Paul Scholes, now retired and working as a television pundit and weekly columnist for the Independent, has the answer to Arsenal’s perennial UEFA Champions League shortcomings: they can’t handle the pressure of competing to win the world’s most prestigious club competition.
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In this week’s columns, Scholes tackles not only Arsenal’s failure to advance past the round of 16 for a fifth straight season, but also the Premier League’s European struggles as a whole, which saw zero English sides qualify for the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and to a lesser extent, Europa League.
Scholes, on Arsenal, for the Independent:
“In Monaco, Arsenal showed what they can do when the shackles were off and they had to attack. It was a brilliant performance against a very average team, even if they did not get the third goal they needed. Typical Arsenal, that when the pressure is off, they played their best football.”
“It was another game from Ozil, and another failure to make the big difference. It was not his worst performance, and he had a role in the first goal for Olivier Giroud, but how long must Arsenal wait for him to deliver the moment that wins them a tie like that against all the odds? He found space but his touch was not great. He tried hard but he slows Arsenal down at times. He was bought to make a difference on nights like that.”
Is it just the Champions League pressure that Arsenal can’t handle, or does it also extend to domestic competition and the Premier League?
It’s been 10 years since the Gunners finished higher than third in the league. Only Mathieu Flamini remains from the 2004-05 team which finished second, meaning practically no one in the current squad has any experience competing for major trophies.
After such a prolonged dry spell of competing for major silverware, it’s no surprise that the Arsenal players come up smallest on the biggest stages. Players like Ozil, as Scholes says, and Alexis Sanchez were brought in from Real Madrid and Barcelona to change that, and so far, no such luck.