Arsenal’s rollercoaster season took another big dip this week after the Gunners fell to a meek 2-1 defeat in the footballaction to Panathinaikos in their final Champions League group game, a result that means they finish second in Group B and face a top-qualifying club in the knock-out stages.
After the game boss Arsene Wenger was philosophical about his side’s performance yet reserved criticism for his second-string side that fell in Greece.
“We can get a bad draw or less strong team, but you normally get strong teams through anyway now,” Wenger told reporters. “If everybody is fit we have a strong squad, but in certain areas we are a bit short because we cannot rotate.”
Indeed, Wenger is right to be optimistic despite finishing second, for the Champions League is now so strong and the teams are so experienced that the advantage of placing top in your group is almost non-existent. In the 2008/09 Champions League Arsenal finished second in their group behind Porto, yet beat AS Roma on penalties in the round of 16: Roma had topped Group A with eventual semi-finalists Chelsea.
Last season, the Gunners topped Group F of the Champions League to secure a ‘favourable’ draw, yet lost 4-0 in the San Siro to an AC Milan side that had stumbled through with just two group wins from six.
So while Arsenal fans will be disappointed they won’t face a ‘lower seeded’ club in the next stage and could be up against Barcelona, at least they avoid Real Madrid who finished three points behind Dortmund.
What Wenger should be more concerned about is his second-string’s inability to beat a poor Greek side, regardless of having already secured qualification. The one moment of brilliance – Thomas Rosicky’s strike after neat build-up play – cannot alleviate Arsenal’s defensive weaknesses and continued fragility up front.
Wenger was right to admit his reserve squad is weak, a clear sign for fans in the betting world that Arsenal will increase their transfer activity come January.