I’d like to begin proceedings this time around with two quotes (the second being a response to the first) from fellow Gooners in the wake of our crashing out of the Champions League in the round of 16…again.
“If we had gone through, then yes you applaud, but to go out and say you are proud is ridiculous”
– “It’s what Gooners have become under AW. We’re always proud of these one-off’s in which we play well and it doesn’t matter a damn”
Now, I’ve got to be honest – it sure would be nice if Jake (@JakeArsenal1) and I could consider ourselves the modern day unthinkably awesome tandem of Gandalf and Dumbledore, where we just happen to know everything before it comes to pass. The unfortunate reality is that we do not have elongated grey beards of sheer badassery…but we do know a thing or two.
The honorable gentleman from down under and myself had this very same conversation mere days after the travesty that was the first leg, where him and I both agreed unequivocally that not only would we put in an inspired performance and win 2-0, but that the vast majority of the support would applaud our efforts. Well I am sorry to tell you, but you should frankly be ashamed if that is the stance you take.
Yes, we did in fact play well in the second leg and I am not going to sit here and try to refute that, the problem is that it never, ever should have come to that. In truth, the wrong aura now surrounds this football club, and it’s one that has become accepted – yes, we have now accepted the fact that we are on the outside looking in on the domestic front, and we merely make up the numbers in the continents premier club competition. For me, and for some as well, this is unacceptable.
A harsh reality, one that finally must come under the appropriate amount of scrutiny, is the fact that in seventeen straight appearances in the Champions League (yes yes, blah blah, it’s an incredible accomplishment), we have only managed to make it past the round of 16 on just SIX occasions – go ahead, let that sink in for just a brief moment…maybe two brief moments.
For all the brilliant players to have put on the shirt, for all the credit Arsène Wenger has received over the course of his time on the touchline in North London, Arsenal have reached the final just once and the semi-final on only one other occasion. To be frank, if that is not the definition of glorious failure, then I truly cannot find a better example.
Let’s be clear, I am not saying Arsène Wenger is a failure, nor am I saying we as a club are some sort of joke. However, what I am stating (and quite adamantly might I add), is that for all our financial power today and all of our club legends in the likes of Henry, Vieira, Pires and the rest, we have utterly failed on the continent…and in stunning fashion.
Sure, I could wax lyrical and bang on for quite a while about how we pay the highest prices as a fan base in England and receive a product that is far below our expectations, but supporters have been there and done that for a while now. What truly has not been done by enough of the fan base, is demand more from the club, the players and the manager.
By demand more, I don’t even necessarily mean a longer run on the continent. Think about it logically for a moment – if we haven’t been true title contenders domestically for quite some time till arguably this season, how can we be expected to make it any further in Europe than we have been. A club side that still is not built to dominate on the domestic front cannot possibly be expected to succeed in Europe
So, what do I mean by changing the narrative? Well, it’s two fold: 1. We have to stop thinking that we actually can make an impact in Europe. It truly hasn’t happened yet, and it won’t for a few more years because, 2. We truly are not demanding enough from the team domestically. There is some validity in the argument that cash restraints has prohibited us from making a real push for the league, but anyone that levies that response in my general direction will always receive the following counter from me – Atletico Madrid spent fractions of the money that Real and Barca lay out yearly and they won the league, while Dortmund are by no means a financial powerhouse but still bested Bayern for a brief period. The point? It could have been done, but delusions of grandeur in the Champions League always got in the way from us truly pushing domestically…just ask Chelsea how that worked out for them last season.
It’s widely understood and often agreed that the Premier League is the toughest league in Europe, and with that accepted truth, the narrative must be molded to a different tune. It’s truly not a shock that the big boys in Spain, Germany, as well as Italy and France to an extent aim for a push in the competition each season – their domestic concerns often play second fiddle. It’s a guarantee that Barca and Real only have one another and perhaps one other club to concern themselves with, while Bayern are far clear of any true challenge in Germany. Add to this the spending habits of these clubs, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that they shell out enormous sums of money with Champions League glory in mind, not the worry of a harsh domestic campaign.
For me, the end of the day, the narrative change surely has to be, that we as Gooners must demand more in terms of our domestic responsibilities. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t love a miracle run to lifting a European trophy, but the realist in me understands that other priorities must come first.
I was certainly frustrated when our removal from the competition was confirmed, but it was frustration directed at the fact that I knew it was coming…nothing but rinse and repeat. Try to finish third or fourth, exit the round of 16, get back into the competition next year, rinse and repeat. Granted, this formula has given us stability and sure it’s an achievement, but I’d rather exit at the group stage and push on to win the league than to let a competition that we have no chance of winning stand in the way of something that is actually plausible.
Rome was not built in a day – before they became masters of the known ancient world, they first had to be masters of the Italian peninsula and rid themselves of the Etruscans, Samnites, and ward off the threat of the Carthaginian. Once dominant in their region, then and only then could they set out to conquer the world.
So in closing, I urge you to think on the above analogy and come to the understanding that the footballing world truly isn’t any different. You cannot conquer a continent if you’re not even the best in the business on a local level, so perhaps it’s time all of us stop having high expectations in Europe, re-write the current narrative, and demand nothing less than close to perfection domestically.
Andrew is our newest regular columnist here at ABW. You can find him on Twitter here (@AFCBvB1410). When not writing for us, Andrew also writes for Outside of the Boot and the Modern Gooner. He loves a good football debate; so don’t be afraid to chat with him on Twitter.