23 November 2015

Arsenal need a 2-1 win...or it could be Europa League for us!

The current attitude among many Gooners is about as angry as it's been in a while, and Tuesday could inflame those feelings even further. Anything short of a smashing win over Dinamo Zagreb—paired with a Bayern win over Olympiacos—ends our Champions League campaign before the Group Stage has even played out. We've been on tenter-hooks before, of course, but those were "Group of Death" level situations involving Borussia Dortmund and Napoli. Dinamo and Olympiacos are not cut from the same cloth, and yet they've caused us to rend garments all the same. Our back are up against it, no doubt about it.

As it currently stands, we're bottom of the group and need to get to nine points. A win over Dinamo Zagreb gets us to six, but that's only part of the story. We have to hope that Bayern batter Olympiacos to get themselves to 12 while holding the Greeks at nine. Any other result in Munich dashes our hopes. However, we have to split some very fine hairs at our end. Dinamo beat us 2-1. If we win by anything other than the same, we might cook our own goose.

According to UEFA regulations, if two teams are equal on points on completion of group matches, the following criteria are applied:
  1. higher number of points obtained in the group matches played among the teams in question.
  2. superior goal difference from the group matches played among the teams in question.
  3. higher number of goals scored in the group matches played among the teams in question.
  4. higher number of goals scored away from home in the group matches played among the teams in question.
A 2-1 win eliminates these four points because we'd be level with Dinamo Zagreb on each of them. This is essentially what we need as we await the Bayern-Olympiacos result. Only if Bayern wins could we justify a result of our own that's better than 2-1. That's almost impossible to asssess becasue we'll kick off at the same time, so we'll have to play it safe—assuming we can manage a match well enough to win it 2-1. If Olympiacos can escape Munich with a point (or claim all three...), we need an escape route from Europa League purgatory. If we win 2-1 but Olympiacos achieve the unthinkable, what's our route out of that purgatory?

In short: we go on to lose in Greece by a wide margin and hope that Dinamo Zagreb keep the scoreline close when they host Bayern. Why? The next tie-break between us and the Croatians is superior goal difference in all group matches. If we beat Dinamo 2-1, both clubs will get to -5. If we then lose to Olympiacos by a scoreline worse than Dinamo's versus Bayern, we'll finish fourth and escape the Europa League. That's it. I hate to resort to such dismal science, but that's the cold, hard reality. 

Our loss to West Brom, in which we played pretty pathetic football and saw our lynchpin Coquelin laid low by possible ligament damage, has by necessity dimmed our ambitions if only in the short term. In the long term, as Keynes put it, we'll all be dead. Therefore, we have no other choice but to hope for that 2-1 scoreline. It's the only one that splits the difference between finishing second and finishing fourth. For as much as we might hope for second, we have to keep our options open. After all, I think we can all agree that we're not ready to compete in the Prem as well as in Europe. The Champions League knockout will, well, knock us out. Even if that only adds two matches to our fixture-list, it's two more than we really need.

Europa League, although it offers a softer path towards silverware of a sort, is a path paved with potholes, speedbumps, and pratfalls. The further we'd trod, the more our domestic form would suffer. Here's hoping, then, that our lads can walk the line between pardon and perdition...