It’s very much early days in the Premier League campaign, of course, but clearly the door is ajar for a top-four finish for any side ready to take it. Clearly, Manchester City and Liverpool are light years ahead of the rest, but otherwise, it’s very much an open house as far as finishing in the Champions League places is concerned.
Manchester United are already seven points adrift of the top four places, while Tottenham are ‘enjoying’ a mini-crisis of their own. The likes of Crystal Palace and Burnley will surely drift away in time, while Chelsea are very much a club in transition despite a bright start under Frank Lampard.
So really, it’s advantage Arsenal and Leicester City in pursuit of those all-important berths. Indeed, the Gunners are 11/10 with the bookmakers to finish inside the top four, and so it won’t be any great surprise to see a quest for the Champions League featuring heavily in football betting tips and football prediction columns in the coming weeks and months.
That’s a fact that won’t be lost on Unai Emery, who will know that in his second campaign as manager he really needs to deliver some forward progression. A top-four finish would certainly tick that box.
He will, therefore, concentrate his resources on domestic matters, nobody can criticise him for that, and ordinarily, that might have an impact on our performances in the other competitions which might be seen as a distraction. But as far as the Europa League is concerned, it will provide the manager with a chance to unleash the kids and see how far they can fly.
Young Gunners Set to Fire
With three wins from three and 10 goals scored against solid enough opposition in Frankfurt, Standard Liege and Vitoria Guimaraes, Arsenal are already making big strides in the Europa League.
Emery has opted for a sort of half-and-half approach to team selection in the continental competition, playing key figures such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, David Luiz and Sead Kolasinac alongside youngsters and fringe players. Already, the young Gunners have fired. Joe Willock opened the scoring in the 3-0 rout of Frankfurt, and Bukayo Sako furthered his burgeoning reputation with a late goal of his own in Germany. Emile Smith-Rowe also impressed in his hour-long cameo.
Next time out we welcomed Standard Liege to the Emirates, and this time it was another youngster who caught the eye. Gabriel Martinelli followed up his two goals in the EFL Cup with a brace against the Belgians, and his predatory instincts in and around the penalty area could yet see him elevated to the main starting eleven should anything untoward happen to Aubameyang.
There was more game time for Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson, while Kieran Tierney continued his rehabilitation from an injury that has stalled the start of his Arsenal career. Aside from Nelson, they all featured against Guimaraes as well, with Martinelli grabbing another goal, but they were reliant on Nicolas Pepe to inspire a late comeback.
The Europa League squad is packed with youngsters who will surely feature at some point during the continental campaign. Folarin Balogun has been in terrific form for the Under-23 side, as have the likes of Trae Coyle, Tolaji Bola and Robbie Burton.
The future is looking bright for Arsenal, and the present isn’t too shabby either.