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.
Embrace them, and we go again.
A well written and very well thought out piece. You have put the season into a real perspective. Thank you.
I loved reading this piece and many of my thoughts are the same
Let’s be honest, the 2nd article makes some good points about the development of the younger players but the spursarticle is ridiculous and plays o to the narrative of Arsenal not accepting the reality of what happened recently. Spurs will have money, Conte, Kane & son next season, whilst arsenal are banking on the young guys actually developing as they hoped
Totally agree! Our KIDS have been absolutely wonderful this season and a taste of Europa League will only fire them up to do more.
Very informative piece.
Couldn’t agree more. The squad will benefit from games in the Europa League and we have some cracking prospects coming through the u23s.
Keep Partey fit, add another MF and striker and it could be a good season.