It’s a massive playoff tie and will be massively hyped
It’s the battle of Britain. For the first time in history, Arsenal will face Celtic in European competition. And in case you’re wondering just how meaningful the match is, there’s an estimated €40 million jackpot for the team that makes it into the Champions League group stage. And that’s just money. Let’s not forget that Arsenal have appeared in the Champions League for eleven consecutive seasons. A loss to Celtic would see the Gunners go tumbling into the European dungeon now known as the Europa League. So all things considered, it’s about as big a couple of games as you can play … And it’s only August.
I won’t going into too much detail about the matchup because there will be plenty of time for that between now and August 18. (Dear God are we really playing a crucial European tie on August 18…) So let’s just skim the surface for a moment. Celtic are tough opposition and that’s obvious. They just recorded their first away win in European competition since America was discovered. Their 2-0 win away to Dinamo Moscow was historic and setup this intriguing tie. But Celtic’s away success should be viewed in proper context. The first leg of the playoff is at Celtic Park and while it has served as a fortress in European competition in the past, Dinamo Moscow came away from Parkhead with a 1-0 victory in the first leg of their encounter. So while Celtic will be flying high from their away victory, we should be optomistic that we can match Dinamo’s success at Celtic Park.
Celtic are also starting their first season under Tony Mowbray’s leadership. His last season was spent at West Brom where he guided the Baggies comfortably back into the Championship. But he was praised for his commitment to stylish, positive football. Arsenal will be happy to see the same kind of football on display in ten days time. While we have recently struggled with teams that take a more agricultural approach to the game, teams that try to play proper football have given us little difficulty. If Celtic try to match us for style, they could be in for a difficult tie.
Having glanced at Celtic’s recent results, it does appear that they are having a successful pre-season, but that’s hardly an accurate indicator of what to expect when the real games kickoff. More meaningful is the experience they have gained playing their two European matches against Dinamo Moscow. We will have only the first league match with Everton under our belt. Regardless, it should be enough preparation. The bigger concern is fitness. With Valencia today, international matches midweek, and Everton next weekend, it’s time to cross fingers and toes for the health of our key players. Nasri and Rosicky obviously won’t be available, but hopefully everyone else will.
While Celtic certainly present a stern test, it’s one that we should expect Arsenal to pass. Looking at the draw, Celtic was probably right in the middle of the rankings among teams we wanted to face. Certainly, we should be happy to have avoided Athletico Madrid, Fiorentina and possibly Sportin Lisbon. I think those would have genuinely been a coin flip for progression. Of course we would have loved to see Timisoara or Anderlecht’s name drawn, but that’s water under the bridge at this point. Based on coefficient, Arsenal are ranked the sixth best team in all of Europe, and a team of that stature should expect to qualify for the group stages regardless of the opposition.
I do have a theory about the Champions League playoff and how it relates to our transfer activity. It’s a theory I suggested to Arseblog on twitter today and he wasn’t swayed. But the beauty of having a blog is that you have the freedom to be as wrong as you like, so I will present my hypothesis to you anyway.
Arsene Wenger said yesterday that the transfer window really speeds up on August 26. It just so happens that August 26 is the date for the second leg of our Champions League playoff. Now I’m not suggesting that Arsene was intentionally dropping any hints, but it seems possible that our transfer activity is dependent upon success in the Champions League playoff.
In past seasons, our progression to the group stage was assured because of the minnows that we faced in qualifying or because of direct qualification. That meant that the proceeds from Champions League participation were ours to spend or keep. But this season is obviously different thanks to Michel Platini’s attempt to get more minnows into the group phase. Celtic are a different proposition altogether, and failure to qualify for the group phase would deny us an estimated €40 million. Again, that’s €40 million Euros. The loss of that money would almost entirely offset receipts from the sale of Adebayor and Toure. Under those circumstances, it’s hard to imagine the club allowing Arsene to spend more than a few million pounds, if anything. But if we are able to dispatch Celtic, then the Champions League money is assured and Arsene would be free to use the funds generated from the aforementioned sales.
Again, this is just a theory and it’s not based on anything other than circumstantial evidence. (Then again, those are the essential criteria for every transfer story you read in the tabloids.) Perhaps Arsene is free to spend as he likes regardless of what happens in the playoff. But certainly Gadzidis and the board have considered the financial ramifications of losing to Celtic. And when faced with the potential loss of that much money, it’s not a huge leap intellectually to believe that the board’s position on transfer activity would be impacted. Arsene made it clear that our transfer business would speed up right on the date that our playoff will be decided. Maybe it’s just a silly coincidence, or maybe he’s telling us all to be patient. If we sign a player or two prior to that time, then this is a moot point. But if we’re still waiting for new signings in two weeks, maybe this helps to explain the delay.
Tomorrow we play our last pre-season match against Valencia. They looked pretty good vesus United the other day so it should be interested. It’s being shown live on Arsenal TV online.
Oh, I almost forgot, we’re chasing Brede Hangeland. I’m sure some of that depends on Senderos’ move to Everton. He’s a class defender and would be a welcome addition. I’m sure we’ll hear more about this soon… (perhaps around August 26…)
Enjoy the last stress-free match.