Less than 48 hours before Liverpool meet Arsenal at Highbury and Arsene Wenger decided to try and upset the fans and players of the Anfield Club.
Liverpool won their Champions League semi-final tie against Chelsea on Tuesday and rightly received high levels of praise from neutrals up and down the country. Liverpool’s league form has been much worse though, and they go into the Sunday clash needing a win to have any hope of fourth place. The FA have decided this season to not bother nominating Liverpool for the Champions League next season should they win it this season. Liverpool are on a high going into this game, so Wenger tried to knock them back down a peg or two: "Normally they should not have played in this cup," said the Frenchman. They are already lucky to be in it because of the advantage this country has in having four qualifying places. Most countries have only three places, so they already had an advantage in qualifying last season after finishing fourth."
Wenger has found the Champions League a difficult competition to progress in for Arsenal – excellent form domestically was never matched in Europe and the French boss received a lot of criticism for this. Seeing Liverpool do well seems to have upset him – unless he’s saying this for other reasons. Wenger is a past master at the psychology games and is perhaps now trying to upset Liverpool: "I feel the rules were clear at the beginning of the season so it was very difficult to change. You cannot knock Everton out of it". In truth the rules now and at the start of the season are that the FA are responsible for nominating a team from their country if they win the competition.
There is room in the competition format to allow Liverpool in next year – for example if a German team won the cup and finished fourth in their league, they’d be allowed in. Their FA would need to nominate them, but as they only get three places the rule that hits English football doesn’t apply. Obviously UEFA then need to sort out the draw to include this ‘extra’ club. Wenger doesn’t see this: "If UEFA are happy to give a fifth place to England, I’m happy to support it, but I don’t know how they can change it."
Wenger continued, "You could argue that four places in the Champions League is already quite a big share – and that if you are good enough to win the Champions League, you should be in the top four of your country. Normally I’d agree with the premise that if you win the cup you should be allowed to defend it but changing the rules for next season, so the winners qualify, would perhaps be the best solution."
Wenger concluded by admitting that Arsenal shouldn’t be playing in next season’s competition: "If you call it the Champions League, basically you should only have the league champions there." We now look forward to him pulling his team out of next season’s competition on principle.