Blog by: Forrest
In the aftermath of the UEFA Champions League group stage draw, much of the focus, at least in the British press, was on Arsenal. The overriding opinion was that Arsene Wenger and Arsenal would be cursing their luck at their drawing in the ‘group of death’ alongside Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli.
The notion that Arsenal will be disappointed by this draw is odd; this is, after all, the Champions League. It is about playing the best teams in Europe. Too often, the Champions League group stages are nothing more than a procession for sides like Arsenal. It won’t be this year and Arsenal, their fans and the press should celebrate this.
Manchester City complained last season at their poor luck in drawing Real Madrid, Dortmund and Ajax in the ‘group of champions’, why? If you are going to go on and win the competition, you will have to beat these sides anyway, so you might as well do it in the group stage. If City weren’t good enough to pick up a single win in that group, they certainly didn’t deserve to progress, and certainly wouldn’t have threatened to win the competition.
It must be said, this concept of the draw being a good one is something the Arsenal fans grasped quite quickly. Even the most optimistic Gunners fan will realise there is little chance of winning the competition, so why not revel in enjoying some truly entertaining European nights in the group stage for once? On Twitter, the majority of fans were excited at the prospect of visiting Naples and of seeing Dortmund come and play their exciting brand of football at the Emirates.
From a personal point of view, I have never held much of an inclination to get hold of Champions League group stage tickets. But as soon as that draw was made, I went and checked the date of the home tie against Dortmund, I’ll be going to that.
For the first time in years, there is actually a sense of intrigue in the early stages of the Champions League, qualification is not a foregone conclusion. When in previous years the worry would surround finishing first or second, and who may lie in wait in the knockout round, this season will carry far more entertainment, with every match vital in ensuring progress.
It should, and almost certainly is, the same for the manager and players. Do you really think the players relish a trip to Victoria Plzen on a Wednesday evening? I doubt it. Travelling to Dortmund’s imposing Westfalenstadion however, will be a proposition Arsenal’s players, and fans, will find genuinely exciting.
For Arsenal, this draw could be seen as very much win-win. If they do qualify, it will be a genuinely impressive feat against some quality sides that should give the side confidence going into the knockout rounds.
On the other hand, if Arsenal finish third (I highly doubt they’ll finish behind Marseille), they will be parachuted into the Europa League. Now, I’m not going to pretend to like the Europa League. I have long maintained (perhaps with a certain Champions League imposed snobbery) that it is a meaningless competition for sides that aren’t good enough to compete with the elite. So, whilst that opinion won’t change, dropping into the second tier of European football would at least give Arsenal a genuine chance of winning that long awaited trophy (8 years is it? I don’t know, it very rarely gets mentioned) and that would be a consolation prize of some note.
So the press and opposing fans, don’t feel sorry for Arsenal, don’t laugh at us being drawn in such a hard group. Be jealous that we get to enjoy some great European nights earlier than everyone else. Because that’s what it’s all about.