Arsenal’s recent defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium reinforced suggestions that they are not good enough to challenge for the Premier League title. True, winning against City, especially on their own turf, is not easy, but the Gunners should have at least posed a challenge. The North London outfit, though, failed to give Pep Guardiola’s side a run for their money, and the way they crumbled underlines just how far behind they are.
Manchester United, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur all have better squads than Arsenal, and it is hard to see Arsene Wenger’s push for the title. In fact, there is a very good chance that, just like last season, they will fail to finish in the top four and clinch a Champions League place. With Liverpool also in the running for the top few spots, Arsenal may have to settle for the fifth or the six spot. Latest Premier League betting odds on bet365 are only 15/8 in the Gunners’ favour of finishing in the top four – it is hardly going to inspire confidence.
Arsenal, though, do have a chance of playing in the Champions League in 2018-19. Just like Manchester United during the 2016-17 campaign, the Gunners need to make the most of the Europa League this season. United manager Jose Mourinho did not take the Europa League seriously in the initial stages last season but, as the team progressed through the rounds and fell behind in the Premier League title race, the second-tier European competition became very important for them.
Wenger’s side have already progressed from the group stages of the Europa League. It is still too early to predict how Arsenal will fare in the knockout rounds or how far they will progress, but the North London outfit need to take the competition seriously this season. Wenger has often played his fringe players in the Europa League this campaign – midfielder Jack Wilshere has made more appearances in the Europa League than in the Premier League this season – but, once the knockout rounds start, he must deploy his best available team.
Arsenal do have some wonderful players who know how to deal with the pressure of playing in major knockout competitions. Alexis Sanchez won the Copa America with Chile in 2015 and 2016, and Mesut Ozil was a key figure in Germany’s 2014 World Cup triumph. Knockout games have a special atmosphere and have a different feel to them, and Sanchez and Ozil will be important during such situations.
Of course, Arsenal should not give up their hopes of finishing in the Premier League top four right now – after all, Liverpool are not looking too assured at the back and Chelsea always seem to have some kind of internal conflict in the squad – but manager Wenger needs to be smart and pragmatic. The Frenchman has the bulk of the players who won the FA Cup in 2014, 2015, and 2017, and he needs to drill in them the significance of winning the Europa League this season.