The YAMA round table discusses where Arsenal will finish this season
The business end of the season has finally arrived! Unai Emery has his side in the best form of the season at just the right time, and Arsenal find themselves in prime position to return to the Champions League. Where will they finish? We asked several of our You Are My Arsenal writers to weigh in, and the responses seem to follow a similar theme. Time will tell whether this largely positive vibe remains intact during the final run of games!
Mike Stavrou (@Mike_Stavrou)
Cancel all your plans, hand your kids over to the baby sitters, and put your dogs in the kennel, because from April 21st-April 29th is where it gets real. Arsenal’s hopes of finally getting back into Europe’s premier competition hinges on three games: Crystal Palace at home (Sunday 21st), Wolves away (Wednesday 24th) and Leicester City away (Monday 29th). That’s because our top four rivals embroil in titanic clashes in the same week – Man City play Spurs and United, while Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer’s men also face Chelsea. Points will be dropped – and if Arsenal can keep their bottle in tough away games against giant killers Wolves, and a resurgent Leicester City – it will firmly be in our hands.
Top four is the best route on the road back to Champions League action, and I believe we will just about sneak into that fourth spot. Napoli in the Europa League will be extremely testing, and over two legs they may well have the quality and nous to topple us. Even if we can overcome the Italian giants, it’s Villarreal or Valencia in the semis, and likely Chelsea in the final. To get through that – while battling on the domestic front – will be a miracle. So, Unai Emery’s men need to see these remaining Premier League games as eight cup finals, in order to make a statement to the rest of the top six: that Arsenal are back.
Andrew Thompson (@FMLehrer)
It has been the ultimate question since Unai Emery took up his post on the Emirates touchline; how would Arsenal fair in their first season in the post-Wenger era. Thus far – it’s fair to say – we have been better than we have gotten credit for, but nowhere near as good as we could be. This is not a slight on the Basque-born headmaster. Far from it. But it is no exaggeration that a fair amount of his time in England – however long or short that may be – will be judged on the run-in of the current campaign. As Mike has pointed out, much comes down to key fixture dates in April. There is no better position than controlling your own destiny, and in a sense we do.
Our fellow rivals all have tricky obstacles to negotiate, as do we. But none of that matters if we fail to deliver in the clutch; something that has plagued the club in recent years. It is difficult – though not impossible – to suggest that we will take maximum points from Palace, Wolves, and Leicester. One thing that is almost certain, however, and that is one of Spurs, United, or Chelsea will drop points. We have to be there to pounce on any kink in their Premier League armor.
I and many others have maintained that our best route back into Europe’s premier club competition is by way of league qualification. There remains far too many variables in the Europa League; a competition that is more difficult than people give credit, but also far too much quality remaining. Truly, it is difficult for us to genuinely target both. If we were out of the CL running in the league then going balls-to-the-wall in Europe would make complete sense, but there is a real chance here for us to set the domestic record straight and the fixture gods have given us a window to do it. If we are to begin our true revival on the homefront, then the time here…now.
Hrishi Anand (@Hrishi_AFC)
The break in Dubai would have done a world of good for keeping the side fresh going into the final stage of the season. Its great that Champions League qualification is now in our hands and we even have the chance to pip Spurs to third place. Looking at our fixtures, we do have a few difficult away games, especially against Wolves, Leicester and possibly Everton but comparing our fixtures to the likes of United, Tottenham and Chelsea, we arguably have the easiest run of all the contenders. I feel that we should focus our efforts on finishing in the top four given that cup competitions are far more difficult to predict and can go either way but in the league we have a greater margin for error. Having said that winning the Europa League would be a respectable trophy in the cabinet. I think we’ll manage to finish in the top four but perhaps lose out on the Europa League. Fingers crossed for both though.
Muhammad Nisar (@MUwaysNisar)
In truth, Arsenal’s qualification for UEFA Champions League football hinges on one thing, the ability to defend. Up-front Arsenal have the quality to outscore even the best of teams in Europe, never mind the relatively mid-table teams like Wolves and Leicester they still have to face for a top four place. However, the defence has been almost shambolic this season, without an away clean sheet in the Premier League this season, it’s a wonder that Arsenal are currently occupying a top four place and it speaks a lot about how badly the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea are doing considering they are below us.
There also remains the small matter of the UEFA Europa League for Arsenal. Weirdly enough, if Arsenal lose to Napoli in the quarter-finals, I would fully expect Unai Emery and the boys to push on and finish in the top four as that would be one big distraction dropped from Arsenal’s fixtures. However, beat Napoli over two legs, and Emery may as well drop all hope of a top four finish because the Thursday-Sunday/Monday combination will put an almighty strain on a squad without much depth.
Michael Price (@YouAreMyArsenal)
Buckle up folks the last 8 matches of the season promise to a wild and woolly affair. The remaining fixture list certainly favors Arsenal for the run in to the top 4. Arsenal are the only side chasing 3rd and 4th that does not have to face off against a top 6 rival to close out the season. That in itself should tilt the favorability index towards the Gunners side. However, as we know with Arsenal, nothing is ever quite that easy. Arsenal still have tricky fixtures in Watford, Leicester and Wolves away.
The opposition themselves aren’t so tricky, you could see Arsenal winning those matches except for the factor that the matches are away and they still pose a problem to Arsenal under Unai Emery. On the road Arsenal are still average 1.93 goals conceded per game, the worst of the top 4 contenders. They balance it out with a consistent attack that is still averaging 1.86 goals scored per game but with their penchant for leaking goals, you could see where the away matches would pose a big threat to any top 4 aspirations.
Still, I am bullish on the Arsenal. I’ve been critical of Emery this year but he has finally landed on the formula for this Arsenal and it seems to be getting them over the line. In the end I think they manage finishing 4th. However, I reserve the right to amend that depending on what happens with Spurs v Liverpool this weekend.
Nate Smith (@nws13)
The 2018/2019 Arsenal season has been a tale of two parts in Unai Emery’s first season in charge. Despite the successes of the 22 match unbeaten heading into December, the underlying performances were anything but encouraging. However, since the mid-season lull in form that followed almost immediately after that streak, the team has looked far more threatening.
Heading into the homestretch, Arsenal find themselves in prime position for a top four finish, and to be clear, I believe they will achieve it. The Gunners are breathing down the neck of Tottenham, who face a much more difficult run in to the end of the season. If Emery and the players take care of business, it is entirely conceivable that Arsenal will move up into third place themselves, leaving Tottenham in a fight for the final Champions League place.
Given the struggles earlier in the season to create chances and prevent opponents from taking an abundance of their own, Arsenal could not be peaking at a better time than right now. The week in Dubai will have offered a chance for Emery to get the squad in peak physical condition while providing a team bonding experience. Expect a fit and fighting Arsenal to show up for the homestretch, and hopefully the hot pocket of form they found themselves in before the break will continue on the other side.
The Europa League remains a possible avenue of return to the Champions League, but a tough ask awaits in a Napoli team that has a strong squad and an experienced manager in Carlo Ancelotti. While Arsenal are in with a shout of winning Emery’s specialty competition, the path of least resistance remains in the Premier League. Ultimately, I see Arsenal finishing in third place in the Premier League, though I have my doubts about whether or not they will go the distance in the Europa League. Champions League qualification, no matter which way they do it, could only be seen as a victory for Arsenal and Unai Emery in his first year in English shores.