Arsenal have no excuses not to win their Champions League group
It's a crucial juncture in the season for Arsenal. For weeks now, they've been playing beautiful soccer, getting results, and they're right in the hunt for the top spot in the Premier League, three points off rampaging Chelsea. The draw against Manchester United was a minor setback, but for Arsene Wenger to see his side fight back and secure a point away from home after performing poorly was a big boost in an otherwise extremely lackluster performance. Now, as they prepare to host struggling Paris Saint-Germain in Champions League in a battle for the top spot in Group A, there's no excuse: they have to win.
PSG are a shadow of their former selves. They lost talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and his presence has been so sorely missed, they're sitting in third place in Ligue 1. And yes, this is the same Ligue 1 they've absolutely rampaged through over the past four years, and won by a staggering 31 points last season.
Now, they travel to the Emirates, sans Zlatan, and with a raft of injuries to key players including Javier Pastore, Adrien Rabiot and Layvin Kurzawa. PSG may be unbeaten in their last nine matches, but make no mistake: Arsenal are the better team, and they should be winning this one. And it's one that can hand them first place in their group, which is absolutely crucial.
Since 2012, Arsenal haven't finished in the top spot in their Champions League group. They've been knocked out in the round of 16 every year since the 2010/11 season, and a big part of that is their inability to secure top spot in some very winnable groups. In 2012-13 they couldn't top a table with Schalke, Olympiacos and Marseille, and ended up getting drawn with Bayern Munich. The next year, their task was more difficult, getting paired with Dortmund and Napoli, but despite all three sides finishing level on points, it was Arsenal in second yet again, and the Gunners going head to head with Bayern. Yet again.
The next year? Second place again, except this time they got what seemed to be a favorable draw against Monaco. That wasn't to be the case, and Monaco sent them home tail tucked once more. And last year? You guessed it. A second-place group finish, which put them right up against Barcelona. And predictably, it didn't go well.
They can complain all they want about tough draws and going out to great teams in past years, but there's no reason for that to be the case this time around.
Arsenal come up against a Paris side they should be beating. No mistake, this team is full of quality, and it won't be a walkover. But the Gunners are better than PSG, they're in better form, and they're at home. There are no excuses. Wenger will be without the services of Santi Cazorla and Hector Bellerin, but aside from those two, he's got a full-strength squad. There are really no excuses.
It would be very Arsenal to end up in second place in their group, get drawn with another giant and go out in the next round. It would be so very Arsenal. But this side, boasting the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Granit Xhaka and more, isn't the Arsenal we've seen over the last few years. It's time for them to step up and show they're different. It's time to show they're up to the task.
That task starts by beating PSG and making that top spot theirs.