Arsenal and their now tougher quest for Champions League football


Towards the end of April, Arsenal were seemingly certain to secure Champions League football for the first time since 2017.

Their last appearance in the prestigious competition saw them taste defeat to then five time winers Bayern Munich, with the Gunners being knocked out via an embarrassing 10-2 aggregate scoreline over the two knockout stage legs.

Since then their continental quests have taken place in the Europa League, with a 2019 4-1 final defeat against London rivals Chelsea being the closest they have come to success. Last season was their first without European football since the 1995/96 campaign and while they were handed the boost of not having to play many games during the week, they were still unable to clinch a coveted top four spot.

Mikel Arteta’s side have certainly shown signs of improvement in recent months, but their chances of returning to the Champions League next season could be even slimmer.

With just three games left to play in the season, Arsenal travelled to their arch rivals Tottenham Hotspur for their postponed North London derby.

The Gunners sat in fourth and four points clear of Spurs going into the match and knew that a win on the road would have been enough for them to claim a spot in the top four. However come full time, their chances of Champions League qualification dipped dramatically.

Harry Kane opened the scoring for Spurs after just 22 minutes with a penalty, before Rob Holding was sent off for the visitors after a clumsy foul on Son Heung-min, with the centre-back being dismissed for a second yellow card. Just four minutes later Kane made it 2-0 with a close range header, with Son then making it game, set and match within the opening moments of the second half.

In the hours prior to kick-off Arteta’s side were full of confidence, but it would see be Antonio Conte’s Spurs who had the momentum heading into the final games of the season. They soon beat Burnley 1-0 at home, meaning Arsenal had to secure victory away at Newcastle United the following evening to overtake them.

They failed to win however; a 2-0 defeat courtesy of a Ben White own goal and a late second from Bruno Guimaraes meant the Gunners had to beat Everton on the final day and hope Spurs lost to last-placed Norwich City. Arsenal beat the Toffees 5-1 at the Emirates Stadium, but Tottenham defeated the Canaries 5-0.

Arteta’s side will now be playing in the Europa League next season and as it stands, they will need to win the tournament if they are to have any chance of playing Champions League football in the 2023/24 campaign.

Manchester City and Liverpool were the two consistent Premier League title challengers throughout last season, with the former beating the latter to the trophy by just one point on a dramatic final day. It appears as though their dominance at the top will not diminish anytime soon, leaving just two more places for the Champions League.

Chelsea’s season started encouragingly, with the Blues sitting top of the table early on in the campaign. However they were soon hit by various injuries to crucial players, and events off the pitch soon affected their performances on it. As the campaign progressed there were questions raised as to whether or not they would secure a top four finish, with Arsenal and Spurs hot on their tail.

The Gunners’ defeat at Newcastle confirmed their qualification and with their new ownership now beginning their operations at the club, the west London outfit could be set for another successful season. Raheem Sterling and Jules Kounde have also been linked with moves to Stamford Bridge, and their signings would boost their prospects for the new campaign.

While the aforementioned top three could be set to finish above the Gunners once again, Spurs may also be in a shout of pipping their rivals to the top four for a second consecutive season.

Conte’s side have been conducting their transfer business early. Ivan Perisic has made the switch from Inter Milan to Spurs, with goalkeeper Fraser Forster signing from Southampton. Yves Bissouma has also signed for the Lilywhites, transferring from Brighton after four seasons on the South Coast.

While Forster may be brought in as cover for Hugo Lloris, Perisic and Bissouma add more strength to a Tottenham side who have mostly flourished under Conte since the Italian arrived as manager.

The second half of the season saw their attack thrive, with the prolific partnership of Kane and Son being enhanced by the arrival of Dejan Kulusevski. He signed for the club on loan from Juventus at the end of the January transfer window, and ended the campaign with 13 goal contributions in 20 games in North London.

His loan deal means he will remain at the club until next summer, with Spurs fans now set to witness their new front free play together for a full season for the first time. Couple this with their new signings thus far, as well as the managerial skills possessed by Conte, and they could be set for another top four finish at the end of the season.

Of course, Arsenal have also been operating in the transfer market. Fabio Vieira has signed from Porto, as well as 19-year-old winger Marquinhos from Sao Paulo. While Alexandre Lacazette has departed and returned to Lyon, Eddie Nketiah has signed a new deal, with the choice to give him the club’s historic no. 14 shirt suggesting he may be their first choice striker in the coming campaign.

The Gunners have strengthened and will continue to do so in the window, especially with the likes of Raphinha and Richarlison being linked with moves to strengthen their attacking options. However, they will have to get used to playing European football during the week once again, something that could scupper their chances of a top four finish.

Squad depth will be pivotal in determining such an outcome, especially if the sides around and above them also strengthen, but there is also the chance that they could win the Europa League, with a trophy lift giving them an automatic spot in the Champions League for the following season.

Arteta and his Gunners have certainly improved over the last year or so, but next season will be a true showing of where they are as a team and how they compare to the rest of the Premier League’s elite.

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