Answer: All of the above.
Last night was a disaster. It was a shocking defeat. One which has left us hanging on to our Champions League future by the thinnest of threads. And it is simply not good enough.
Every team will lose a game. It is the nature of football. No one can go through a season unbeaten in all competitions. However it is the manner in which you lose a game that is important.
Lose when you have been on top, the opponents have defended with 11 men behind the ball, and scored a goal from a corner, a snatch and grab victory, then wasted time and scrapped through, it happens. However, conceding 3 goals at home in a defeat, well that is not unlucky, that is just deservedly losing.
The concern in defeats like yesterday are not a one off. Already this season we have been humiliated in the Champions League by Dinamo Zagreb, and destroyed at home by West Ham. And it is not a new thing.
Last season we conceded 3 at home to both Monaco and Anderlecht in the Champions League. That is 9 goals conceded, at home, to fairly average sides. Add in 3 conceded away to Stoke, 2 against Southampton, and you are starting to get the picture. I could go through the results of the last 10 years and it will be littered with huge defeats at home and in Europe. City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Munich, Man United, Swansea, Hull and more, they have all done us. Comfortably.
We put so much on Champions League qualification. The club boasts about 16 or 17 years in the Champions League. Qualifying from the group stages for god knows how many years. But then when it comes to the competition itself, we always fall short.
Yes, we have had some tricky 2nd round draws over recent years. Barcelona, Munich, AC Milan, but we always seem to shoot ourselves in the foot. Whether it be a heavy defeat in the 1st leg at home, or a poor group stage which see’s us fall to second.
And then when we do get a favourable draw, such as Monaco or, many years ago, PSV Eindhoven (this one still hurts), we capitulate.
What is the point of being in the Champions League if you are not going to put in a good effort and win it? You can count on 3 fingers how many times Arsenal have been competitive in the competition;
- The Quarter Final defeat in 2004 when the invincible lost to Chelsea, a year we really should have won the competition
- The 2006 Final appearance
- The Semi Final loss to Manchester United in 2009 when Cristiano Ronaldo ripped us a new one
It is simply not good enough.
And then we come to last night. Considering how much we praise we are supposed to give the side for finishing in the top 4, we then rest our only summer signing. Now some say he was injured, but for me, if you are fit enough for the bench, you are fit enough to start. Cech should have started.
Not playing your strongest 11 makes me wonder what are we doing with the Champions League? Are we taking it seriously, or do we now realise we can not win the competition so are playing weakened sides to rest players for weekend games (we could go top this weekend).
If that is the case, then there is only one motivation for qualifying for the Champions League. Money.
Just qualifying for the group stages earns the club around £30m in ‘prize’ money and TV revenue. Add in gate receipts (this year Munich being a Cat A) and that figure is touching £40m. You can see the clubs motivation from qualifying. Of course, in theory, it is important to qualify. That additional £40m could get you an additional £25m signing on £125k a week. But this of course is Arsenal.
As for the players, in their contracts they will have Champions League bonus payments. In recent accounts, Manchester United’s wage bill dropped £12m. The likely reason for this is that they failed to qualify for the Champions League. £12m disturbed to players for finishing top 4. No wonder a few years back we celebrated finishing 4th at Newcastle like we had won the league. The players were due to get a £400-500k bonus each. Clearly after earning this, their motivation to win the thing drops.
With Munich still to be played at home and away – we could be on 0 points after 4 games – qualification is unlikely, not matter, how Arsene Wenger tries to big it up. The only question then is do we want to finish 3rd of 4th?
The Europa League is a winnable competition. Chelsea showed that a few years ago. Were we to drop down a level and take it seriously, a trip to Switzerland in May for the Final could be a highlight of the season. For an away fan, it could also threw up a few cheeky away trips to Norway, Denmark & Austria, places we do not often get a chance to go.
On the flip side, it would mean playing on Sunday. Whilst I do not buy into the ‘playing in a Thursday & Sunday disadvantage’ as in the Champions League you often play on a Wednesday and a Saturday, it would be a nightmare for travelling fans as it would mean pretty much every game in the New Year would be moved to the Sunday, by the time the TV companies ruin the rest of the fixtures.
No one can justify last night defeat, although I am sure some will.