And here we are on the eve of the final game of the season.
At one point, it was looking like we would be hosting Everton in pole position to get top 4, and potentially relegate Liverpool’s second club.
Two defeats in the last 2 games as seen us lose control of the situation and now reliant on Norwich getting a win at home to Spurs.
Everton have also secured safety after their victory against Crystal Palace on Thursday.
I felt a little embarrassed for Everton as their fans ran onto the pitch following their victory.
Is surviving relegation something their fans should really be celebrating?
I remember when Farhad Moshiri sold his shares in Arsenal and bought into Everton.
The prediction of many pundits and Arsenal fans was that they would become a force to be reconned with. Bankrolled by Alisher Usmanov in the background, they would take Arsenal’s place in the “Big 6”.
6 years on from his takeover, Arsenal fans are disappointed about finishing top 5, whilst Everton are celebrating being 5th from bottom.
At the final whistle, Patrick Vieira got into an altercation with a fan. Vieira should face no consequences.
Pitch invasions can be a fabulous thing – A joyous occasion where fans and players can celebrate together on the hallowed turf of their club.
But recently pitch invasions have had a tint of darkness about them.
There was fighting on the pitch when Rotherham beat Gillingham to secure promotion to the Championship. A few weeks later a pitch invasions of Bristol Rovers fans delayed their last game of the season against Scunthorpe by around 10 minutes.
Then in the last week we have seen a Nottingham Forest fan jailed for 24 weeks after attacking Billy Sharpe of Sheffield United. He also received a 10 year banning order.
Whilst the Patrick Vieira incident grabbed the headlines, what was happening at Port Vale against Swindon should have been the bigger news.
Players reported being physically assaulted, as well as having “bottles, coins and lighters thrown” at them.
I just do not understand fans who run onto the pitch to assault, abuse or goad the opponent. You should be running on to celebrate with your fans, your players.
Now this is the minority of fans behaving like this.
Type of lads that have had a little too much to drink, stuck a little Columbian up their nose. But these fans will ruin it for the rest of us.
Authorities will now crack down hard on pitch invasions.
I expect police to end up ketteling fans on the pitch and then processing them. Each one getting a fine and FBO in accordance to the law regardless of whether they were there to celebrate or attack.
The other option will be to punish the club.
Points deductions are the only thing fans will care about (not fines). But this punishes an entire club and fan base for the behaviour of very few.
Fair play to those Everton fans who surrounded Vieira and helped him get off the pitch safely. Especially the chap who still had a kid on his shoulders.
Fans need to realise that assaulting, abusing and goading opponent players and management whilst on the pitch is unacceptable.
Do not let whatever happens over the next 5 days confuse you. Tottenham Hotspur are very much a team on the brink of crisis.
Even if they finish 4th, and Arsenal 5th, the pendulum has swung back to the red side of North London (it never really swung away in reality).
Whilst top 4 was not Arsenal’s everything this season, Spurs have shown in recent weeks just how important it was to them. And that is because the club and their fans know they are on the brink of collapse.
Arsenal are a team that are building something special.
The youngest squad in the league, the youngest manager, and a senior leadership team focused on building something very special.
Meanwhile, at Tottenham, a top 4 finish will be papering over some ever widening cracks.
So what are the issues Tottenham face?
I had to laugh last week when the media went hard against Mikel Arteta questioning the refereeing decisions after the North London Derby.
They tried to paint Arteta as someone that always complains when things do go well. The reality is it is Conte who has non-stop complained since he has been in Edmonton.
Conte has continually threatened to quit in post-match interviews after every Tottenham failure to win.
You feel Conte already has one foot out the door and is just waiting for the next job offer to come.
Conte will jump the sinking ship at the first opportunity next season.
This is a Tottenham squad at the peak of its powers.
By the time we kick off for the new season, Son will be 30 and Harry Kane 29.
Whilst they both have a few seasons left in the tank, they perhaps have no more than 2 or 3 seasons left playing at this high level.
Hugo Lloris, at 35-years-old, is also very much in the last knockings of his career.Do
Too long Spurs have relied on the same three men. Without them they are mid-table.
Tottenham will need to replace all 3 over the next few years, but with a new stadium to pay for it is unlikely they will be able to afford to replace them with similar quality.
This Tottenham squad have peaked.
Covid hit Tottenham more than most due to the cost of repaying their stadium. This resulted in them looking at alternative ways to finance transfer deals.
In Dejan Kulusevski and Cristian Romero they secured two very good, young players. But both came in on loan with obligations / options to buy.
With both, they basically “kicked the debt down the road.
This summer they will have to spend around €50million to secure the services of Romero on a permanent basis.
They will also have to pay €30million if they choose to make the Kulusevski deal permanent (rising to €40m if they choose to wait another 12 months).
Taking into account their financial struggles, to pay out upwards of €80million over the next 12 months to secure two players currently at the club is huge.
After they have paid for these two players, the probably won’t have much left to further improve their squad.
Unless they sell big (Harry Kane, Son), they will probably have to continue to try on loan deals to strengthen the squad.
And all that does is kick more debt down the road which will give them even less money to finance replacements for their ageing stars.
Tottenham fans are only deluding themselves when they talk about how they do not care about not winning a trophy for 14 years.
This is just a defensive mechanism, a barrier put up by their fans to hide the hurt.
The reality is they have had the best squad of players for decades and are still trophyless.
You see those on social media talking about Son and Kane being the best attacking duo the Premier League has ever seen. Yet they have won 0 trophies out of a possible 28.
For clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea, the primary goal is to win trophies. For Tottenham it seems the sole goal is to finish above The Arsenal.
No trophies, no funds for transfers, ageing stars and a manager who wants out.
It seems the biggest issue about finishing 5th is that we finished below Tottenham, and not our league position.
I imagine the disappointment of missing out on Champions League football would not cut as deep if it was Manchester United – or even West Ham or Leicester City – that finished above us.
But once the dust has settled, maybe Europa League is what is best for Arsenal right now.
With back to back 8th place finishes and no European football for 12 months, the step up to the Champions League might have been one too far for this young Squad right now. The Europa League is simply the better place for us to be.
Blooding Young Players
One thing I have loved from playing in the Europa League is the opportunity to blood younger players in the group stages.
The likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe would not be the players they are today without that chance they got in the Europa League.
Whereas in the Champions League group stages, you need to put out your strongest XI, the Europa League groups will allow us to give some game time to some of our younger players and fringe squad members.
William Saliba will return to the club in the summer as a 21-year-old with plenty of potential. The Europa League will give him that chance to continue his development and challenge for the first team.
I would expect the Frenchman to play all 6 group stages, partnering Gabriel and Ben White alternately allowing him to build a bit of a relationship with both.
The second tier of European football will also give games to Albert Sambi Lokonga.
The Belgium looked a good acquisition earlier this season but has really suffered due to lack of game time.
He is still clearly a talent and getting Europa League (and League Cup) games under his belt should see him kick on.
Charlie Patino was thrown into the deep end this season against Nottingham Forest.
With Europa League football, it means Patino will get a lower quality competition to play in to bridge that gap between the U23s and the senior team. Expect him to star next season!
Patino would otherwise have been expected to go out on loan. Instead he will remain at the club, train with the first team and play European and cup football in the first half of the season.
Brooke Norton-Cuffy is another who could benefit.
The young English right back has looked a class above in League One whilst on-loan at Lincoln this season.
He was expected to join a Championship club next season to get a full campaign under his belt. But with Europa League football (and the League Cup again), there is now the opportunity for Arsenal to get him 6 or 8 starts in our first team whilst training with seniors. This could accelerate his development further.
Then we also have the likes of Aaron Hickey and Marquinhos.
The teenage pair are on the verge of joining Arsenal this summer and the Europa League will be the perfect stomping ground to show what they can do.
These players would simply not get these chances next year if we were in the Champions League.
And Rest Senior Players
Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli have fallen off a cliff the last few weeks.
It should not be a surprise as the 20-year-old pair have played more minutes than any other outfield player this season (2978 and 2918 respectively).
That is 900 more Premier League minutes than Phil Foden has played this season and 700 more than Mason Mount.
Gabriel Martinelli has played the 18th most minutes of any outfield player this season in the Premier League and Saka the 25th.
Their work load has been huge in the Premier League and it is surprising that neither has broken down.
The comparison of minutes played between Foden and Saka is an interesting one.
Saka has played 3,281 minutes in all competitions this season against Foden’s 3,094. This despite Arsenal not having European football and exiting the FA Cup at the 3rd round stage.
It highlights our lack of squad depth, forcing us rely on 13/14 players. City in comparison can pick from 20+.
Champions League group stages would only add to the work load of these players and risk them breaking down.
By resting them – as well as other senior players – it should keep them fresher for the business end of the season where we will hopefully be fighting for honours (and not just top 4). Whilst also having the added benefit of getting game time to players who in the future might be able to take on a bigger workload.
We Can Win It
Ultimately, football is about winning trophies for clubs like Arsenal.
Realistically, we have more chance of winning the Europa League next season than the Champions League.
We end next season with the Europa League in the cabinet, a top 4 place, and having seen another 4 or 5 youngsters develop, we will all be celebrating.
The alternative reality is we get knocked out of the Champions League knock-out stages, we run out of steam towards the end of the season and finish 5th, our senior players are over played and younger & fringe players under played.
Let’s embrace the Europa League once more and get excited about a Thursday away day in Bulgaria again!
And It Does Not Affect Our Transfer Policy
Money is the biggest reason why you would want to finish in the Champions League.
But with 6 strong Premier League sides battling for top 4, anyone outside of Liverpool and Manchester City would be crazy right now writing a transfer and wage budget that requires top 4 finishes every season over the next 5 years to stay in profit.
The additional funds from qualifying for the Champions League need to be seen as a bonus and not something to factor in to your budget.
Our transfer targets this summer will not be affected by finishing 5th.
Top 5 was always the aim. And we were targeting players that would join us.
The likes of Aaron Hickey, Youri Tielemans and Gabriel Jesus are still realistic propositions this summer.
We still want to be targeting younger, hungry players that will drive us forward.
Players that “only want to join an established Champions League club” are not what we should be after. These guys are looking for an easy option. A team where you do not have to battle for each-other.
And these guys will also jump ship at the first sign of us not making the Champions League.
Players should be joining Arsenal because they want to play for us. Want to live in North London (or Totteridge!). Want to play at the Emirates under Mikel Arteta.
If they only care about Champions League football, go and join PSG. Keep their bench warm. Fill up the trophy cabinet without ever doing anything meaningful in your career.
We might still be a little disappointed about the result on Monday. And we have every right to be so. But there are plenty of silver linings in that dark cloud.