevate our ambitions beyond the much-maligned Thursday night competition that is the Europa League. That shite-sandwich is already in our hands. Whether we want to be left holding it is another matter. We can’t really palm it off on anyone else, so all that’s left to do is shove it someone else’s face.

Man U are done, at least as far as the Prem is concerned. Mourinho will try desperately to prove that the Europa League is significant. Long may he prosper. After having narrowly escaped Celta Vigo (13th in La Liga), he’ll face Ajax (2nd in the Eredivisie). Win or lose, Man U will burnish the Europa League just a bit—and that’s something well-worth remembering.

After all, if a glory-hound like Mourinho covets the Europa League title, well, surely there’s something in it. The only question is, “should we want Mourinho to win the Europa League?” Whether he wins it or not, there’s something to celebrate at our end. More on that later.

We can bypass the Europa League and qualify for the Champions League through one of the following outcomes

  • we defeat Everton and Liverpool lose to or draw with Middlesbrough. 
  • we draw 0-0 or 1-1 and Liverpool lose by three goals or more. 
  • we win and Man City lose by a combined five-goal change in goal-difference. 

In other words, we’re all but guaranteed Europa League with all of its attendant play in various undesirable locations. I hear that Russia, Romania, and Turkey are delightful in November and December. For those not in the know, I was being sarcastic. Maybe ironic or even sardonic.

Yes, at some level or another, it might amount to trolling to some degree if we were to go into the Europa League—otherwise known as “Spuropa” or “Spursdays”—and win the damned thing. However, we have to measure what that means ahead of the game. How will players such as Alexis and Mesut feel about staying with Arsenal for Europa League play? How willing are they and the rest of the squad to possibly falter in the Prem again yet again in order to win a Europa League title? Will other top-shelf players be willing to join Arsenal ahead of the 2017-18 season, knowing that they won’t be playing in the Champions League or command the weekly wages they expect? It’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle inside a conundrum.

We play Everton at the same time that Liverool play Middlesbrough and Man City play Watford. There’s no way to game the schedule. It’s probably safe to say that we can’t count on Man City losing in any way, shape, or form. As such, we’ll have to hope that we can beat Everton and see Middlesbrough find a point or more at Anfield. If Middlesbrough can’t find that point, well, Arsenal will play in the Europa League. Mourinho’s Man U are in the final, and, win or lose, that does promote the trophy just a bit. Whether it rises to a level that convinces Alexis and Mesut to stay is an open question. What it means for our ability to keep them and to attract meaingingful reinforcements is another. We’ll have to watch the coming weekend’s results with bated breath, that’s for sure…

Arsenal win Group A only to face…Real Madrid? Bayern Munich?

Courtesy of a swash-buckling demolition of FC Basel coupled with PSG’s craven capitulation to Ludogorets Razgrad, Arsenal have won their Champions League group. Ordinarily, this might earn us a chance at facing a somewhat-weaker opponent. However, Arsenal being Arsenal, the opponent we’re most likely to face is Real Madrid, who finished second in their group after drawing at home to Borussia Dortmund. So it goes. Of the other second-place finishers, we might also draw once again to none other than Bayern Munich. Drop down below the fold to assess our odds and rate our chances of advancing past the round of 16 for the first time since 2010…

Here, first of all, are each of the second-place finishers and our odds of facing off against them:

  • Real Madrid: 21.74%
  • Bayern Munich: 16.77%
  • Benfica: 12.91%
  • PSG: 0%
  • Man City: 0%
  • Sevilla: 19.88%
  • FC Porto: 13.11%
  • Bayer Leverkusen: 15.6%
As you can see, there’s a pretty tidy if inconvenient inverse relationship between whom we’d like to face and whom we’re likely to face. While admitting that few if any clubs reach this stage through dumb luck, it’s pretty clear that drawing Real Madrid or Bayern Munich would be less than ideal, and that drawing Benfica or Porto would be somewhat moreso. 
A lot can happen between now and the next round. Injuries. Transfers. Existential crises. Assuming for now that each squad will perform in February and March to levels similar to how they’ve performed to date, how would you rate our chances against each of them? Get into the poll to share your highly unscientific, in-no-way biased opinions!


So. Arsenal have won Group A by virtue of blitzing FC Basel. That the accomplishment might earn us the right to again face Bayern Munich, or to face Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, or Juventus is all too Arsenal. Far be it from us to win our group when the second-place finishers might include a fair-few cream-puffs. Then again, there might be something in the fact that we won our group by virtue of someone else slipping on a banana-peel—all PSG had to do was win against the hapless, “we’re just happy to be here” Ludogorets Razgrad. PSG failed. We succeeded. What’s next? Sizing up our opponents in the knockout phase. There are a few giants who finished second in their groups, and still a bit of uncertainty in Groups G and H. Get down to the poll below the fold and register your opinion—and don’t be shy about letting fly in the comment-section as well!

Why the #&%£@$ can't Arsenal play like that against anyone else?

3-1, the final scoreline. 5-1, the aggregate. On its face, we had our arses handed to us. However, looking past that, we did far better than expected, regardless of form going into each leg. Against one of the most-fearsome three-headed hydras the world has yet seen and may ever seen, we more than held our own for the lion’s share of three hours of football. In fact, in this and in the previous encounter, all that separated us, really, was a handful of glitches at our end and just as many moments of brilliance at theirs,  Yes, on paper, there’s a massive, yawning chasm in class between us and them. No real shame in that, to be honest. On the pitch, however, we showed that we can bridge that chasm. Why, then, can we not play to that level more often?

All the talk going into this second leg focused on how Barcelona eviscerated Getafe 6-0 while Arsenal had sleep-walked to a humiliating 1-2 loss to Watford. On one hand, the results suggest a gap in competitiveness between one league and another. Fine. Dandy. The ineluctable conclusion of all of that talk, apparently, was that Barcelona would obliterate Arsenal. In the end, they did emerge with a quite-comfortable 3-1 win—but that’s a scoreline that belies the competitiveness of the match itself. As with the first leg, Arsenal showed for long, long stretches that it was capable of giving as good as it got. Even if the end-result is the same as it’s been all too often in this competition, there is still something to be taken from the process if not the result.

No, it wasn’t quite as stirring as it was against Bayern or AC Milan, among others, but if our squad can emerge from this with the confidence of knowing that it went toe-to-toe with what might be the world’s best squad in a generation, well, then, we can pencil ourselves in for a nine-match winning streak. If our squad can summon the same intensity, fervor, and focus that it showed in this and in the first leg—and eliminate those vital moments when we switched off—no one in the Prem can stop us.

Each of those is a massive “if”, though.

We had our chances, but we either squandered them or saw individual moments of brilliance deny us. How many times did Mascherano or der Steger come up with miraculous, last-gasp saves? How many times did we put a gilt-edged chance a bit wide or high?  Were it not for our own wastefulness or the eyes-wide-shut saves, we might have even taken a lead. Had Iwobi sold his contact with Mascherano just before halftime,…had Alexis’s header been angled more tightly…had Welbeck curled his shot just a bit more…

Contrast that feeling with the one from Saturday, when we lost at home against Watford. The result is the same: dumped out of a cup. However, the process is markedly different. Arsenal is not supposed to lose at home to Watford. That’s not petty boasting; that’s reality. Had Arsenal played against Watford, Tottenham, Swansea, or Man U as we did against Barcelona on either side, we’d be through to the FA Cup semifinal and just three points behind Leicester in the Prem.

This all sounds like quite a lot to make of having crashed out 5-1 on aggregate, but let’s face it: Barcelona are light-years ahead of all but two or three other squads in the universe at the moment, and that aggregate scoreline does flatter them just a bit. Never mind the gulf in class between us and them; that’s a bridge too far.  If we could just stop letting others bridge the gap between them and us, well, we’d be looking at winning a double, if not a treble (with League Cup, not Champions League, as the third, for those keeping score).

Although we didn’t mount that all-too Arsenal-ish second-leg “almost” comeback, I still believe that there’s enough in the performance to resurrect hopes of an epic resurrection over the last two months of the Prem campaign. We’ve taken a few on the chin, but we’re still contenders.

Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal—Vote for Player Ratings/MotM Poll

An early goal from Neymar looked to kill off all of Arsenal’s chances just 18 minutes in, but courageous attacks and a goal from Elneny revived some hope of a second-leg fight-back. Cartoon super-villain Luis Suárez found a second goal and, unfortunately, ter Stegen came up with numerous vital saves from there, perhaps none so vital as three in the space of seconds after a free-kick from Alexis in the 80th minute. Messi did what he seems to always do to make it 3-1 in the waning minutes. Despite bowing out, we’ll have to wonder whether we can summon this level of play on a more-regular basis against less-intimidating opponents. It wasn’t quite as inspirational as other second-legs we’ve seen, but it offered a glimmer of hope that, in the remaining nine Prem matches, we can put up more of a fight than we’d seen previously. At any rate, get down to the poll to give our lads what they deserve!