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Wednesday, 09 April 2014

How Arsenal and Man United are set to rewrite Champions League history

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What were you doing in 1995? It's an awful long way to think back and it's the last time the premier European competition didn't see either Manchester United or Arsenal in the draw. Everton's win on Sunday means we might be about to see it happen again.

United and the Gunners have been two of the most consistent participants in the Champions League. They are two of the clubs that have achieved exactly what the competition organisers and sponsors wanted - a European League in all but name featuring all the biggest clubs from the largest revenue markets (countries, to you and me).

In 1995/96 the new competition was still in its infancy. The league format was accepted but multiple entry from the top leagues was still to be agreed. Imagine the chagrin of Europe's TV bosses in 1995 when they realised who would represent England that season.

Man u 1995Blackburn Rovers had pipped Manchester United on the final day of the 1994/95 season and so the competition did get a club from the North-West but not the expected one.

Rovers then preceded to make a complete pig's ear of their one and only campaign in the top competition. They managed to finish bottom of a group containing Spartak Moscow, Legia Warsaw and Rosenborg - hardly the most frightening line-up.

Along the way there was the unforgettable image of David Batty and Graeme Le Saux coming to blows on the park as the great Rovers experiment, bankrolled by the late Jack Walker, fell apart.

A year later normal service had been resumed. Manchester United were domestic champions again and began their run of 19 consecutive entries which seems certain now to be at an end.

The numbers involved in the competition were soon expanded and Arsenal were able to begin their own run which now stands at 16 seasons on the spin. The Gunners were domestic champions in 1997/98 but in the 1998/99 Champions League they were joined by Man United, as the top two from England now had a crack at the Champions League prize.

As we all know, United came through a qualifier and then sailed through the competition to win it while Arsenal failed to reach the knockout stages. Since then the pair have been a fixture in the Premier League contingent.

Barring something miraculous (winning the competition), Manchester United won't be there in 2014/15. That would feel strange enough on its own but if Arsenal are also excluded it will feel positively surreal.

Even the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Juventus and AC Milan have had to endures the occasional season without Champions League football, so the runs of England's pair had to end sometime. We just never expected it that it could happen at the same time.


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Hugh Larkin



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