The Gunners haven’t qualified for the Champions League since 2016, after which, the club commenced its final decline under Arsène Wenger and then continued to stutter under Unai Emery. However, almost one year ago, the club brought in Mikel Arteta to turn the club around, and since then, there has been a renewed hope around Arsenal’s prospects.
Of course, the aim is to get back into the Champions League, so, how close are the Gunners to achieving this goal?
Assessing the grade of Champions League competitors
In the UEFA Champions League odds at the exchange, where you bet against other fans as opposed to a bookmaker, the top ten favourites contain all four clubs from England. Manchester City and Liverpool are among the top three favourites, while Chelsea and Manchester United sit among the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Atlético Madrid. As such, the bar to get into the Champions League from the Premier League is incredibly high.
While it was still the early part of the season, Arsenal sat in 11th with four wins and four losses in the eight games before the second international break. Although they’d played one game fewer, the points tally sat Arteta’s squad on the same points as his mentor’s team, Manchester City. Two points behind the duo, Manchester United were clawing away at 14th in the league.
However, the early phases of the season have proven to be bizarre on all fronts. Liverpool may have been up in third, but they carried a +2 goal difference after conceding 16 goals, with Chelsea having four wins, three draws, and only one loss despite scoring 20 and only conceding ten. It looks set to be a season where anything can happen, and a good run of games for the Gunners could quickly see them ahead of current Champions League competitors.
Is this Arsenal squad ready to compete?
As stated by Arteta to the Official Website, “We’re a long way” from being the team that Arsenal needs to be, particularly due to the imbalance of results. The Spaniard’s strategies are gradually setting in, and the results reflect his progressive style. Emery could only muster 1.85 points per match through his 78 games, but Arteta hit the ground running, clocking-in at 2.00 points per match through his first 42 games.
The future is bright with Arteta at the helm, and the team’s transfer strategy has undoubtedly improved, with the likes of Gabriel Magalhães and Thomas Partey being well-selected additions. However, a team can’t patch all of its gaps in one transfer window. The primary area that needs improving is in defence.
The centre-back roles have looked better this season, with the duo of Gabriel and surprise package Rob Holding flourishing. The full-backs, however, haven’t been as sturdy, often becoming overloaded when savvy opposition attacks come down the wings. While it could be put down to Héctor Bellerín, Keiran Tierney, and Bukayo Saka struggling to adapt, the finger should probably be pointed at the wide midfielders or wingers.
In the 1-0 win against Manchester United, Arsenal held firm in a 3-4-3 formation. Having three centre backs allowed the left and right defender to push out wide while Saka and Bellerín tracked back, helping to give a numerical advantage. It was a pivotal move because the wingers Nicolas Pépé, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Willian don’t tend to track back very well.
A quick fix could be sought next summer, bringing in a top-class full-back who can handle world-class wingers on their own or a wide midfielder who runs a two-way game, but that doesn’t seem to be the aim. With Bellerín, Saka, and Tierney all under the age of 26, there’s plenty of time for Arteta to mould them, should they make enough progress over the course of this season.
As it stands, and as Arteta says, the team isn’t quite Champions League ready. On paper, Arsenal aren’t too far off, but clearly, the boss wants to see more significant strides made on match day.