Returning to the UEFA Champions League has been Arsenal’s overriding ambition for more than three years.
Ever since their humiliating 5-1 defeat at home by Bayern Munich in 2017, the Gunners have been on the outside looking in on Europe’s top football competition.
Everyone knows that they should be there – that Arsenal are a Champions League-level team, not just a Europa-level one. On their best days, they have the form to achieve this – but their best days just don’t happen often enough.
As everyone knows, there are two ways that Arsenal can qualify for the Champions League in 2021. They must either finish in the top four of the Premier League or win the Europa League. The chances of the first option happening are fast receding, but it’s not yet out of the question, with bookies currently offering 40/1 odds on Arsenal being top four finishers. As it stands, however, winning the Europa League looks much more likely.
Climbing up the table
One thing you can say for Mikel Arteta is that he never gives up. The Gunners’ manager is still hopeful of making the top four this season, despite currently sitting at ninth place in the table, nine points behind the current fourth-placed team, Chelsea. Arsenal go up against the Blues on 12thMay, but they need more wins under their belt before that. At the time of writing, the team has only won two of their last five matches, with their 2-1 win against Tottenham Hotspur followed by a frustrating 3-3 draw against West Ham.
Things are quite a lot more hopeful in the Europa League, where Arsenal face Slavia Praha in the quarter-finals. If they win, they would face either Dinamo Zagreb or Villarreal in the semi-finals. Their odds to win are currently 9/2, behind Tottenham at 7/2 and Manchester United at 4/1.
Arsenal have come close to lifting the trophy in recent seasons, having been beaten in the 2019 final by Chelsea and losing in the semi-finals to eventual winners Atéetico Madrid in 2018. Looking at the teams still involved, only Manchester United would match the might of those two sides and the Gunners wouldn’t face them until the final itself, if at all, given how the draw has panned out. Football is a funny old game though, as we all know, so punters might prefer visiting a NetEnt online casino for no deposit free spins in order to get their money’s worth.
If there is one quality that Arsenal need to work on, it’s consistency. Everyone is saying this, but it really is true. There’s no point in having a first team full of potentially great players if they can’t realise that potential repeatedly from one match to another, or, perhaps more to the point, come together as a finely honed unit rather than a collective of erratic geniuses.
In particular, the defence still needs to pull together. Héctor Bellerin and Kieran Tierney have thankfully recovered from the injuries that left them largely out of action during 2019-20, but Tierney in particular isn’t always as reliable as one might wish for. On the other hand, Gabriel shows a great deal of promise, while Calum Chambers has been putting in some excellent performances lately.
Should I stay or should I go?
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s contract situation desperately needs to be resolved one way or another. When he’s on form, the 31-year-old Gabon international is a definite asset to Arsenal, his experience and skill making him a worthy captain for the team. Recently, however, Aubameyang has been decidedly off-form, and many suggest that the uncertainty over his position has been playing on his mind.
Money is undoubtedly the main issue here. The last thing that the Arsenal board wants is another Mesut Özil situation, paying out extravagant sums for a player who just isn’t justifying his wages in terms of performance. Arteta keeping Aubameyang on the bench in recent matches can’t have helped matters. However, committing to keeping the captain on beyond his existing contract would give the team a sense of security that it is currently lacking, and a solid anchor to regroup around.
Chasing the dream
Arsenal finished the 2019-20 season in eighth place in the Premier League – their worst performance for 25 years. Hopefully, this year will see a significant improvement, even if they don’t make the top four. The dream of returning to the Champions League may have to wait, but the long road towards that goal has already begun.
Arsenal need some more fresh blood in the summer, as well as a fresh approach that emphasises reliable teamwork and turns the Gunners into a well-drilled machine. They don’t lack talent, but they lack the ability to keep winning games at the rate they deserve. Until this is sorted out, the Champions League may remain frustratingly out of reach.