Champions League qualification is more important than a cup
Published: 19.11.12 / Written by: David Gold
Arsenal’s remarkable 7-5 win over Reading in extra time disguised the fact that had they lost, it is hard to believe Arsene Wenger would have been that bothered.
The main thing which concerned him last night was how out thought and played they were by Reading in the first half. That they went 4-0 down was an embarrassment for his side. That they were able to restore their pride in the second would have been good enough, you suspect.
Still, as Wenger said it was not a priority for him. A priority, as he explained last week, would be the league, followed by Champions League, followed by Champions League qualification. Then come the FA and League Cups.
He was criticised by some, as Arsenal’s trophy drought continues. Yet in this the Frenchman has a very valid point. Finishing fourth in the league is a better achievement, and more important, than winning a cup. One would assume Liverpool fans would have swapped their League Cup with Arsenal for Champions League qualification this season.
Liverpool won the cup having not faced the exact same criticism as Arsenal for going six years without a trophy beforehand. Yet that they did win the cup did little for Kenny Dalglish, fired anyway as manager after the team languished in eighth place in the league. It was a shoddy return for a team of Liverpool’s stature, but emphasises the importance of the Champions League.
The Champions League is the reason for the decline of the importance of the FA and League Cups. When only one team could play in the Champions League from each country, the domestic cups were more of a priority, and a greater chance for glory. They also had more prestige, as the Champions League did not dominate football in the way it now does.
Now though, this is the priority, and Wenger is right in that. If his team had won the FA Cup for the last five years but not played in the Champions League, then Arsenal would be criticised for not being part of Europe’s elite. If they had won that League Cup against Birmingham then journalists would be writing about a team who have “won only one cup in seven years” rather than none in seven. It does not really matter. Of course winning a cup is prestige and has value, but it is not important enough to compromise a tilt at the league or Champions League, or even qualifying for Europe’s biggest competition.
Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City have all won domestic cups in recent years. None are considered as top teams or have prestige because of it. Those sides have their prestige for their exploits in the domestic league and Champions League respectively – both in United’s case. That is why the obvious solution to the problem is to give the winners of the FA Cup a place in the Champions League. It is what happens in South America’s Copa Libertadores and would give the cup some of its prestige back. Then maybe teams like Arsenal would take it seriously again.