Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Arsenal’s best route back into Europe may have been revealed as Man United and Chelsea win

It turned out to be the perfect weekend for Arsenal.

The 1-0 victory over Burnley despite not being at their best should build confidence within the squad following a truly dismal start to the Premier League campaign.

Furthermore, many results across the weekend in the top flight of English football went in the Gunners’ favour.

Now, despite the fact that Arsenal currently sit 13th in the table after five games – behind the likes of Brighton, Everton and Brentford – and technical director Edu refusing to set a target for this season, they’ll be expected to finish in the European places come May.

After all, the rare experience of the north London outfit not being in any European competition this season isn’t something that manager Mikel Arteta intends to go through next term.

“It hurts a lot in the last few days to put TV on and see those teams there, and not see Arsenal there,” the Spaniard admitted during his press conference ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Burnley. “It was painful. One hundred per cent. I don’t want to be sitting there with Arsenal out of those competitions.”

It’s now five seasons since Arsenal last competed in the Champions League and it would be some feat for that run to end in 2022 as Liverpool, Chelsea and both Manchester clubs are favourites to claim top-four finishes.

That leaves potentially three spots to qualify for Europe via the Premier League route, but to be guaranteed a Europa League place, the Gunners will need to finish fifth.

As explained by the Premier League, in normal circumstances, two Europa League places are given to English clubs who finish fifth and the winners of the FA Cup.

However, if the FA Cup winners finish in the top five of the Premier League, their UEL group stage place will go to the next-highest ranked team not qualified for UEFA competitions in the Premier League.

This means finishing sixth in the league this year could come with a reward of Europa League football for next season.

With that said, the EFL Cup winners qualify for the playoff stages of the UEFA Europa Conference League, but if the winners finish in the top five of the Premier League (or top six if (a) happens), their playoff place will go to the next-highest ranked team not qualified for UEFA competitions in the Premier League.

So seventh could be enough to seal Arsenal’s return to Europe in 2022/23.

Of course, the Gunners could simply make winning one of the domestic competitions a priority, but results over the weekend in the Premier League might have revealed their best route back into Europe.

If Arsenal are to finish in the top seven again, they’ll most likely have to get the better of at least one of Leicester City, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur.

Interestingly, the aforementioned trio all lost on Sunday, three days after being in Europa League and Europa Conference League action respectively.

Leicester were beaten 2-1 by Brighton, West Ham lost by the same scoreline in dramatic fashion at home to Manchester United, whilst Spurs lost 3-0 against London rivals Chelsea.

As a result, Arsenal are now level on points with the Foxes and are within touching distance of the Hammers as well as Spurs – whom they welcome to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The Gunners not being in Europe this season can work to their advantage, especially if Leicester, West Ham and Tottenham dropping points immediately after playing on Thursdays in the group stage becomes a regular occurrence.

And judging by their respective fixture lists, there’s every chance of that happening.

* Fixtures likely to be pushed back 24 hours.

Arsenal’s five games after a European week between now and December are against Brighton, Aston Villa, Watford, Newcastle United and Southampton.

All winnable games on paper especially as only one is away from home and it gives them a chance to put pressure on the aforementioned trio given they’ll most likely be playing the day before.

Man United and Chelsea winning on the weekend was good for Arsenal – to a lesser extent so was Brighton’s victory – as it helped to gain ground on teams they are expected to battle it out with for a European spot.

More weekends like the one just gone could be crucial for the Gunners’ bid to reclaim their position in the top seven, but consistency is needed to capitalise on any more dropped points.
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