After collapsing against Anderlecht in the fourth game of the UEFA Champions League, Arsenal’s usual prospect of qualifying from the group stage as runners-up beckons. Which means, Arsenal may yet again be drawn up against one of the giants of Europe like FC Bayern Munich or FC Barcelona in the next round.
Arsenal have crashed out at the last 16 stage in the previous four campaigns after getting tough draws for failing to win the group stage. During that time, Arsenal have faced Bayern Munich twice and one each against Barcelona and AC Milan. With the exception of the Barcelona clash (when Arsenal won the first leg 2-1 at home), Arsenal virtually lost the tie in the first leg itself. Bayern trashed the London outfit 2-0 last season and 3-1 two season ago at Emirates. Milan went a step further and destroyed the gunners 4-0 at San Siro in 2011-12 in the first leg of the round of 16.
With the inevitability around the corner, Arsenal are fully aware of the daunting task at hand. Hence, this raises the question, why Arsenal are taking the group stage likely? This is a question which has been in air for sometime, but their manager Arsene Wenger is yet to find a proper answer for it.
Before the match against Anderlecht, Wenger was keen to point out the importance of finishing first in the group stage to have a comfortable start to the life in the knock out stage. Despite of it, the team lost concentration in the last half hour and virtually ended the chance of topping the group. As soon as the match got over, Wenger was the first to concede the prospect of topping the group.
So where it all went wrong? One– as mentioned above, taking the tournament’s group stage likely cost Arsenal dearly. Second– Wenger is finding it difficult to find the correct team balance between the league and champions league. Third– managers failure to strengthen the team in summer, especially in positions which they needed the most like defence is costing the team now.
It is no secret, as everyone knew Arsenal needed atleast one proper holding midfielder, forward and a couple of defenders after the sale of Vermaelen in the summer. However, lack of investment from Wenger, left the back line exposed. With more strength and depth to the team, Arsenal may have had the luxury of resting start players accordingly for the league or champions league. But now they are left with no alternative, but to play the same players repeatedly.
Alexis Sanchez, despite the great start to his life at Arsenal, had already started 15 times for the gunners this season, which is the most by any outfield player in the team. Likewise, young Calum Chambers, a player who was bought for the future as also started 14 games for them this season due to the lack of depth at the defence.
Despite the setback against Anderlecht, Arsenal are still favourites to qualify from the group in second place, which mean Wenger’s team may yet again face an European powerhouse in the next round. Unless, Arsene address the immediate need in the January transfer window, this might become the fifth season in a row, in which Arsenal may be knocked out in the champions league round of 16.