It is fair to say that Arsenal’s first season under new boss Unai Emery has gone better than many expected. The Spaniard came in with a huge rebuilding task on his hands and little money to spend in the transfer market, but has managed to keep the Gunners fighting on two fronts until the final stages of the campaign. The North London side could qualify for the Champions League next term via the Premier League or the Europa League. But with the top flight looking like a seriously tight affair, would it be wiser for Emery to put all his eggs in the European basket and go for glory?
Europa League Path
Whether Emery decides that the Europa League is his best shot at taking Arsenal into next season’s Champions League could depend on his next two Premier League fixtures. Defeat to both Spurs and Manchester United would seriously dent the Gunner’s chances of finishing above either at the end of the campaign. With Spurs recently dropping points with two defeats, the gap between third and sixth place has narrowed, and a win for Arsenal tomorrow would take them within a single point of their rivals.
There is history to the notion of prioritizing the Europa League over the Premier League in order to qualify for UEFA’s blue riband competition. When Jose Mourinho first took charge of Manchester United in the 2016-17 season, the Portuguese inherited a struggling team which was in need of a lot of rebuilding. He came to realize that his charges didn’t have enough to challenge in the league, so as the campaign neared its conclusion focused all his efforts on Europe. United ended up winning the Europa League that season with a 2-0 victory over Ajax and thus qualified for the Champions League the following term.
As of the 27thof February, Arsenal can be backed at odds of 5/1 with Betway Sports to win the Europa League this time out, with Chelsea being slight favourites at 4/1. The Gunners’ odds of making a top four finish in the league are shorter at 2/1, but United and Chelsea are both considered stronger contenders to seal that place in the bookies’ estimations. With an enticing-looking tie for Arsenal coming up against rank outsiders Rennes, there is a real chance that Emery’s side could go all the way in the tournament. But is this possibility enough to persuade the former Paris Saint-Germain manager to rest key players in the league to ensure they are fit and ready for European ties? This was the approach that Mourinho took, but it could be considered a huge gamble.
Squeaky Bum Time
The business end of the season is definitely going to be a nervy time for Arsenal supporters with so much riding on it. If qualification to the ultimate European competition is achieved this time out, it will enable Emery to attract better quality players in the summer. It will also help to get a lot of the disillusioned fans back on board. Regardless of the fact that Emery appears to be a highly capable manager who could do great things if given time, anything other than Champions League qualification will seem like a waste of a fairly promising campaign.
There is every indication that the home game against Manchester United will be pivotal in the club’s ambitions to make the top four. A win for Emery’s team would make amends for their FA Cup loss against the Red Devils. However, if they lose, fourth position could possibly be out of reach, and lead to the head coach throwing everything at the Europa League.
No fan wants to see their team weakened in one competition just so they may have a better chance at winning something else. But this could be what comes to fruition this term depending on the upcoming results in the league. Arsenal really cannot afford not to qualify for the Champions League for a third season running, and winning the Europa League could be the most viable path to doing that.