Champions League Week 2: Arsenal’s Early Groundhog Day Among Things We Learned


September 30, 2015

Surely, we’ve seen this from Arsenal before.

Arsenal always qualifies for the UEFA Champions League and advances to the Round of 16. Recently, the Gunners have finished runner-up in their group and promptly exited the competition in the first knockout stage — after some questionable defending in the first leg. That’s how it usually goes.

However, Arsenal lost 3-2 to Olympiacos at home Tuesday and now sits bottom of Group F with zero points after two games. Manager Arsene Wenger must shoulder the blame for his team pushing its version of Groundhog Day forward by five months this season.

In theory, Wenger’s new policy of resting and rotating his players should advance Arsenal’s prospects for success on multiple fronts. In practice, the Gunners’ focus and cohesion slip whenever Wenger deviates from his best 11. Perhaps he has placed too much faith in players whose past and present performances don’t warrant such security.

Arsenal is hard to stop when it plays its best soccer. The problem is, the inevitable ups and downs that players experience over the course of the marathon season prevent Arsenal — and just about every other team — from reaching those peaks regularly and planting a flag there when they do. Why Wenger has inflicted the downs on himself this season bears asking.

In recent years, only Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have shown the ability to sustain their top form domestically and internationally over the course of a season. Bayern Munich currently tops the Champions League group in which Arsenal is struggling. The German giant is doing so by feasting on the same teams that have beaten Arsenal. Arsenal plays Bayern Munich home and away in its next two Champions League games and needs to start earning points immediately.

Good luck with that.

Here are some other things we learned in the second round of Champions League games.

Chelsea still can’t defend
Chelsea has the second-worst defensive record in the Premier League this term, and its woes at the back extended to the Champions League on Tuesday in its 2-1 loss to Porto. Manager Jose Mourinho branded the errors which led to Porto’s goals “ridiculous.”

Why the same players who defended so well in Chelsea’s charge to the Premier League title last season can’t stop leaking goals is one of the soccer world’s biggest mysteries of the moment. Mourinho never has endured a spell like this.


Regardless, Chelsea won its first Champions League game convincingly and still looks like a safe bet to advance out of its group.

Barcelona can win without Lionel Messi
Messi is down, but Barcelona isn’t out. Barcelona showed Tuesday in its 2-1 comeback win over Bayer Leverkusen that it still can win without Messi. But it’s harder to win without the services of one of the all-time greats.

All not lost for English clubs
Manchester United and Manchester City both defeated German clubs — Wolfsburg and Borussia Monchengladbach, respectively — Wednesday to prevent the European sky from falling on English clubs.

However, the Manchester victories haven’t turned the tides back toward English shores. Wolfsburg and Monchengladbach are struggling this season, having won just five of their 14 Bundesliga (German first division) games between them.

Juventus seizes opportunity
Juventus looks lost in Serie A (Italy’s first division) with five points after six games, but the “Old Lady” maintains the Champions League pedigree it established last season. Juventus’ 2-0 win over Sevilla made it a perfect six points out of six, demonstrating the redemption opportunity the Champions League presents the teams that bother to make the most of it.

Thumbnail photo via Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press

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