Champions League victories could change everything for Arsenal and Leicester

For a football club, there is nothing more romantic than a Champions League night. But for Arsenal and Leicester, the last-sixteen of Europe’s elite competition seems to be approaching with a sense of gloom. These fixtures, you feel, have come at the worst time.

After a reasonable starts to the season, both clubs have stumbled in recent months. Back at the end of October, ten games into the season, Arsenal were joint leaders with Manchester City, and Leicester stood 11th in the table.

Today, three months on, Arsenal trail Chelsea by 10 points, while Leicester are at the precipice of the relegation zone.

Club managers Arsène Wenger and Claudio Ranieri will emphasis with each other at this moment in time. It has been a particularly rough month for the two elder leaders.

While they both have the backing of their clubs, they are under palpable pressure.

After successive poor displays against Watford and Chelsea, Arsenal’s title challenge now seems a forlorn hope. For their fans, this mid-season slump is part of a depressingly familiar cycle.

It is thirteen years since they last won the Premier League, and seven since they progressed past the last-sixteen of the Champions League.

The repetitive disappointment of almost-but-not-quite league efforts and last-sixteen European exists has left many fans desperate for a change at the top.

The mood in Leicester is more complex. After last year’s euphoria, this season has been a painful slog. Nobody expected another title challenge; few, however, would have expected a relegation fight either.

What is even more worrying than Leicester’s league position, though, is the team’s form. Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have scored eight league goals between them this season, compared to 41 last term.

And already their defence has conceded more goals this campaign than in the whole of last season.

So with similarly morose moods, Arsenal travel to Munich to play Bayern Munich tonight, while Leicester visit Sevilla next week. Even at the best of times these are tough opponents.

Right now though there seems to be little optimism that either of the two English clubs can progress.

But what if Arsenal do defeat Bayern over two-legs? And what if Leicester were to make it into the next round? Stranger things have happened, as we all know.

Progress in the Champions League for Arsenal or Leicester would change the whole complexion of their season.

For when you look at it soberly, this is not a particularly terrible season for either club.

In Arsenal’s case, it is the maddening Groundhog Day-like passing of the years — not consistent enough win the league; not good enough to beat a team like the Bundesliga champions over two legs — rather than this season being particularly bad.

They are ten points behind the league leaders, sure. But look at it from another angle: they are two points off second place in a very competitive league, trailing a Chelsea team who have equalled the record for the most consecutive wins in a Premier League season.

Twice in the past four seasons, Bayern Munich have defeated Arsenal at this stage. But if this time the Gunners were to ignore that well-rehearsed script, suddenly joint-third place in a particularly difficult league would be so bad.

That would be viewed in the context of something grander. The Champions League dream, which has always alluded Wenger, would be alive.

As for Leicester, their form is more worrying than their league position. A victory over Sevilla would not only bring back some of the fairytale optimism from last year, but maybe some belief among the players as well.

It is easy to forget now, but two years ago Leicester were in a worse position. Stuck in the the marshlands of the relegation zone for much of the season, only a late, remarkable escape ensured their Premier League survival.

Then came that astounding Premier League title.

This year is perhaps no more than a return to normality. Normality probably never felt so bad, mind you, but maybe that is all it is.

And anyway, would Leicester fans still not gladly accept the depression of relegation in return for the romance and glory of an extended run in the Champions League?

Given the choice, fans of similar clubs surely would.

Take Sunderland for example. They have been in the top flight of English football for a decade. They have survived doggedly, but never in that time have they experienced the romance of a Champions League adventure.

For Leicester, whatever happens in the league, victory over Sevilla would be a historic achievement to be remembered through the generations.

If Arsenal or Leicester can progress in the Champions League, the mood around both clubs would change for the better.

For Arsenal, it would mean a break from the usual script.

A reminder to their fans that they are capable of performing on the grand stage. And the most romantic of endings to Leicester’s tumultuous storey would still be possible: relegation, as Champions League winners.

The Author

Ross Findlay

Scottish freelance writer based in Israel. Dunfermline Athletic supporter and world football fan.

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