Arsene Wenger has said that the Champions League has become less interesting in recent years, as he prepares to take his Arsenal side to Belarus to face BATE Borisov in the Europa League.
Wenger’s unbroken 19-year run of Champions League football came to an end after he could only guide them to fifth place in last season’s Premier League, but he said that the competition no longer held the appeal it once did.
“I think that in the group stage, there are not many interesting games,” he said. “You choose [to watch] only one or two games.
“It’s a routine now, the Champions League, in the group stage. Look at the audiences. It has lost some attraction power.”
Wenger is certainly justified in pointing out the decline in audience figures, certainly in this country. Champions League television audiences have been in decline for some years now, with even games featuring English clubs attracting audiences of around 200,000 on BT Sport. This year’s final attracted more television viewers in the United States than it did in this country.
In addition, the increasing concentration of wealth at the top of the game has led to the same teams playing each other more often; more than half of the fixtures in this year’s group stage have occurred before in Uefa competition. Last month Wenger claimed that the Premier League had “taken over from the Champions League, interest-wise”.
Nonetheless, Wenger admitted that he missed the buzz of Champions League week, a loss thrown into ever sharper relief by their 1,200-mile trip to Belarus this Thursday.
“Honestly, yes,” Wenger replied when asked whether he missed the competition. “But I must say, I have had nearly 200 games in the Champions League, so I can feel privileged.”
Before their Eastern European engagement, Arsenal face West Brom at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night. And Wenger reserved special praise for Aaron Ramsey, a player he believes is finally maturing into the complete central midfielder .
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