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First published on Kettle Mag here: http://www.kettlemag.co.uk/article/loss-champions-league-place-benefit-premiership
"4th place is the equivalent of a trophy" - Arsene Wenger said this a few years ago famously during the trophy drought that Arsenal experienced prior to 2013. At the time, Wenger was criticised by fans and pundits alike for such comments. Striving to be fourth was not what the fans wanted to hear. To be fair to them they have won two cups since and it seems a lot rosier in north London.
My issue today is on the Champion’s league and the poor performances by English clubs. If results continue the way they are, English clubs may lose the fourth spot for the Champions League very soon and in my mind this is a good thing.
With the UEFA co-efficient going the way it is, Italy is quickly catching up. Another loss by Arsenal and a shock defeat by Chelsea do not look good. Recent years have seen a lack of English clubs in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Chelsea have been sole representatives recently and the fourth place sides like Liverpool have failed miserably on their returns.
Although the Manchester clubs helped England save some pride in the champion’s league there is still a lot more to strive for. This also is not an issue about the National team or the influx of foreigners. This is about the ability to settle for second best or crucially to settle for fourth best. The Wenger quote earlier was to emphasis this point. Only a few teams in most leagues can realistically try to challenge for the title but it is the aim of coming fourth that is proving detrimental to the development of our teams. If this is the aim and not getting top spot then you will only be so good.
I hate quoting a rapper (Pitbull) but I really like the saying. If you aim for fourth and fail you will end up like my team Liverpool. Lofty ambitions can take a team far.
Ambition, plus drive and determination, are what turns pretenders into challengers and then winners. That is why the successive FA Cups victories have been helpful to Arsenal as it has given them the habit of winning. However, they seem to have settled just for this and do not want to push on. The single purchase of Petr Cech has shown a weakness, as when your team is standing still it is getting weaker. Two defeats to the smaller clubs in the Champions League now leave them with the likelihood of not getting out of their group. A tough group with Bayern Munich meant that Arsenal were happy to settle for second place and this may cost them a place in the knockout stages and worst of all, a place in the Europa Cup (I kid of course).
If English clubs have to then fight to get into the top three then this will mean they will need better quality. Better quality will then make sure that they will be able to compete against the Top European clubs. In the last few years, Manchester United and Arsenal have been overtaken in Europe by the likes of Borussia Dortmund and PSG and they have done this by aiming to be number one in their leagues and achieving this. Take away the low hanging fruit and teams will evolve and so will the league. The competitive nature of the Premiership is great to watch but we need the quality to come through and ultimately if we get better we can then get our co-efficient back to a better place.