This season, Arsenal head coach Unai Emery’s primary task is to get his team back into the top four. And, quite frankly, he could not ask for a better opportunity to do so than this season.
If you had asked Arsenal fans what the club’s primary objective is for the coming season, almost all of them would cry in painful and desperate unison one, solitary goal: to get back into the top four.
The Gunners are now enduring their third campaign in the Europa League. They have seen Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool surge past them, fallen by the wayside in fifth and then even sixth in Arsene Wenger’s final years, and, perhaps most frighteningly, slipped below Spurs with three-straight league finishes below their most bitter rivals. It has been a long time since St. Totteringham’s day was celebrated.
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While head coach Unai Emery was understandably hesitant to commit to any actual goals prior to the season, aware of the trap he sets himself by naming specific, measurable targets like league positions and trophy victories, I am sure he is quite aware of what the expectation of the club is this season. A return to the Champions League, ideally through the Premier League, is essential to competing at the highest level. Financially and reputationally, it is vital. It is part of the reason why Emery was brought to the club in the first place.
Part of the reason for Arsenal’s absence from the best club competition in world football is not just their own backsliding. Coinciding with their recent struggles has been the growth in an established ‘big six’. By simple maths, it means that two teams will miss out on the four Champions League spots each season, and invariably, that has been the Gunners.
But this year, the big six has lost their aura. Manchester United are in a huge period of transition, their team looking bare every time the names are read out. Chelsea are dealing with a transfer ban and will be relying on young players to see them through. Exciting, dangerous, but inconsistent. While Spurs look stagnant, with Mauricio Pochettino once again unable to spruce up his team in the transfer window.
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All three of these are very much catchable. That does not mean Arsenal can and will overtake them come May. Emery’s side have hardly looked the most convincing this season either. But unlike other years where the standard to break into the top four was almost unattainable, this year, if Emery can string a team together that plays merely decently for the majority of the season, they could finish as high as third.
After Spurs’ hilarious 2-1 loss to Leicester City at Saturday lunchtime, Arsenal could now move above their north London rivals with even just a draw against Aston Villa on Sunday. Also on Sunday, Man. Utd. travel to West Ham United — no gimme — and Chelsea face Liverpool and are favourites to lose.
If Emery wanted a season in which he had to get his team into the top four, this is it. You could not ask for me. Now all he has to do is take advantage.