By Vidur Kalive.
Every season, there comes a time when domestic rivalries take a back seat and the champions of every league go out into the European hunting grounds. The Champions League is all set to raise the mark in terms of quality and achievements for footballers everywhere, this year all over again. The past decade saw English teams dominate the European scene giving other domestic leagues a lot to think about. This dominance also coined the phrase, the Big-Four – Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea. The Premier League trophy would only be with one of these clubs, was a fact well established in the footballing circles all over the world, a fact which raised a new question – Which one of them will translate this domestic dominance into European success? Manchester United and Liverpool played the European competitions with flair and passion taking themselves to the helm more than once in recent history, Chelsea joined the elite list last season leaving Gooners all over the world feeling left out. Arsenal have gone through the recovery after the sale of their Invincibles squad and look to have finally forged a team which can set its eyes on silverware, which takes us to the all important question – Will the cannons fire in Europe?
Arsenal should not be misconstrued as chokers in Europe in anyway. From playing their first European match against Copenhagen XI in 1963, they have come a long way until now accumulating accolades and pieces of history along with them. They won the Inter-cities Fairs Cup in 1970, the European Cup Winner’s cup in 1994 and became the first English club to feature in a Champions league final in 2006. They have contested in 14 Champions league seasons consecutively, a feat only surpassed by Manchester United and Real Madrid. The club’s European ambitions saw them get manager Arsene Wenger on board, after he achieved significant continental success with Monaco reaching the Cup winner’s cup final in 1992.
Arsene Wenger came with an ambition – make Arsenal the greatest club in the world. The Frenchman requested the fans and the management to be patient and he delivered on his promise in the 2005-06 season by reaching the Champions League final beating European giants Real Madrid at the Bernabeu along the way. Even though the final gave gooners a heartache to remember, it was pretty evident that Arsenal had arrived in Europe. The Champions League never saw the London club reach the final again but consistency never deserted Wenger’s side, qualifying for 14 successive European campaigns. This is a feat that does little to put a wide grin on the faces of those Arsenal fans who still wait to be tagged European champions.
Arsenal has gone through a sea of change since that memorable final in 2006. The club lost a herd of world class footballers, some left with a heavy heart and some left chasing a heavier wallet, but nothing changed their European zeal. Last season Arsenal was the first English club to qualify from the group stages that saw both the Manchester clubs fall. This season, the club will start with a new squad with some famous names who will try to be pioneers of European success in Arsenal’s history books. With a new strike pair in Podolski and Cazorla, goals shouldn't be hard to come by. The first few games in this years Premier League season have shown us the strength of their defence anchored by their new skipper, Thomas Vermaelen. What gooners should really worry about is if this young team has what it takes mentally to rub shoulders with the best of Europe. If Wenger’s men step onto the field with a sound mind and not let pressure get to them, it is hard for even the best teams to catch them. If the start to the Premier League is any indication, we can say the cannons are loaded and ready to make some noise. Does Wenger have enough 'Arsenal' to fire them throughout this European campaign? We will have to wait and watch.