The Champions League Returns to London

Champions League Returns To London

The Champions League is back in town. The knockout phase of the world’s premier club football tournament has resumed and the interest returns to London this week. Last year’s beaten finalists Bayern Munich visit The Emirates Stadium, home to Arsenal FC on Tuesday evening in the first leg off their round-of-16 encounter. It’s a mouthwatering tie in any circumstances but particularly now.

At the Emirates on Saturday, The Gunners were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup by Blackburn Rovers. They are 21 points behind the leaders in the Premier League and face a struggle to finish in the top 4 and thereby qualify for next year’s Champions League. Arsenal have not won a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup and the fans are growing ever more restless. More supporters than ever are questioning whether the manager Arsene Wenger should continue in charge of the club that he has so expertly overseen and developed to records and success since 1996. Now it seems that only the Champions League realistically stands between Arsenal and genuine crisis. If Arsenal are to save their season and Wenger himself then they simply must progress.

Their opponents, by some contrast, are 15 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga going into this game and have the arrival of the much revered Pep Guardiola as Head Coach next season to look forward to. The bookmakers have Bayern at a slender 6/1 to win their fifth Champions League this season with Arsenal at a distant 40/1 to win their first. On the face of it, it doesn’t look promising for the North Londoners.

But things can change and change quickly.

For inspiration Arsenal need only look a short distance across the Capital to SW6 and Chelsea. London’s first winners of The Champions League did so from the most unlikely of positions. With their 2011/2012 season looking shredded Chelsea turned around an away deficit to Napoli to progress when all looked lost. In turn they beat Benfica, the seemingly invincible Barcelona and Bayern Munich themselves in the Final in The Allianz Arena. That  venue incidentally is Bayern’s own stadium. It was one of the most incredible victories the competition has ever seen. They finished outside the qualification places in the Premier League that year but by virtue of winning the giant European Cup they qualified by right to defend it. From a potentially ruinous season Chelsea ended it with their greatest ever night. Call it lucky, call it inspired, call it many things but it can and must be an example to Arsenal.

For tens of millions watching around the world and the 60,000 in the stadium it promises to be another memorable night of top-class European football in the Capital. A claim for a place in the quarter finals is at stake. For Arsenal this time, the stakes have rarely been higher.

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