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Arsenal FC: Why Finishing Fifth Might Be Good For The Gunners

Arsene Wenger

When looking at Arsenal’s fixture list at the beginning of the year, the trip to Everton on Sunday looked like a relatively relaxing fixture after their horrendous run of games in February and March. But it has now turned into the most crucial fixture in determining the success of their season.

With the Gunners’ poor run of form that has seen them win just two of their previous eight Premier League games being mirrored by Everton’s excellent run of five wins out of six, Arsenal are in genuine danger of losing out on fourth place to the Toffees and the crucial Champions League qualifying spot that goes with it. Everton sit just four points behind Arsenal with a game in hand, so a victory for the Blues would mean Arsenal would then need Everton to slip up elsewhere to be sure of finishing fourth.

Given where Arsenal were earlier in the season, topping the league for a large part of it, finishing outside the top four would be considered a major failure. Champions League football has sustained Arsenal fans through their current trophy drought and Arsene Wenger’s remarkable record of qualifying for the Champions League for 16 consecutive seasons is in danger of coming to an end. Finishing outside the top four would undoubtedly create a major backlash from commentators and Arsenal fans, but in the long run missing out on the Champions League may actually be beneficial for Arsenal.

Constant Champions League football has bred a sense of complacency at Arsenal, with the perception that fourth place is good enough and that the current squad is on the verge of a major trophy if they can just avoid the bad luck with injuries that has held them back in the past. The shock of finishing fifth may finally convince Wenger that his current squad is too small, too injury prone and simply not good enough to compete with the best teams in England and in Europe. Whether Wenger will still be the manager at Arsenal next season is still in doubt, as he is yet to sign an extension to his contract, but assuming he is, a few seasons without Champions League football would give him the impetus for a much needed rebuilding of the squad.

The reduction in income would be significant, but Arsenal are in such a good financial position thanks to Wenger’s management of their finances during the transition to the Emirates Stadium that they could afford to spend a couple of seasons out of the Champions League. It may even help their domestic form, as the competition has taken its toll on Arsenal’s thin squad this season. A number of player’s have picked up injuries in Champions League fixtures, such as Mesut Ozil’s recent injury against Bayern Munich, whilst the packed schedule has pushed players such as Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Laurent Koscielny to breaking point .

Liverpool have proven what a difference it can make not having the distraction of a European campaign. Their recent good run of form – including the 5-1 demolition of Arsenal and 3-0 win against Man United at Old Trafford – came at exactly the time when their title rivals were embroiled in difficult Champions League knock out ties. Liverpool have also shown that the old argument that the best players won’t join a side not playing in the Champions League is far from true. The Reds were able to attract top quality players without the lure of European football, such as Philipe Coutinho and Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan striker even signed a new long-term contract earlier this season despite interest from Champions League clubs, including Arsenal and Real Madrid.

Attracting the best players is all about selling them your vision for the club – if they can see a club going places, they will be more likely to join. That’s what Brendan Rodgers has done so well at Liverpool. He’s assembled a group of players who have bought into his vision of the club and are playing the way he wants them to play. Arguably Arsenal aren’t going anywhere at the moment, and the new era of spending that Ozil’s signing supposedly signified has seemingly evaporated. Arsenal need to rethink their approach from the ground up and create a solid foundations on which to build a club that can compete at the very top.

Wenger may well guide Arsenal to another fourth place finish and secure Champions League football for an incredible 17th season in a row. If he does so it will be a major achievement. But, if the Gunners are truly going to progress they may need to take a step back before they can move forward.

Written by Guest Author @BusterStonham