As Arsenal look to stay in the Champions League mix by beating at Everton after a solid start to the season, a look back at their last victory in the competition
December 6, 2016 isn’t a day that will immediately jump out to Arsenal fans.
Similarly, Lucas Perez won’t be the first striker they think of when asked to name Champions League goalscorers for the club.
That’s the thing about last times, though – you don’t know they’re last times until long after the fact.
When Perez scored a hat-trick against Basel to confirm Arsene Wenger’s side as group winners, it was just another European win, with passage to the last 16 secured for a 17th straight year. There was no reason to believe it was anything other than simply what they did.
Five years, on, though, they’re still waiting for another victory in the competition. However, with Mikel Arteta at the helm, they’re starting to believe they’ll soon have another chance.
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The group stage couldn’t have gone much better that season for Arsene Wenger’s team.
A return of 18 goals in six games is one they have never bettered at that stage of the competition, and it owed a bit to that 4-1 victory in Switzerland.
Perez hadn’t been given many chances after his move from Deportivo La Coruna, starting just once in the Premier League before December, but even the most ring-rusty striker wouldn’t have been able to miss his eighth-minute opener from point-blank range.
The second was just as simple, a tap-in after Kieran Gibbs’ shot was parried into his path, and he completed his hat-trick by drilling a right-footed shot through goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik right at the start of the second half.
Alex Iwobi made it four, with Seydou Doumbia pulling one back for the home side late on, but the post-match discussion was all about Arsenal’s number nine.
“[Perez] scored more than 20 goals in Spain last season and he has shown why,” Wenger said after the victory.
“He has an eye for goal and good movement in the box, which is why he scores.”
Perez was one of two big-money signings brought in at the end of the transfer window after a challenging start to the season as Arsenal attempted to improve on the previous season’s second-place finish.
With the Spaniard joined on board by Shkodran Mustafi, fresh from playing for Germany at Euro 2016, the Gunners followed their European win in Basel by moving top of the Premier League with a 3-1 victory over Stoke.
These kinds of results were just normal. They could keep doing this forever. Until they couldn’t.
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Arsenal might have been drawn against Benfica, Porto or Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16.
Instead, though, they ended up facing a Bayern Munich side who were in the midst of a run of 25 points from 27 in the Bundesliga by the time they hosted Wenger’s men in February.
By that point, the wheels had begun to come off for the Gunners at home, too, with four defeats from nine putting them at risk of dropping out of the top four. In mid-March, four from nine had become six from 12 and that fear had become a reality.
As for the Bayern games, Arsenal fans won’t need reminding of the pair of 5-1 defeats which ended their hopes of European glory. They just didn’t know it would be the last time they even got that far under Wenger, with neither of his successors bringing them back to the top table in the five years since.
After finishing a point outside the top four in 2018-19 in the face of late-season struggles under Unai Emery, Arsenal haven’t been anywhere near over the last two seasons.
This year, though, a tidy start to the season under Mikel Arteta has given fans hope of ending their wait, and a win at Old Trafford on Thursday night would have seen them end a December gameweek in the top four for the first time in three full years.
“It hurts a lot in the last few days to put the TV on and see those teams there, and not see Arsenal there,” Arteta said in September when this season’s Champions League group stage got underway.
The 2016-17 was the first after Arteta’s retirement from playing, and for a while it felt like business as usual.
Right now, though, those five years probably feel like a lifetime away, with just three members of the matchday 18 from that night in Switzerland still playing for the club.
Maybe that distance is what they need, though, as Arteta aims to take them back to the promised land.