It was far from a happy evening for Arsenal. A 5–1 loss leaves the Gunners hanging by a thread in their bid to qualify from the group stages of this season’s Champions League. In Arsene Wenger’s time at the club, Arsenal have been knocked out in group play only twice.
The group permutations look disheartening for Arsenal at the moment. The Gunners are third, and the team above them in the table, Olympiakos, have six more points. And the fact even harder to take in is there are only six more points to play for henceforth.
Not all is lost for Arsenal though, but things are no longer in their own hands. Results elsewhere will play a defining role in where they are headed to in Europe next year, and qualification into the Europa League — which seemed a long shot at the start of the season — are turning into reality.
Wenger, however, has refused to give in. “There is still a chance to qualify,” he said in his post-match press conference. Of course there is, two wins over Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos will likely do the job provided the Greeks lose to Bayern in Munich and Arsenal win in Greece by more than one goal.
Vice-captain Per Mertesacker has been in similar situations with the club previously, when they got themselves back from the dead. The big German was part of the Gunners’ 2–0 win at Bayern three seasons ago when they narrowly lost a last 16 tie on away goals: one of the vivid memories in recent history of Arsenal coming back from nowhere.
Like his manager, Mertesacker remains upbeat. The group permutations are clear as a day, and the 31-year-old is keeping his belief. “We have to win both games and get at least two goals at Olympiacos. We’ve been through even more difficult periods before. It’s not over and that’s how we approach the situation now,” he said.
Chances are slim that Arsenal could mount a recovery to get through to the knockout stages. There are external factors to take into account, and also the fact the Gunners have never beaten the Greek champions in Greece. History will need to be rewritten for Arsenal to go through, but Wenger remains upbeat.
“It’s a small chance but it is a real one. No matter what percentage we have, we have to dig in for the chance to qualify,” Wenger added. The size of the chance is obvious, but whether that can be translated into something real remains to be seen.
Next up are local north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. The two in-form teams of the division will square off in what promises to be an intriguing derby clash. Exactly what the doctor doesn’t order after a trip to Bayern Munich which ends in a 5–1 loss.