For the first time in over 20 years, Arsenal will not be competing in the Champions League.
Is it sad? As a Manchester United fan, no. As a fan of English sides doing well, no because they don’t really get anywhere. It’s been 7 years since they reached a quarter-final. In their history, they’ve reached 1
It’s been seven years since Arsenal reached a quarter-final. In their history, they’ve reached just two semi-finals (2006, 2009) and one final (2006), both of which were under Wenger’s reign. Arsenal’s 2004 “Invincibles” are still considered their greatest ever side: losing three games out of 10 in Europe, I beg to differ. A side that cannot even do the best of their own nation’s clubs cannot be considered one of the best ever. But enough about who’s not in it: congratulations to Mauricio Pochettino who’s guided Spurs to another Champions League and Chelsea’s Antonio Conte.
With a group containing two of last year’s favourites, the Lilywhites have their work cut out. Real Madrid are defending champions and look just as strong as last year, even after selling Morata. Dortmund look a weaker outfit with Tuchel’s acrimonious sacking and the loss of Ousmane Dembele. Additionally, neither Jadon Sancho nor Marco Reus are in the squad. This is also Peter Bosz’s maiden Champions League campaign. After reaching the Europa League final with a young Ajax side last season, is this move too soon? There’s a project there which he certainly looked capable of building on, despite the sale of Davy Klaasen.
Spurs meanwhile, have a year’s experience and will not go into this year’s group stages as unprepared as they did last year. Pochettino has assembled a side which has the potential to go far. The spine of their team remains the same as last year all the way through. Their advanced players Dele Alli and Harry Kane have something to prove after last year’s disappointment. However, being supplied by Christian Eriksen, who’s already scored once and has two assists from his opening four matches, while providing 2.5 key passes per game. If he can translate that into the UCL, Spurs will be as free-scoring as they generally are in the league.
There’s just one problem, is the “Wembley curse” real. Their record says yes, but logic says no, I mean who has a curse at a stadium? As this is their home ground now, they cannot afford to have a poor record at Wembley.
It will be close but expect Spurs to scrape through to the knockout stages, the key games will be against Dortmund, while Los Merengues streak clear of them both, with Apoel Nicosia finishing bottom.
It’s been four seasons since Conte managed a side in the Champions League. Since then, his old side reached two finals and his record still only is a quarter-final as his best result. Managing the last English side to win Europe’s elite trophy, much is expected. With a ruthless Russian owner who demands excellence on all fronts, the final eight might not even be satisfactory. The starting XI looks solid enough, but they look light in terms of depth even still.
Between Atletico Madrid and Roma, they both could expose weaknesses in a side that generally lacks substantial continental experience. Chelsea are fortunate have opened up the campaign with an emphatic win against Qarabag. But the four games against Atleti and Roma may confine them to Europa League football in the second half of the season. Unless all their first-team players stay fit and more of the fringe players can chip in, I struggle to see how they will triumph against either side. Atletico still possess one of the best defences in Europe while in midfield. Meanwhile, Roma has the potential to overrun any side on their day. They only trailed Juventus by four points last season while boasting the second best attack (behind Napoli) and defence (behind the Turin side).
Expect a close finish between these three sides, as there will be little to separate them. Qarabag may finish pointless, but if they do not, whoever they gained points against will probably be consigned to the Europa league.
No Arsenal? Potentially, no problem: London should still be represented in the knockout stages. The question, however, is by whom. There’s only one way to find out…