30 September 2015

Arsenal's campaign to win the Europa League receives fresh boost...

Well, we've done it again. Despite knowing that a win was vital after losing in Croatia two weeks ago, we gifted a win to Olympiacos even after fielding an XI that was, essentially, full-strength. Only Gibbs and Ospina might count as back-benchers, and even they have enjoyed their own halcyon days. We're now winless after two matches, the first time that's happened in club-history, and we face the very-real prospect of failing to advance to the knockout phase for the first time in 15 years. The path to that knockout phase is now a perilous one and depends on factors not entirely under our own control. Maybe it's time we start preparing to win the Europa League—assuming, of course, we can finish third in the group...

Just one in a series of calamitous miscues...
Let's face facts. Bayern Munich will, in all likelihood, win Group F. They've won both matches by a combined scoreline of 8-0. The other three clubs—Dinamo, Olympiacos, and Arsenal—will squabble for the crumbs. If we're to finish second, we'll need some help. Here's a quick rundown of what our fate hinges on:
  • Bayern wins its matches at home against Olympiacos and away to Dinamo.
  • Olympiacos and Dinamo draw with each other home and away.
  • Arsenal wins at Olympiacos and at home over Dinamo.
The nifty upside to this is that it dodges entirely the question of how we'll fare against Bayern because, let's face it, there's a gulf in class. Then again, anything could happen. We could go into Munich and pull off an infamous upset. The Croatian Prva HNL could strip Dinamo Zagreb of its title. The Greek economy could nosedive so severely that Olympiacos is forced into selling off its best players. Bayern's entire squad could undergo sexual reassignment surgery and be ruled ineligible for competition. I'm not sure whether I've offered those suggestions in ascending or descending order of likelihood.

If the preceding sequence of events (the bullet-list, not the wish-list) does indeed come to pass, we could finish second in Group F with six points while Olympiacos and Dinamo stagger across the finish-line with five points each. Bayern come to the Emirates on 20 October, three days after we host Watford and four days before visiting Everton. Given our current state of affairs, we might dare to dream of salvaging a point. On that same day, Olympiacos will host Dinamo. Should someone win there, we might ourselves facing one of two options, each with its own advantages and drawbacks:
  • finish third in Group F;
    • Pros:
      • move to the Europa League and potentially win silverware.
      • enjoy winning the Europa League before Tottenham does.
    • Cons:
      • endure dreary trips to various hinterlands.
      • suffer fatigue, injury, and distraction from the Prem.
      • risk falling out of the top four.
  • finish fourth in Group F:
    • Pros
      • focus our energies on winning the Prem.
      • avoid a hiding at the hands of Barcelona or Real Madrid.
      • Shed a monkey on our backs that is fifteen years in the making.
    • Cons:
      • theoretically miss out on signing players in January or over the summer.
I haven't ruled out the idea that we could still finish second, but that's such a far-fetched notion at the moment that it doesn't merit any more than this apophesis (pretending to deny something in the hopes of affirming it...).

Did the romp over Leicester and preceding win over Tottenham fill us with overconfidence? Perhaps. We have a few days to get our ducks in a row before hosting league-leading Manchester United on Sunday. If there's any consolation to be found, it's in the fact that Chelsea also lost (1-2 away to Porto) and that Man U will host Wolfsburg on Wednesday. Here's hoping that one less day of rest for Man U—and, perhaps a demoralising loss paired with a few light niggles—will make a positive difference for us...