A Realistic Look At Arsenal’s European Qualification Prospects
Arsenal are facing the very real prospect of missing out on European qualification for the first time this century. The Gunners qualified for the UEFA Champions League for 19 successive seasons, between 1998-99 and 2016-17 – an English football record! The club have had to settle for the Europa League in the last 4 campaigns, but even reaching that competition seems like a tall order.
7th place is often enough to reach the Europa League qualifying rounds (if the FA Cup and Carabao Cup winners have already qualified for Europe via league position). Arteta’s side currently occupy 10th place, 7 points behind Tottenham in the last European position. After a disappointing draw against Burnley, the likelihood of Arsenal qualifying for Europe via the Premier League is slipping away.
However, due to the inconsistency of pretty much every team this season, if Arsenal are able to throw a run together, who’s to say they won’t make it? Our next three matches will be pivotal and are likely to make or break our chances of European qualification via the Premier League. Tottenham (H), West Ham (A) and Liverpool (H) beckon. All three teams sit in positions above us in the league – 7th, 5th, and 8th, respectively. Win and we’re in with a shout, lose and the gap becomes somewhat unbridgeable. Arteta must find a way to eradicate the consistent silly mistakes; something that has become all too familiar in Arsenal’s recent performances. If not, missing out on Europe may become an unwanted reality.
Having been eliminated from both domestic cup competitions, the Europa League is Arsenal’s only other route to Europe – winning the competition will see the Gunners qualify for next season’s Champions League. Arsenal travel to Greece this Thursday to face Olympiakos in what is a crucial first leg of the Last-16. Arsenal will hope to avoid a repeat of last season’s match-up between the two sides – the Greek outfit scored a late winner at the Emirates to knock Arteta’s side out of the Last-32 on goal difference. Winning their first ever Europa League appears to be Arsenal’s best chance of securing European qualification for the 2021-22 season, so it won’t be surprising if Arteta prioritises this competition over the Premier League.
So, if the Gunners fail to qualify for European competition, what will the implications be?
The most obvious implication is money, or should I say lack of it. Arsenal recently announced a £47.8m post-tax loss for the year ending 31st May 2020. Whilst the majority of this was down to the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic, a year without European football could be equally damaging for the club – especially if fans aren’t allowed to return to the Emirates anytime soon. By not participating in Europe next season, Arsenal will miss out on TV rights, prize money and potentially ticket sales/matchday revenue (restrictions permitting). It may also indirectly affect sponsorship deals – both current and future.
Similarly, it would almost certainly affect player recruitment. Edu will have a smaller transfer kitty to work with, and the prospect of no European football is likely to be unattractive to the continent’s top talents. However, our former Head of Football, Raul Sanllehi once famously said – “When Arsenal knock on a player’s door, it’s a different knock than other clubs.” Let’s hope that rings true.
Nevertheless, every cloud has a silver lining. There are some potential positives of the Gunner’s missing out on European qualification. Primarily, fixture congestion will be eradicated. No midweek games and a lack of travel time will surely benefit the players when it comes to fatigue. It also gives Arteta plenty of time to further implement his philosophy and playing style within the squad. Focusing solely on the Premier League can be a good thing. For example, Liverpool failed to qualify for the Europa League in Klopp’s first season at Liverpool (2015-16). The following season, they finished 4th and have qualified for the Champions League ever since (although that seems unlikely this season!). Perhaps if Arteta was afforded the same luxury, he could do the same.
When all is said and done, an Arsenal season without European football would seem strange, and somewhat wrong. Let’s hope Arteta can ‘rally the troops’ and secure European qualification for the 2021-22 season, and maybe bring home some silverware in the process!
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