Arsenal are one of the most successful clubs in English football. Ahead of the 2023/24 season, they have won the FA Cup 14 times, two more than their nearest rival (Manchester United) and they are third in the list of top-flight titles with 13 to their name (behind Liverpool on 19 and Manchester United on 20). But, for some unknown reason, the Gunners have been unable to transfer their domestic success to the continent.
Indeed, while many other English sides have enjoyed plenty of success, the only European trophy Arsenal have landed is the 1994 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup (we’re not counting the 1969/70 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup). Putting things into context, English sides are the third most successful in UEFA competitions (one behind Italy and 17 behind runaway leaders Spain), so what’s been going wrong for the Gunners?
In this article, we’ll attempt to figure out the reasons for Arsenal’s relative lack of European success, and we’ll look ahead to predict how they’ll get on in the 2023/24 Champions League. But first, let’s take a quick glance at the English sides that have picked up more silverware than Arsenal on the continent.
English Teams with More European Trophies Than Arsenal
|Team||No. of UEFA Trophies Won|
|West Ham United||3|
As you can see, eight sides have won more European trophies than the Gunners, with north London rivals Spurs having tripled Arsenal’s continental haul and Man United, Chelsea and Liverpool sailing off into the distance. Even Everton and relative minnows Ipswich Town have won as many European trophies as Arsenal, while other sides that have also only ever won the Cup Winners’ Cup include the mighty Dinamo Tbilisi from Georgia and German side FC Magdeburg.
Arsenal’s Near Misses in Europe
Arsenal’s solitary European success came with their 1994 “one nil to the Arsenal” victory over Italian side Parma in Copenhagen. George Graham was the boring-but-effective manager at the time. And though he didn’t always endear himself to the fans with his rather pragmatic style of play, he still achieved what the likes of Arsène Wenger, Unai Emery or – to date – Mikel Arteta haven’t: a European trophy.
Arsenal have made a few European finals over the years, however, including the 1980 Cup Winners’ Cup final when they lost to Spanish side Valencia on penalties. It was a Spanish side that did for the Gunners in another Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1995, the year after they’d won it. Chasing back-to-back European trophies, Arsenal went down 2-1 after extra time to Zaragoza in Paris. That defeat came just a couple of months after the Gunners had lost the 1994 European Super Cup 2-0 to Milan.
As with their two Cup Winners’ Cup defeats, the margins were extremely tight when Arsenal faced Turkish side, Galatasaray, in the UEFA Cup final in 2000. The match was goalless after normal time and went to Golden Goal extra time, but still neither side could find the net. The Turkish side then triumphed 4-1 on penalties. It was less close in the 2019 Europa League final, when Unai Emery’s Gunners went down 4-1 to fellow English side Chelsea, with former Arsenal striker, Olivier Giroud, bagging one of the Chelsea goals!
In terms of heartbreak for Arsenal fans, however, the 2006 Champions League final is hard to top. Many fans and pundits believed it was finally Arsenal’s time to conquer Europe, but when they faced Barcelona in the final, things went pear-shaped very quickly when Gunners goalkeeper Jen Lehmann got sent off after just 18 minutes. It was still close, and Arsenal even took the lead, but Barca ran out eventual 2-1 victors and Arsenal haven’t made it to a Champions League final since.
Reasons for Arsenal’s Lack of European Success
Attempting to pinpoint the reasons for Arsenal’s lack of European success is tricky, to say the least given the many eras their continental failures straddle. Suggesting that the Gunners are bottlers or bad travellers compared to others would be speculation at best – although perhaps some of Arsenal’s poor European performances might have been at least in part due to Dennis Bergkamp’s aversion to flying (though that is really clutching at straws).
In truth, it appears that, when it really mattered, Arsenal simply didn’t have the rub of the green in the same way that perhaps some others had (such as Manchester United’s unlikely comeback victory against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final).
Looking at how close most of Arsenal defeats in European finals were, it is not inconceivable to suggest that, had Lady Luck been kinder, they may have bagged three or four European trophies, rather than the single, lonely Cup Winners’ Cup they have thus far managed. But after a dynamic and exciting season in which Mikel Arteta almost led the Gunners to the Premier League title, could Arsenal finally conquer Europe in 2023/24?
Could Arsenal Win the 2023/24 Champions League?
As the ludicrously well-resourced Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have discovered in recent seasons, it’s not easy to win the Champions League. Pep Guardiola’s City finally managed it last May, in part thanks to having the best goalscorer in the game at present, and have since added the UEFA Super Cup to their trophy cabinet. Interestingly, despite their conveyor belt of world-class players of late, PSG have (like Arsenal) still only bagged one Cup Winners’ Cup (and an Intertoto Cup, but we’re certainly not counting that!).
But could Arsenal have the energy and desire to go all the way in the Champions League? If we’re being hopeful… maybe. But even then, the Gunners would certainly need all the luck they missed out on in previous seasons in Europe. And, ideally, they’d need to avoid the likes of Man City, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. The bookies rate Arsenal as the fourth favourites (behind those three teams just mentioned), and they’ll certainly have their work cut out, but – whisper it – this could be Arsenal’s year!