Be careful what you wish for – that’s the lesson for Arsenal, a team that risks being the Cleveland Browns of a proposed new breakaway Super League

The spectre of a European “Super” league returned ahead of Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool at The Emirates on Saturday.  The previous day saw Arsenal outed by the German publication Der Spiegel, alongside Real Madrid, AC Milan, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Manchester United, as one of the movers behind a 16-team elite competition.

Der Spiegel claimed another four clubs (Liverpool, Paris St Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City) would be the league’s “founders” and that, together with five so-called guests (Internazionale, AS Roma, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid and Olympique de Marseille), were planning to form an NFL-style competition, with no relegation and guaranteed membership for 20 years.

Bayern Munich said they hadn’t been involved in any discussions, calling to mind a remark attributed to Otto von Bismarck: “never believe anything until it is officially denied.” From the others: silence.

Why NFL model is a bad fit for soccer

The NFL operates a draft system which ensures the weakest clubs get the first pick of that year’s emerging players. The chances of Florentino Pérez willingly agreeing to allow Atletico Madrid to draft the next Cristiano Ronaldo are somewhere around the one in a billion mark.

The NFL also operates a strict salary cap and is carefully audited, which would come as a severe shock to some of the heroically corrupt clubs included in the sainted 16. Try auditing Bernard Tapie-era Marseille, just for a laugh.

One of the concept’s biggest flaws, however, was graphically illustrated by Arsenal vs Liverpool, the hosts with viable ambitions to return to the Champions League this year, the visitors eyeing a first title since 1990.

The match was of a high technical standard, the result just about fair and both sets of fans were, if not happy, then at least sated. As long as the natives are fed the red meat of hope, both sides remain happy and this is the point.

These are clubs where the fan base revolts if their team finishes fifth. How are they going to cope with coming 15th, like a European equivalent of the Cleveland Browns?

Tentative belief is returning to Arsenal, who, having their first two losing to Manchester City and Chelsea, had won 11 straight games before last Sunday’s draw at Crystal Palace.

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This was seen as a test of their revival, against top-class opposition. If the outcome was the same as the equivalent fixture last season (a frenetic 3-3 draw) the quality was higher. Arsenal, having rediscovered the concept of using midfielders to help the defence, no longer look like conceding with every opposition attack.

The same applies to Liverpool, whose progress this season can be measured by the absence of a weekly social media vilification campaign targeted against whichever defender, or more likely goalkeeper, the twitterati felt was to blame. There was no need to set up a goal alert on your phone when the words: “Lovren 600k tweets” in the sidebar did exactly the same job.

Arsenal making progress under Unai Emery

From an Arsenal point of view what was most instructive was the reaction to going a goal down when James Milner scored in the 61st minute. Too often in the past their response to conceding was to stand around looking at each other, while the camera cut to Arsène Wenger contorting his face (and the rest of his body) into a mask of existential pain.

Against Liverpool Shkodran Mustafi, a player whose reputation tanked under Wenger, immediately goaded his team mates into a recovery, culminating in Alexandre Lacazette’s 82nd minute equaliser.

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Under Unai Emery Arsenal have now rescued more points from losing positions than any other team in the English top flight this season. (Eight, one ahead of Manchester United and Leicester).

Wenger was quoted recently as saying he thought a European league was inevitable.

Last night an oddly subdued Jurgen Klopp was more sceptical: “I am completely fine with how the league football is at the moment,” he said.And after a match like that, who wouldn’t be?


PSG and Barcelona might get bored by winning over 90 percent of their matches, but imagine how they’d cope without their built-in underclass, in a league where no one ever gets relegated. And someone has to be the Cleveland Browns.

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