Perry Groves, who played in Arsenal’s attack for six years from 1986 to 1992, has told TalkSPORT that he would prefer the Gunners finishing in third or fourth place in the Premiership at the end of this season, to England winning the European Championship.
In truth, most Gooners would probably agree with that sentiment. National loyalty is all very well, but when it comes to club or country, most supporters would feel the same. There may be heightened interest in the national side’s matches if the team includes players that also play in a spectator’s club side. But that is as far as it goes.
When Groves was interviewed by Sportingbet earlier in the year, he said that winning the Europa League would mean that the Gunners would have had a successful year. They didn’t win, of course. But they did get to the final where they were beaten 4-1 by Chelsea.
But bearing in mind that last season was Unai Emery’s first in charge, the result wasn’t at all that bad. They finished fifth behind North London rivals Tottenham, but they were only one point behind them and two points behind third-placed Chelsea. Add to that their appearance in the Europa League final and that’s a pretty good start for both Emery and the Arsenal.
Of course, there is still a huge gulf between Manchester City, Liverpool and the rest of the pack. There is a significant gap already after only four games. Leaders Liverpool are five points ahead of Londoners Arsenal and West Ham (in 5th and 7th place respectively) while the other two London clubs, Spurs and Chelsea, are seven points adrift.
So, the Gunners are in a good position at the moment. However, to challenge the top two, they will need to add some quality players to their squad. That brings us back to the importance of European competitions. It’s not just about silverware. It’s also about recognition.
When any club does well in European competitions, it means they will attract top players. The two things that professional footballers aspire to are trophies and status. So, if the Gunners were to end this season in third or fourth place, they would gain automatic entry to the biggest club competition in Europe – the Champions League.
That would make them a much more sought-after club, as far as the best European (and indeed, world) players are concerned.
Pierre-Emerick Emiliano François Aubameyang is on fire right now. But we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that he is 30 years old. He will lose that edge as he ages. The other player Arsenal relies on when in trouble is Mesut Özil. Again, he is 30 years old (he will be 31 in October), so he too will soon be past his sell-by date.
New signing Nicolas Pepe has yet to make his mark. The good news for Arsenal and the fans is that he is on his way back from the Ivory Coast squad camp to renew his training in North London. While Pepe has yet to prove his credentials, 20-year-old Matteo Elias Kenzo Guendouzi Olié is showing great promise.
If Arsenal are to compete with The Reds and the Sky Blues next season, they need to keep players like Matteo Guendouzi and add several more of that calibre. Finishing in third or fourth place and earning qualification for next season’s Champions League would aid that cause.
So, all Gooners will surely share Groves’ sentiment about preferring to see Arsenal finish in an automatic Champions League qualifying position, rather than the Three Lions winning the European Championship. It doesn’t mean that club supporters aren’t patriotic, but when push comes to shove the heart lies with the club, not the country.