Defying fate – what it’ll take for Arsenal to play in Europe next season
As Arsenal slumped to a 1-0 defeat at Villa Park on Tuesday night, it felt like two steps had been taken back. Last week had represented major progress under Mikel Arteta but the loss saw old problems seep back in. Defensive vulnerabilities, a big lack of creation against a low block team.
The game also highlighted Arsenal’s need for depth and a creative midfielder. Arteta was forced into a change at half-time as Lucas Torreira struggled massively. The Uruguayan does not look comfortable on the ball and seemed unwilling to carry play forward, resulting in a lot of sideways and backwards passes. Arsenal need another player to rotate with Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka in the summer, and all fingers point towards Ghanaian midfielder, Thomas Partey. The Atletico Madrid man has demonstrated his superb all-round play in multiple top performances this season and firmly established himself as a world-class player.
Arsenal will require a key resource to bring the midfielder to the Emirates this summer however, and that is money. A resource not currently in high commodity. Europa League qualification presents a great opportunity to generate money for Arsenal this summer. Unfortunately, Arsenal blew their chance at qualification through the Premier League, and all eyes will be focusing on the FA Cup final against Chelsea. The game will of course, decide the winner, and Arsenal’s chances of qualification. Sound familiar? It should.
Arsenal found themselves in a similar situation last season under Unai Emery and had a chance at Champions league qualification depending on other results. They ended up finishing just one point short of the top four, which doesn’t sound bad, but the Gunners should have comfortably finished within the qualification spots. Given the shocking away record, losses away to Leicester City and Wolves were not surprising. However, the key results that stood out were a glaring loss to Crystal Palace at home before a embarrassing 1-1 draw against Brighton, also at home.
Whether Emery was to be blamed for his selections or the players for losing their focus with a Europa league final looming, the team had bottled top four. The last remaining hope of Champions league qualification lay in a Europa league final against London rivals, Chelsea.
What followed was 90 minutes that any Arsenal fan in the world would happily pay to forget. The gunners capitulated, conceding four goals and going home empty handed. The Europa league trophy was gone, Champions league qualification was gone, and in six months, Emery was gone as well.
Back to the present. With the loss against Aston Villa, Arsenal have thrown away any hopes of Europa league qualification through the league. Arguably in less spectacular fashion than Emery’s team did 14 months ago, but a throw away none the less. However. A cup final looms in the near future. One that is also against Chelsea. Win the FA cup and Arsenal qualify for the Europa League. Lose, and those Baku fears are realised again. Arsenal will play without European football for the 2020/21 season and the effects would be unpredictable yet bleak.
By missing out on League qualification, Arsenal have once again placed all pressure on a cup final. Will they buckle under the pressure as they did in Baku? Or will they use it to fuel them and avenge their losses. This is the question that will be asked of Mikel Arteta and his men, and the answer will reveal itself August 1st.