By the end of the evening, Arsenal, the eighth richest club in Europe according to the 2015 Deloitte “Football Money League,” resembled no more than the kind of mid-ranking Bundesliga opposition Bayern Munich breeze past on weekends.
Goals from Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and David Alaba meant that the match was finished as a contest by half-time. Olivier Giroud’s 69th minute reply offered little consolation given that it was bookended by an Arjen Robben strike 38 seconds after he was introduced as a substitute and a second Muller goal as the game tripped into added time.
This 5-1 destruction, Arsenal’s heaviest ever defeat in Europe, leaves Arsene Wenger’s side’s chances of progressing into the knock-out stages of the Champions League for a 13th consecutive season in grave jeopardy.
Olympiakos’ 2-1 victory against Dinamo Zagreb means that the Gunners trail the Greeks by six points at the bottom of Group F. Arsenal now need to win both of their final group matches and beat Olympiakos by two clear goals on matchday six in order to have any chance of qualifying for the last 16.
Were Olympiakos to draw against Bayern when they travel to Munich on November 24, Arsenal would be formally eliminated.
“It’s almost as if most people were able to contextualise the game and not lose their reason”, Arseblog’s Andrew Mangan observed, “shrugging their virtual shoulders and giving a ‘meh’ to it all”.
Such perspective is unusual for fans of any club in the aftermath of a chastening defeat, however, the stoic acceptance with which many Arsenal supports greeted the Munich result spoke less to their appreciation of Bayern’s quality than it did to a grim awareness that their own side is not cut out for the latter stages of the Champions League.
In the nine seasons since Arsenal came within 15 minutes of winning the European Cup in Paris against Barcelona, the club has only once progressed past the quarter-final stage (2009).
Since 2010, the Gunners have bowed-out in the round of 16 every year. While defeats against clubs as pedigreed as Barcelona, AC Milan and Bayern Munich can be understood, last season’s exit at the hands of a patently average Monaco side painfully illustrated the extent to which Arsenal have deteriorated on the continental stage.
The nature of the Gunners’ defeats against Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos this season suggests that there is little hope of the club’s fortunes improving even if they do somehow manage to make it out of their group. In this context supporters can perhaps be forgiven for overlooking the Bayern loss in order to focus on a crucial North London Derby against Tottenham in the Premier League on Sunday (Arsenal sit joint first with Manchester City).
But if Arsenal are ever to shake off the unwanted title of being the highest profile and richest club in Europe never to have won the European Cup, a fundamental mentality-shift is required in the manner in which the club approaches continental competition.
In the 18 consecutive seasons Arsenal have been competing in the Champions League Wenger has been the sole constant (the club has even changed stadium in that time) and his consistent refusal to tailor tactics to specific opposition is a key part of the reason why the Gunners seem to have hit a glass ceiling in Europe.
Last night, for instance, faced with a must-win away match against arguably the most deadly attack in world football, Wenger selected the exact same front five that lined up at Swansea last Saturday. One can imagine Pep Guardiola rubbing his hands with glee upon seeing Francis Coquelin listed as the sole defensive midfielder in the Arsenal starting side.
Guardian’s Amy Lawrence observed in the aftermath of the Olympiakos defeat that Wenger’s record of having overseen 177 Champions League matches in charge at Arsenal is both admirable and damning. For although one has to respect such consistency, the manager’s experience makes his inability to develop his tactics unacceptable.
“With that much experience of Champions League football, and with – on the whole – pretty good players for this level at their disposal,” Lawrence wrote, “it reveals a very deep-rooted problem to know all about the banana skin in front of you and still go flying.”
Wenger stated last night that his side still has a “small chance” to qualify to the knock-out rounds, however, recent history suggests that his side’s efforts would be better focused on overcoming Tottenham on Sunday.
[Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images]