On Wednesday night, Arsenal took on London rivals Chelsea in Baku for the right to be called UEFA Europa League Champions 2019.
Going into the game, there was a sense of must win around the Arsenal camp having ended the season in poor league form. It proved to be very costly, with the Gunners collecting just four points from a possible 15 in their last five Premier League games.
After being noticeably out played on numerous occasions including two dismal defeats at the hands of Wolves and Leicester, Arsenal left their Champions League hopes for next season hanging on the clash with Chelsea in Baku.
It wasn’t to be and another disastrous performance away from the Emirates left the club and the fans reeling. Once again Chelsea’s talisman – for now – Eden Hazard stepped up to the plate and delivered on the big stage.
Something that Arsenal’s players just couldn’t seem to do. In the second half of the final against Chelsea, they were outplayed, out thought and out classed in most areas of the park. The only real performer on the night it could be said was departing goalkeeper Petr Cech. Also, a mention for Alex Iwobi who was positive from the bench.
The meetings between the pair in the Premier League last season were far more positive for the Gunners. Okay, they lost the first game by narrow margins in the end but let’s not forget Unai Emery had just joined the club and was still implementing his methods. The second meeting was much more encouraging though, with Emery’s men running out 2-0 victors on that occasion.
Unfortunately, those games don’t particular have any significance now moving forward into next season. A win against their London rivals will be great to look back at in the build up to next season’s games but the truth is when there was something on the line of importance the players didn’t step up to the plate.
At the end of the day, only one team can win a final which is totally acceptable, but the manner of defeat will be worrying for Emery and his staff as well as the fans. In addition to that, the way in which the league campaign finished sourly will also be an issue. Let’s not forget here the Gunners were heavy favourites to finish in one those illusive top four spots. Four points from 15 was so poor especially against the calibre of opposition they faced and it now means that their will once more be no Champions League football to look forward too.
Missing out on competing in Europe’s most prestigious competition may have a detrimental knock on effect on preparations for next season with reports suggesting that Emery could now be backed with as little as £45 million. Obviously, the media aren’t always correct, and it may be the case that those reports aren’t accurate. Having said that, when you look at the standard of recruitment last summer, it doesn’t look too great moving forward.
Arsenal splashed around £70 million last summer and in honesty they don’t really look much more improved in any aspect. As with any project and the implementation of a new manager, things do tend to take time but if Arsenal aren’t careful, they risk falling behind the pack.
Throughout the season, it was shown the dissatisfaction from a large portion of the Chelsea fans towards their manager Maurizio Sarri. A man who eventually delivered a European trophy, alongside a trip to Wembley in a Carabao Cup final. Finally, add to that a third-place finish. Emery only really managed to deliver a Europa League final in which truthfully his side were embarrassed.
It is clear that the Gunners will need to get rid of several players who have shown on different occasions they just aren’t good enough at the highest level. Trying to do that though will have implications, if you try and change things too quickly there is a big chance of it backfiring. A risk Emery may feel he needs to take.
Adding too many players at one time could cause problems in terms of communication for example and general on field connections. Emery really needs to establish who he wants to lead the team forward and build around them. Defensively they are weak and fragile with no real structure. Nacho Monreal has been thrown in the deep end to be honest, for him to be playing in a back three in a European final is frankly shocking from Arsenal. The Spaniard is evidently a well-established player, with undoubted talent but he’s clearly not a centre back and he shouldn’t be forced to occupy such a position in such a big game. The recruitment process has to be better; Arsenal have been crying out for good solid defenders in recent years and still they haven’t arrived to be honest. There were signings in that area of the field but not really of the correct standard to move the club forward, it needs to be addressed quickly and with care.
The Gunners desperately need to steady the ship and find a side that can compete firstly for the Champions League places, simply to ensure the manager is rewarded with greater backing. Then it might be better to aim for trophies. In this day and age, £45 million will be nowhere near enough to improve a squad with as many issues as Arsenal’s currently, if those suggestions are on the mark then it may be another struggle.
It will be interesting to see how things unfold at the Emirates this summer.
(Image via Bola.net)