Do Arsenal have a mental block when it comes to European competitions?

Will Arsenal ever conquer Europe?  by Jonbo

I wouldn’t change being an Arsenal fan for anything, but one thing that has always pained me is our terrible record in Europe. How can such a huge club (domestically at least) be so bad in Europe?

38 seasons in Europe, and only two victories. The European Cup Winners’ Cup 93/94;

Inter-Cities Fairs Cup 69/70 (which became the UEFA Cup, then the Europa League)

Key stats:

8 final appearances, and 11 semi-finals in all European competitions

21 appearances in the Champions League (CL)

2 semi-finals and 1 final appearance in the CL

Lost our last 5 finals in European competition

28 years since our last victory in Europe

Top 20 Clubs with European titles: 

European trophy abbreviations in tier order:

CL = Champions League/European Cup; CWC = Cup Winners’ Cup;

EL = Europa League/Uefa Cup/Inter-Cities Fairs Cup; ECL = Europa Conference League

Winning a CL title is huge, but I do think a club of Sevilla’s size winning 6 EL titles deserves a lot of recognition, hence their position above some clubs with only one CL title.

Real Madrid – 14 x CL; 2 x EL

Milan – 7 x CL; 2 x CWC

Liverpool – 6 x CL; 3 x EL

Bayern Munich – 6 x CL; 1 x EL; 1 x CWC

Barcelona – 5 x CL; 4 x CWC; 3 x EL

Ajax – 4 x CL; 1 x EL; 1 x CWC

Inter Milan – 3 x CL; 3 x EL

Man Utd – 3 x CL; 1 x EL; 1 x CWC

Juventus – 2 x CL; 3 x EL; 1 x CWC

Benfica – 2 x CL

Chelsea – 2 x CL; 2 x EL; 2 x CWC

Nottm Forest – 2 x CL

Porto – 2 x CL; 2 x EL

Feyenoord – 1 x CL; 2 x EL

Seville – 6 x EL

Hamburger SV – 1 x CL; 1 x CWC

Dortmund – 1 x CL; 1 x CWC

PSV – 1 x CL; 1 x EL

Celtic – 1 x CL

Steaua București – 1 x CL

Arsenal in comparison to British clubs in Europe:

Liverpool – 6 x CL; 3 x EL

Man Utd – 3 x CL; 1 x EL; 1 x CWC

Chelsea – 2 x CL; 2 x EL; 2 x CWC

Nottm Forest – 2 x CL

Celtic – 1 x CL

Aston Villa – 1 x CL

Spurs – 2 x EL; 1 x CWC

Arsenal – 1 x CWC; 1 x EL

Leeds – 2 x EL

West Ham – 1 x CWC

Rangers – 1 x CWC

Aberdeen – 1 x CWC

Man City – 1 x CWC

Everton – 1 x CWC

Ipswich – 1 x EL

Newcastle – 1 x EL

I have been following Arsenal for around half of their time playing in Europe, and I have been disappointed on the whole. Never more so than under Wenger. He had us playing the best football anyone had ever seen in England, yet we just could not take those performances into Europe.

Even comparing ourselves against British clubs, our record doesn’t look too pretty. The way things are going, Man City will probably win the CL before we do, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Newcastle win more silverware in Europe than us over the next 10/15 years.

I always feel history always plays a major role in how teams perform in specific competitions. Doesn’t matter how bad we are, we always seem to turn up in the FA Cup. Liverpool had a really poor 30 years in the league up until recently, yet always did something in Europe meanwhile. Real Madrid can be having poor domestic campaigns, but seem to completely switch mentality when it comes to the CL.

In fact, so good are Real in the CL, they’ve won their last 8 finals in the competition, with their last CL final defeat coming against Liverpool in 80/81.

It would be great to hear from the older fans that may have followed Arsenal’s European journey since day one, and their thoughts on this topic. Will Arsenal ever win the CL? Will Arsenal win ANY European trophy again? I wouldn’t even fancy ourselves in the Europa Conference League.

Jonbo

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50 Comments

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  1. You can never tell. The current lineup is an improving side so they might nick it as soon as this season, with some luck, of course.

    I hope they’re improving mentally as much as technically because finals are mostly won by the mentally stronger.

  2. Only Real Madrid do not have a “a mental block” when it comes to European competitions. When it comes to the Champions league the best of the rest won maybe 7 trophies in 60 years. Even the two richest teams in the world Man City and PSG have a mental block when it comes to the CL. The Premier league always features 19 out of 20 teams who fail to win the title every season. Like all sports winning is a dream very rarely a reality.

  3. We are in a European Competition we have a chance of winning unlike the Spuds. Still haven’t got over Baku 2019…..Emery’s team had a much harder route to the final than the other lot and got victories home and away against CL drop out teams only to blow it in the 2nd half of the final where that lazy, fat lump Hazard (always a player and person I detested) decided to orchestrate things..what the hell has he done since.? We needed that trophy much more than they did…winning the big vase in 2023 would offer redemption.

  4. Where I do not accept Jonbo’s view is that I never think what happened long ago has the slightest relevance to now.
    I know that this “what has never happened so far, possibly never will” philosophy attracts some fans. But to me it is absolue nonsense.

    Just think about what Jonbos contention would mean; if it were remotely true – which it plainly is not- nothing at all would ever happen for the first time! No planes being invented, no electricity, no penicillin and so on and so on. All nonsense!

    After all, in 1930 Arsenal had never won the league at all and,based on Jonbo’s false philosophy, we would have never done so.
    I much prefer clear, sober minded and realistic thinking.

    1. I am not saying it will never happen, just pointing out that we continue to choke in Europe, even when we’re the better team. Even under Wenger when we were great, we choked constantly. It’s like our mentality changes for the worse when we play in Europe.

      Like Real this season. They should’ve have def been beaten in every round, and possible the final, yet somehow won every time. For me, that was partly because of their history in the CL. It gives them a psychological edge.

      1. Jonbo, We will just have to completely disagree then! I just do not agree that any, save the very recent and relevant to today past, has any bearing at all on now or the future.

        For the basic and obvious reasons , even though few – of what could be countless millions of examples – that my post quoted.

        To deny their truth is plain silly and to deny history, IMO. Your post simply said , correctly, that we have many times failed in Europe but even so that has ZERO bearing on the future, which is WHAT MATTERS! How could it possibly have !!!

        1. I disagree, it can obviously have a bearing on the future.

          Belief in Real’s CL history for their players for example, is something that gives them an edge in Europe. A Real Madrid player knows that not making a SF in the CL at the very least is failure, and that drives them forward.

          Arsenal have been dreadful for well over a decade, but our history for some players will have played a part in their decision to join us.

          I think it’s wrong to say that psychology plays no part in a player’s performance.

          1. So you have already twice said and I still disagree.

            I did NOT say psychology plays no part in a players performance. That is your interpretationof what I wrote but NOT what I ACTUALLY said, not at all.

              1. Yes, in a players performance ,it does.

                But that does NOT mean that what your article argues for has any relevance at all. You were speaking of whole teams over an extended period of history and I speak only about what is in a players mind at any given moment, as psychology affects all players, all the time.

                TWO TOTALLY DIFFERENTAND DISTINCT MATTERS!

  5. Article makes sense. They could change this time if they improve the midfield. They don’t have a good dominating defensive midfield so their defense leaks. I don’t see them trying to fix that

  6. Saw the headline and immediately knew who is the writer. Before I read it let me guess, there is a lot of Wenger bashing in there and excuses for Arteta. Now let me go back and read it and will apologise if I am wrong.

      1. Same here HH and DK – although I did think it was TMJW to begin with!!!

        Back to the article :
        Apart from our one CL final, where we should have won it, if only Henry had scored to make it 2-0 the plain and simple truth is that there was always a better team out there.
        But getting to the KO stages 15 times is not a disgrace – in fact just qualifying shows we were always a top four team in the domestic league.

        1. I remember those days Ken playing the likes of Madrid and Barca and playing free flowing attcking football ,we might not have won a trophy back then but Wenger certainly entertained the fans back then .
          Now we praise a manager who’s best run in Europe ended with him playing with a formation that we hadn’t used before and losing to a team managed by another failed Arsenal manager .
          I don’t read the article but I would imagine there was no mention of that.

          1. But it wasn’t good enough for some – I tell you what though…. if Mikel keeps us in the top four and European football for all but one year of his stay, along with fa cup wins, he will have done a magnificent job and I will support him 100%.

      2. It’s not as obvious as I expected but the vibe is still there.

        I would like to know as this is your second piece regarding the subject. When we failed to win European trophies during Wenger’s time, did you go back to our European history to excuse the man?

        Why after Arteta failing to qualify at all, (meaning he is the worst in our history regarding European failures by taking it to an all new level) have you decided that we were already bad throughout history anyway?

        No I disagree that history plays a part. With a good squad and a good manager with creative tactics we have a good chance as any.

        But we have to qualify first. Easier said than done isn’t it?

      1. Yes Dan and Ken. Since the fortunes haven’t changed as fantasized the narration has changed to we have always been bad.

        1. “Now let me go back and read it and will apologise if I am wrong.”

          Still no apology?

          There is nothing worse than a person that isn’t a man of his word. How could anyone ever trust anything they say or take them seriously?

          Such a shame

          1. I was wrong to assume the whole article would be full of Wenger bashing and Arteta excusing. I apologise for that.

            This is your second article on the same subject. The aim of you raising this subject is to make excuses for Arteta failure in Europe as well. Failing to even qualify.

            You haven’t answered my question though. Did you use the same excuse during Wenger’s numerous defeats in UCL? If not why now if not to force justification of Arteta failure?

            1. Thank you for that HH.

              Because the article barely applied to Arteta, and I only mentioned facts in regards to the difference in Wenger’s Arsenal domestically compared to in Europe. It was a look at the club’s history of failing in Europe.

              I am not sure I follow understand your question, but do mean – I was using our history as an excuse for Arteta in Europe? And did I use that same excuse for Wenger?

              If that is the question, then I refer back to my article that there is multiple reasons why teams fail in Europe, but that a club’s history will play some part psychologically.

              Has Arteta failed in Europe as much as we think? Getting knocked out against Olympiacos was terrible for sure, but that was his first ever try at European football. Still, a poor defeat, but then again, Auba missed a sitter at the end to get us through. Arteta didn’t miss that easy chance. His second tilt at European football, he gets to the semi-final and loss’s to the eventual champions Villarreal, who were also amazing in the CL under Emery, so no disgrace there.

              But one cannot compare Arteta and Wenger. Arteta has had to juggle European football at a time of a complete rebuild, when it wasn’t his squad. Wenger inherited a well run club, with lots of quality and experience, and had something like 21 seasons in Europe. For the majority of his run, every player was his signing.

              Wenger was quality domestically, but poor in Europe throughout his career.

  7. I think we’re just not pragmatic enough to win a major European competition. Wenger tried to change it slightly by having Giroud, but he still relied on fancy diminutive playmakers at that time

    We reached UCL final with tall/ athletic/ pacey athletes such as Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, Pires, Gilberto and Campbell, so we should improve the physicality and set-pieces aspect first. Remember, Campbell scored in the game using his aerial prowess, which is something our current CBs might not be able to do if they’re in such dire situation

    1. @gotanidea,do we really have to score with headers?cos the last time i checked there is no extra point or score awarded for scoring headers.

      1. We can’t always score from open play, so having good headers for attacking set-pieces and long crosses will give us alternatives. If we lose the ball possession, a towering pivot in the front line could help us win it back

        1. How about finding a manager who know how to do open play!!! rather than endless calls to bring in the likes of second rate Jurassic strikers like toney and Calvert levin who might b ok for teams who Just want to stay in epl but not those claiming to be European elite

          1. In my opinion, there are only two managers in the world whose systems are always able to score from open play, without a towering CF. They’re Guardiola and Klopp, but they have just signed two tall CFs as alternatives

            Even Tuchel was sometimes unable to score when he had Neymar and Mbappe at PSG. He finally won UCL after having the tall Havertz as his main false nine at Chelsea

      2. Fk No extra point is true but you still get A GOAL by scoring a header, while when missing a header or never even making one gets you NOTHING. All goals count and if headers are included then you do, in general, get more goals than if you never score headers.

        It not that a TRUER CONTEXT than your incomplete post!

  8. I think in depends on the quality of the European trophy we are talking about..

    Arsenal focus for the past few years has always been to make it into the CL, weather good enough to win or not, that is another discussion.

    I believe among those years we were in UCl, if we managed to be in Europa instead we would have won many more of it by now.
    For example, let city be in Europa and you can predict they will win it 4times out of 5times. But they are going for UCl instead which is the most important European trophy as we speak.
    Wenger and Emery face two of the best European team which they both were eliminated in semi’s and final.
    However under Arteta, we lost to olympiacos and Villarreal, then to not qualifying to it at all, then we are back in it again.
    If Wenger or emery had face any of those teams, there’s nothing stopping us from being champion.
    As both Athletico and chealse have won it 4 times in the last 10years. And probably the most strongest team to have won in it in between those years.
    Arteta still got time to win it for us, but I doubt if he can.

    1. But even in the EL we failed under Wenger, Emery and Arteta.

      Emery basically owns the EL, yet we went missing under him in the final.

      1. There is a problem at Arsenal. At the Spuds, Conte has signed Ivan Perisic. He will get used in European games. He is 33 but EXPERIENCED. Why can’t we get Alexis Sanchez for European games. He is 33……
        because it takes clever thinking and Conte outdid us by a mile last season and is doing it again this coming season. European competitions needs different types of players so we need to be sharp and on the ball in our secondary level signings.

      2. Did you read my comments?
        How many times did we fail under wenger and emery and compare the opponents we failed against.
        We were so bad that we couldn’t even qualify for it under this management a season before.

        They failed yeah, but when you compare the team they came against, they are known to be tough team.

        City will sweat to beat Athletico or Chelsea in the Europa as well.
        They are known to be Ucl quality team, but some how they found themselves each in Europa In different season.
        It’s not surprising that whenever these teams found themselves in that competition, they won it..

        Liverpool have failed agaisnt madrid the 3time in 5 years, the moment they met spurs, then went to win the Ucl.
        The quality of the team matters here.
        When we are being given the likes of Bayern, Barca, Ac Milan at their peaks in ucl we knows how that turned out. Teams full of world class players unlike us.

        I know it’s not an excuse for our failure, but we were not match for the team we came up against.

        Emery’s one was the hardest one to take, we beat every competitive team we came across to reach that final, unfortunately they didn’t get what they deserve at the final as they didn’t turn up in the second half of the match.

        Wenger didn’t have Auba to play against Athletico due to rules. Lost Sanchez at the window to Man-u

        Emery was forced to use ozil cause Micki couldn’t make that squad due to political issues.

  9. I believe there’s an experience factor at club level in these things.

    Knowing how to build squad for Euro competition, how to manage it (rotation, injury etc) and have people who understand these competitions is important (players and staff).

    Liverpool were winning the CL for fun and then the 3-year ban came along. When they came back, it took a lot of years to rebuild to anywhere near the same level of performance.

    It’s hard to put a finger on what it is, but there is something useful in that experience, some sort of X-factor.

    It’s not that it guarantees anything, or that you can’t win the CL/EL without it – it just helps.

    To me, the EPL has been a more difficult trophy to win over the years though. Some of the CL ever-present clubs have no real domestic obstacle to them getting into the CL every year. Real/Barcelona can have a “poor” domestic season but they always end up in the CL – there’s not enough depth to prevent them finishing in Spain’s top 4. That’s a major advantage in the CL, they can prioritise that competition without worrying about top 4.

    1. Just to add – I think the reason Wenger failed to advance with all those years of experience in the CL is that the stadium rebuild took all the funds away.

      As Wenger himself said, he thinks he did his best work in those stadium rebuild years, more so even than the Invincibles season, to keep delivering CL football on that budget. I think he has a point.

      1. Hallelujah!!!! Some common sense at last.
        Funny that the Emirates build and the arrival of Billionaire clubs (city and Chelsea, PSG) didn’t feature in the article.

  10. Aerial prowess? But which one of the current Arsenal’s centrebacks and fullbacks in their last season’s team had shown he has the needed aerial goals scoring power to score for Arsenal in the EPL last season? And has scored many. I think Gabriel Magalhaes who scored 5 times in the EPL for us last season is the one. As he has shown that he has some measure of aerial power ability to score goals when he headed in I think 4 times in the EPL for Arsenal last season.
    But Rob Holding who headed in just once in the League last season for Arsenal has been trying to be there for Arsenal whenever he played coming forward trying to head in. But often missed getting the target. I think if he improved on his headings in front of the opposition’s goalmouth next season when he plays in the EPL, he’ll score many headed goals for Arsenal.
    But nevertheless, Magalhaes should not rest on his laurels of scoring 5 times in the League last season for Arsenal. But he should work hard in training and matches to improved on his last season aerial threats to score goals. So that he can do more well to better his tally of 5 of last season which he got. To say 10 next season since he has the talent for coming forward to score.
    If Arsenal do recruit Lisandro Martinez this summer as it has been rumoured. But does he has the talent to come forward to score goals? So that he can carry that to Arsenal if they sign him.
    I think Arteta should look in seriously into this aerial prowess of a thing before embarking on signing any new defense-line player for Arsenal this summer. Because this thing matters a lot as it could make the added big difference to Arsena’s team goals scoring ability to win games in the EPL next season.

  11. I don’t think the article is necessarily anti Wenger. I was in Baku for that heartbreaker & I’ve been lucky enough to follow Arsenal to 20 Countries in CL & EL, & I have many special memories from those trips both good & bad. Beating RM in their own back yard ( 1st English team to do that ) & reaching CL final in 2006 was a highlight. However I think we are allowed to express disappointment at a lack of success in Europe overall. Can you imagine Manu or Liverpool being in CL for 21 consecutive years & not winning it ? Indeed 25 years on the spin in Europe without a trophy is a big miss. I remember Zaragoza in 95 & losing in Copenhagen to a team who had 10 men in extra time. I know Arsenal are more successful than most clubs in England but there is no harm in wanting to see the club thrive in Europe. Part of me was looking at the Europa conference cup spot because I believe any European trophy soon is much needed. Think about this…… Arsenal spent £50M+ on Auba & Laca & £70M on Pepe as well as a huge outlay on Ozil & couldn’t succeed in Europe.

    1. Good call Pete, it was what it was. Making the Champions final in 2006, playing wonderful football till the end was the highlight, however in previous years Arsenal were also knocked out by weaker teams either naively or through poor mental strength. However that was then, who knows Arsenal now go back into Europe from a much weaker position but their could be a change within the club’s culture.

      1. Absolutely & we all just want Arsenal to bring home the Europa cup next season to put to rest some of the pain from past. I’m optimistic but winning the group is important to avoid the extra round. Hopefully all of the PL, Spanish, Italian & German clubs progress to CL last 16. Saying that let’s hope Arsenal have no fear of any big club in Europe or PL next season. C’mon you Gunners 💪💪💪

  12. The thing is, with all their financial clout, their fancied players and the best Manager in the world, Man City have failed to win the CL so many times. The point is, these games are mostly one off and tricky wherein you need to be at your best on that particular day, with a bit of luck on your side. Consider the Real Madrid vs. Man City semifinals in the CL. City were almost through till added time but than Madrid came back out of nowhere. In addition to consistency there are other parameters like mental fortitude, luck and the willingness to fight until the lastsecond that makes CL winners. Coming to Arsenal, we had our best chance when we made it to the CL finals against Barcelona with Henry leading the line, but its ok. This season, we again have a real chance, considering our squad quality and a few more additions in full back, midfield and attack positions.

  13. I started watching and following Arsenal in 1998. So I saw us lose to Gala in 2000 ( uel final )
    Lose to Chelsea in 2004 ( UCL q/final)
    Lose to Barce in 2006 ( UCL final )
    Lose to Manu in 2008 ( UCL semi final )
    Lose to L/pool in 2007 ( UCL q/final)
    Lose to A/Madrid in 2018 ( uel semi final )
    Lose to chelsea in 2019 ( uel final )
    Lose to Villarreal in 2021 ( uel s/final)

    And many painful exist in q finals.

    Sometimes I feel the gods of football just like poo poo -ing on us , so much because in all these loses I mean all we had a very solid very strong team. Lady Luck always see to play her part . Like Martin keone missing a sitter from 4 yards against Galatasaray in 2000.
    Like Eto scoring an offside goal and belletti scoring through almunias legs in 2006.
    Its painful , But i’ ll wait.
    Great things happen to the patient.

  14. the past, present and future are intertwined and yet none of them actually exist in reality.

    Where is the past. – can you touch it?
    When is the present – is it now? or now? or maybe now?
    Where is the future – can you grasp it?

    Where are our European trophies 🏆? – aside from two, adorning other clubs cabinets:)

    Small margins in football (an inch between heaven and earth;) but RM, Liverpool, Milan either still do or historically did everything (including owners) in their powers to be victorious, strong of body and mind and resolute in the desire to come out on top.

    #toomuchyingandnotenoughyang

    1. Agreed. Hind sight is always 50/50. Ultimately we didn’t do enough or do I say we did not desire it enough to win it.

  15. Another thing there is always some tell tell signs and problems that always seem to pop up any time we play finals.
    In 2002 some key players who were instrumental to getting us to the final didn’t/ could play .
    2006 Lehman’s red card ,
    2018 mykhitharian’s threat to life in Baku
    But there were also blunders by the coach.
    Like Wenger pulling out pires ( a veteran) instead of Hleb .
    Selling Giroud in January to Chelsea in 2018 , I strongly believe that if he played in that semi final against Athletics, we would have won that game.
    Arteta replacing auba with laca instead of playing them both against villarael in second leg.
    Emery using cech Chelsea goal keeper coach instead of Leno who was doing better in the league games.

  16. Arsenal did not choke in champions league.,they were never up to it..it seems like they did not have the belief they could beat Europe’s elite and it is ok not to win it..Arsenal lost the competitive spirit under Wenger down the years..and it became a habit..like every year we qualify and no one expects us to win,..so let’s chill in this competition..that’s the sort of mentality players like adebayor,eboue,etc bring to the dressing room…lack of winning spirit….fabregas said that was the reason why he left Arsenal…I am not anti Wenger..I’m always Wenger in ,..but some players need a hard ass like Arteta

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