Nicolas Pepe’s talent, David Luiz’s experience, Dani Ceballos’ technicality, Kieran Tierney’s athleticism – surely all these in comings over the summer meant Arsenal were destined to make Champions League football this season.
Sadly, this season hasn’t followed the script and if Unai Emery doesn’t proffer a solution quickly – another season without the Champions League is surely on the cards.
After 12 games so far, the Gunners lie in sixth position – eight points behind fourth-placed Manchester City and 17 points behind leaders Liverpool (Skysports).
Since taking over from Arsene Wenger in the summer of 2018, Emery’s side have shown little improvement and defensive frailties remain at large.
But the club remarkably believe that the side are making progress.
Arsenal haven’t won in the league since beating Bournemouth in the first week of October and have picked up three points in just one of their last six matches.
Surely any thoughts of a title challenge only exists in dreams but now more than ever, the Gunners need to qualify for the Champions League.
Going back to October, Arsenal head of football Raul Sanllehi openly set the target for Emery that he was expected to deliver Champions League football for the Gunners this season.
Per Football.London’s James Benge, Sanllehi said as much at a fan forum back in October:
“We said to Unai that we just missed out on qualifying for the Champions League last year, but this year with a stronger squad, we expect you to do that.”
Arsenal were third in the Premier League at the time, following their 1-0 win over Bournemouth in the first week of October.
Switch to the present where Arsenal are below newly-promoted Sheffield United, Granit Xhaka continues to be a rebel off the pitch and almost any Arsenal player seems to be linked with moves out of the club, it’s rather ironic that the club still stand with Emery given the initial targets that were set for the season.
A recent report via The Athletic even stated that the Arsenal’s board of directors remain “100 per cent” behind the current manager.
Going further to state that the recent defeat to Leicester was a challenging fixture and the team showed signs of improvement and resilience before Jamie Vardy broke the deadlock on 68 minutes. Makes you wonder.
Arsenal might have missed out on Champions League football for the past three seasons but now more than ever, Emery must turn it around and bring Tuesday/Wednesday night football back to the Emirates.
In the absence of that, there will be dire consequences. All of which would be detrimental to both manager and club.
The obvious: Emery could and would most likely lose his job
The Arsenal board might have openly backed Emery for the manager role but you can bet they have given him their own timeline behind closed doors.
It’s widely expected that Emery would be given till the end of the season to make a claim for himself and prove whether he is the right man to lead Arsenal back to glory days.
As it stands, making top four will be considered success for Emery this season and anything short of that is simply screaming for a sack. In the event that Arsenal do not qualify for Champions League come the end of the season, Emery is most likely on his way out of the club and it would set the tone for further consequences that could emerge from missing out on Europe’s top tier competition
Potential departure of a number of key players
As always, Arsenal are the first club to be linked to any available player on the market but this time it is more of the opposite. Xhaka has been widely tipped to leave the club in January, with AC Milan looking like the front-runners for his signature.
Elsewhere, Mesut Ozil’s future still remains uncertain and while a January move might not materialise for the German (because of his wages), you can expect to see him gone by the end of the season If he continues to receive the cold treatment under Emery.
Finally, there’s the star duo of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. A report via The Sun recently stated that the pair were stalling to sign new contracts with the reason being the Gunners lack of Champions League football.
Barcelona and Real Madrid supposedly have an interest in Aubameyang and no doubt he will be tempted away with a Champions League offer if the current season comes to another unprofitable end.
Without his friend and partner, Lacazette might also consider a move out of the club – perhaps somewhere with greener pastures and Champions League action for instance.
Summer transfer window just got tougher
Of course, the financial side of things remains a tight issue at Arsenal and the absence of Champions League clearly puts the club in a difficult position. For their own standard, Arsenal were pretty busy over the summer bringing in club-record signing Pepe, Tierney and a few more names.
Without Champions League football, expect whatever budget existed to reduce significantly.
Arsenal clearly need a overhaul to turn their fortunes around – at least in the heart of defence. Fans know it, pundits do and most certainly Emery himself knows the same as well.
Bar the exception of major outgoings (players with decent market value), any kind of overhaul seems impossible as the Gunners would be in the familiar position of maximising little resources once again.
Or let’s say the Gunners do have all required resources available regardless of anything, the calibre of players willing to join the side drops significantly with no Champions League action.
Arsenal don’t exactly pay exorbitant wages that would be reason to convince any player for a move.
Not every player would go well with the idea of a downgrade from the Champions League to Thursday night football.
Who will fancy the Arsenal re-build job?
If Emery gets sacked, key players leave the club and the Gunners only have little to bargain with, who would fancy the manager role?
Luis Enrique, Jose Mourinho and Massimiliano Allegri are among the big names that have been linked as potential Emery replacements.
What these managers do have in common is spells at sides with financial power – or at least clubs that are willing to spend in the least.
If any one of these names gave the job an initial thought, he would surely have a rethink should the above realities all come to traction.
Emery has it all to do this season, but for his sake and that of the club, the Champions League is a must achieve target come the end of the season.