Following the normal winter break, this week's Arsenal-Barcelona match felt like a long overdue reintroduction to the Champions League. The tie is now probably over following Barcelona’s 2-0 win in London. On the evidence, La Liga generally appears to be ahead of the English Premier League.
This is a far cry from the years 2005 to 2012 when an English club appeared in seven out of eight Champions League finals, emerging as winners on three occasions. The 2008 final was even consisting of two Premier League clubs, with Manchester United defeating Chelsea on penalties.
What’s interesting about the current Arsenal-Barcelona duel is that it is another repeat of the 2006 Final in Paris. Arsenal, sometimes referred to a diet-Barcelona or Barcelona-light, were less than fifteen minutes away from winning the competition that year. This was despite playing from the 18th minute onwards with just ten men. The 61st minute introduction of former Celtic star Henrik Larsson turned the game in the Catalans’ favour, a view supported by Arsenal captain Thierry Henry, who gave an emotional interview after the game, saying:
“All the time you talk about Ronaldinho and everything, but I didn’t see him today, and I saw Henrik Larsson two times. He came on, that was the key of the game. So, sometimes I think all the time you talk about people like Ronaldinho, Eto’o, and people like that. Talk about the proper people, sometimes make a difference, and that was Henrik Larsson tonight, on two assists. Cos I did not see no Ronaldinho and did not see no Eto’o”. (Full interview here)
What’s really interesting is to look at the clubs performance, through time, both before and after the 2006 Final. Prior to the game, (younger fans may not believe this!) but it was no foregone conclusion Barcelona would win. The Spanish club’s pedigree in the European Cup/Champions League was almost non-existent when compared to rival’s Real Madrid, AC Milan, or even Liverpool. The club had just one European Cup to their name, arriving in 1992 at Wembley courtesy of an extra time goal from Ronald Koeman. Entering the 2006 final the Champions League/European Cup wins record between the clubs was just 1-0 to Barcelona.
The table below shows the number of major tournaments won by both clubs entering the finalin May 2006.
If one considers the post World War II period the score is even closer, and reads 46 – 32 in favour of Barcelona, a difference of just 14, ceteris paribus.
What has happened thereafter is quite dramatic. The 2006 final saw Barcelona move in one direction, and Arsenal another. The table below lists the number of successes by competition after the 2006 final. Of course, this does not account for financial prudence, stadium development, revenue, financial fair play, etc. It merely looks at what most football fans think matters.