It’s after ten. I have just watched West Ham and Barcelona get knocked out of competitions that we no longer have an interest in. I am enjoying their misery as they have enjoyed ours. It’s the way of the football supporter. We should have been celebrating a third FA Cup this season, but we self-destructed against Watford in the quarter-final. The Champions League remains a distant dream, despite our hardy annual qualification.
It is the biggest tribute to Arsene Wenger’s reign that we have been involved in eighteen consecutive Champions League seasons, and look likely to make that nineteen. It is the blot on his copybook that we have not won it, despite coming within twelve minutes of so doing ten years ago.
Two years earlier we surrendered our best chance of lifting big ears in a quarter-final against Chelsea. We had four world-beaters in Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp, and Thierry Henry. We went an entire season unbeaten in the Premier League but lost the biggest prize to a team that allowed a poor Monaco side to beat them in the semi-final. In turn they lost to Mourinho’s Porto in the final. There are so many ‘ifs’ in life. This was one of the bigger ones.
It pains me to see people suggest that the Champions League isn’t so important these days. Yes, only a fraction of the teams in it are champions, but they are the best in Europe. In the days of the European Cup and UEFA Cup the latter would often be the harder to win because it included champions of the season in which it was played. The Champions League format provides a much stiffer test than it’s predecessor ever did.
So why is it important to us fossils? “And if, you know, your history” I have seen us lift every piece of silverware in my lifetime, bar one. The very first was the European Fairs Cup, forerunner to the UEFA Cup. The best European trip was Copenhagen 1994 to see us lift the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup. These nights were so special. There is one more to come that will mean so much more. Let it be sooner rather than later. Some of us have just heard the bell as we head into the final lap.
The Champions League remains the Times crossword that we cannot complete. We find moments of inspiration, but come up short against the very best. We have Petr Cech, we have Mesut Ozil, we have Alexis Sanchez. We are edging closer to having the requisite number of world class players, we have the money, and yet something is lacking. Is it desire, is it ambition?
The coming summer is huge. There is a European Championship to occupy the best players which will make this absurd imposed transfer window even more complicated. Once you could buy players in all but about three months of the year. Now you can only buy them for about three months of the year. Restrictive nonsense, but it is the same for everyone.
We all want Arsenal to make a statement, to cover the obvious deficiencies in the squad. We have again reached a point where significant pruning is required and investment is required to help us to compete. This season’s Premier League campaign has been as frustrating as the Champions League in 2004. For Porto and Monaco read Leicester City and the LWCs. Little clubs over-achieving while we self-destruct.
It’s over to you Stan, Ivan, and Arsene. Where do we want to be? The time has come. Show us. Please.