After losing to Spurs on Sunday, Arsenal seem set to miss out on the Europa League. While it is an atrocious competition, it is a necessity for the club’s finances and growth.
The Europa League is one of the worst competitions in modern football. It features boring teams, it is played on a Thursday night, it disrupts the normal schedule, domestic and abroad, and it is largely boring to watch. It is a consistent reminder that teams do not really want to be there and would rather be competing in the Champions League.
Arsenal have endured the Europa League for the past three years. In each season, their focus has been the same: to get out of the Europa League. While winning the competition is viewed as positive, the reason is not that it is inherently valuable but rather what it provides: a place in next season’s Champions League.
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And yet, for however ghastly the Europa League is, given the Gunners’ current situation, especially off the pitch, it is an atrocious necessity that they will greatly struggle to thrive without. And yet, that is precisely the prospect that faces them at the end of the current season.
After Sunday’s North London Derby defeat, Arsenal sit in ninth position in the table. With Manchester City’s UEFA ban overturned on Monday morning, they now must finish in the top seven or even top six or win the FA Cup to achieve qualification for the Europa League.
At present, Wolves are sixth, five points clear. Sheffield United sit in seventh, four points clear, while even Spurs, currently one place and two points ahead, have an easier path to the Europa League via the Premier League. Add in that Arsenal play Liverpool on Wednesday and it paints a very bleak picture indeed.
The other avenue is the FA Cup. However, Manchester City are the semi-final opponents, while Manchester United or Chelsea await in the final. At present, all three teams are playing at a far higher level. It leaves Mikel Arteta staring down the prospect of no European football next season, as he was asked about in his post-match press conference on Sunday:
"“Points wise it’s a massive blow because we know the results this weekend. But we will keep trying while we have any hope. This is who we are at the moment and we will fight in two different ways – one is the league and the other is the FA Cup – to do our best to finish as strongly as possible.”"
Sadly, if Arsenal do not secure any European football, it will represent yet another huge blow to their finances. They collected £36 million for their trip to the final last season and are anticipated to earn around £27 million for their exploits this season, despite being knocked out in the Round of 32 stage. Throw in their current financial crisis due to the coronavirus, the lack of matchday revenue, and declining assets who need to be moved on with little to no money to replace them and the challenge only becomes clear.
The Europa League may be a disastrous, awful competition to be a part of. But it is a necessary one. Love it or hate it, without it, the Arteta project could not get off to a worse start.