Arsenal’s chances of returning to the Champions League next season were given a huge boost after Chelsea were plunged deeper into chaos at the weekend. Kepa Arrizabalaga refused to be substituted in their Carabao Cup final clash with Man City and manager Maurizio Sarri was left undermined and apoplectic. The seemingly injured goalkeeper then gave an underwhelming performance as Chelsea lost in a penalty shootout and the club veered even closer towards crisis point. The Blues remain the bookmakers’ favourites to secure fourth place in the Premiership and win the Europa League, but Arsenal should now fancy their chances of usurping them.
Of course, it is not just a straight fight between Arsenal and Chelsea in either competition. Arsenal are currently fourth in the Premiership, just a solitary point clear of a resurgent Man Utd and three ahead of Chelsea, who have a game in hand. They are in the last 16 of the Europa League, and they must go through several teams before having a shot at glory. The prices at top-rated bookies like BetOnline have Arsenal as third favourites in both markets, behind Chelsea and Man Utd to finish in the top four and behind Chelsea and Napoli to win the Europa League.
However, Man Utd are struggling with many injuries and they have a tough run in. They must contend with a tricky trip to Crystal Palace next time out, before travelling to Paris to take on PSG, before they play Arsenal at The Emirates. They could be shattered by then, and the Gunners have a great chance to seize the initiative over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men in the next few weeks. Man Utd and Chelsea also play one another at Old Trafford on April 28, so one of them will have to drop points there, while Man Utd have to play title-chasing Man City before the season is out.
Arsenal and Chelsea have easier run-ins and it could end up being a straight fight between the two London clubs to seize fourth. Right now Arsenal should feel encouraged by Chelsea’s shocking away form, which has seen them lose 2-0 to the Gunners, 4-0 to Bournemouth and 6-0 to Man City in their last three road trips. Sarri is losing control of the dressing room, as Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte did before him, and the Italian looks like a dead man walking at the club.
Arsenal’s destiny is now in their own hands when it comes to finishing in the top four, and they have the firepower to pull it off. There are still question marks over the defence, but Arsenal have looked dangerous going forwards of late. Alexandre Lacazette, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi looked sharp in their 2-0 win over Southampton at the weekend, and a bench boasting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil and Denis Suarez was positively fearsome. Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira dominated the midfield and ensured a steady supply to the attacking players, and more performances like that would see Arsenal secure a strong points tally against the likes of Bournemouth, Wolves, Newcastle, Everton, Watford, Palace, Leicester, Brighton and Burnley, and give them a good chance against Spurs and Man Utd.
Napoli are enjoying another reasonably strong season in Serie A, and they mixed it up well with Liverpool and PSG in their Champions League group. But the Premiership is streets ahead of the Italian top flight in terms of quality, as Arsenal showed by sweeping AC Milan aside in last season’s Europa League when many were expecting them to be humbled. If Chelsea remain in dire straits, Arsenal should fear nobody in that competition, so they have two very clear routes into next season’s Champions League. That would boost the club’s finances no end at a crucial juncture in Emery’s reign, so he should be highly motivated to wring every last drop of energy out of his players between now and the end of the campaign.