The 2018-2019 Premier League season wasn’t the best for the Gunners. Of course, it wasn’t the worst either because they did qualify for the Europa League after all. But it’s not got the same credence as the Champions League, has it? Arsenal have struggled to find the form that saw them as one of the top four in the Premier League, but with Unai Emery getting more accustomed to his team and millions spent on new forward players, could the Champions League be on the horizon?
Back in the early 2000s, Arsenal were one of the big four English clubs who were constantly topping the tables (though not always quite getting to the very top). The likes of Thierry Henry (a better player than he was rookie football manager), Robin van Persie and Ashley Cole were giving us glorious football. The Real Madrid type of football but here in the UK. So glorious, in fact, it got Arsenal to the Champions League final in the 2005-2006 season.
But was that the turning point that has seen the North London team fall short from European greatness? It could very well be. Since then, Arsenal have been knocked out in the 16th round and sometimes making it to the quarter or semi-finals. Since the 2017-2018 season, they’ve not even qualified for the Champions League at all. But it’s not all because Thierry Henry doesn’t play for them anymore!
Last season was especially disappointing. Not only did the Gunners come runners up in the Europa League (against Chelsea, of all teams), but they also missed out on another top-four position. One positive is that they were only one point below the fourth team. But then that team was arch-rivals Tottenham. So, losing out on a Champions League spot is bad enough, but to Tottenham – well, that takes the proverbial biscuit. Especially with Spurs rooted as one of the Champions League favourites.
So, what are they to do? Firstly, they need to have faith in the new manager, Unai Emery. Arsenal are not like other Premier League clubs, firing a manager when they haven’t come up trumps with a trophy after a few matches. We know that for a fact – look how long Arsene Wenger was in charge. Emery’s got a solid background, having managed in Spain, Russia and France, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team. He’s won the Europa League with Sevilla, no doubt this helped Arsenal get to the final in the season just gone. And although he’s only got a win rate of 54%, that’s the same as Wenger. If the club stick by him, give him time to build his team and put things into practice, who knows where Arsenal could end up. We’re hoping it’s in the Champions League final.
Of course, what a team needs is world-class players. With summer just gone, the transfer period has been busy, as always. And Arsenal have added some top talent to their squad, including the likes of loanee signing Dani Ceballos, Nicolas Pepe, Kieran Tierney and ‘make up your mind who you want to play for’ defender, David Luiz. Arsenal aren’t just raiding all of Chelsea’s older players (we’re talking about you, Peter Cech), but have been making a squad mixed with experience and youth. Back in the day, we had Dennis Bergkamp seeing out the end of his career while Robin van Persie took the torch. Hopefully, that’s what we’re going to see now with Emery’s new squad.
Interestingly, in a recent Sky Sports interview, Jose Mourinho had some pearls of wisdom to dish out. Mind you, we’re not sure if we should be listening to him after his Man United experience. Though, is anyone safe at Man U after Ferguson? Either way, when asked about when will Arsenal be ready for Champions League football, he had two things to say. The first was to “wait”. Every great team faces a fall, and with Chelsea, Man United, Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham all vying for the top four, alongside Arsenal, all we need is for some of these teams to fall on hard times. Then Arsenal can take advantage and leapfrog them.
But this isn’t a waiting game, so no way, Jose! The other, more sensible option was to explore “more than money”. Of course, during the transfer period, we see millions upon millions spent on players. But it’s what happens behind closed doors (or on the training grounds) where the magic happens: the strategists, the coaches, the practising and the nurturing of talent. Those are the investments that Arsenal need to see mature and Emery should be the one to see that happen. And, if all goes to plan, Arsenal will be in the top four at the end of this season – and qualifying for the Champions League once more.