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Are Arsenal Good Enough for the Champions League?

With top four now out of reach and their domestic cup challenges over, Arsenal will now look to the Europa League to salvage something from this season. If they can win the competition, they would be qualifying for next season’s Champions League, but is the current side good enough to compete at that level? 

It is now nine seasons since the Gunners made it beyond the Round of 16 in Europe’s elite competition, reaching the quarter-finals in 2009/10. That ended a run in which they reached the final, a semi-final and three quarter-finals in a seven-year period, only exiting at the Last 16 stage twice. The subsequent period of underachievement was capped off with failure to qualify for the competition at all in the last campaign. The club look light years away from competing with the likes of Real Madrid (they are favourites here at 9/4 to secure a third trophy in four years) and Barcelona. 

Meanwhile, Liverpool have excelled in what is only their second Champions League campaign in seven years, and Manchester City have made it to at least the quarter-final stage in two of the last three years. 

Rewarding the winner of the Europa League with a place amongst the elite has certainly added interest to UEFA’s second-tier tournament. Manchester United benefitted last season but bowed out in the Round of 16 on their Champions League return, while Sevilla were the first to team to qualify by this avenue, defeating Liverpool in the 2015/16 final. 

There are some who may question whether an Arsenal side that is 30 points behind the Premier League leaders and 13 points outside of the top four are good enough to warrant a place in the Champions League. After all, Wenger’s men have struggled in the competition in seasons where they have finished much higher up the table. 

However, if they want to compete at that level again in the near future, they need to attract the top players. And in that regard, qualifying by any means is essential. If they achieve that by winning the Europa League this term, it will have a massive impact on who they might be able to sign in the summer. And there is reason to suggest that by making three or four shrewd signings, they could force their way back into the top four next season. 

In contrast, failure to secure Champions League football could see them slip further away as Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United all get stronger. 

If Wenger does bag the Europa League, there is a strong chance that he will stay on for at least another year. But he will need to address some key areas in the summer transfer market. Arsenal need to face the fact they need a new goalkeeper; Petr Cech has been great for the club but, at 35 years old, he is way past his best and individual errors have started to creep into his game. 

Likewise, the club needs a top centre-back to step in. With Per Mertesacker set to retire and Laurent Koscielny now 32 years old and somewhat injury prone, they need someone who can command this position in the big games and neither Shkodran Mustafi nor Calum Chambers have done enough to convince. 

Ahead of them, the club is crying out for a dominating holding midfielder. Granit Xhaka can fulfil this role but he is not naturally suited to the position and would best deployed elsewhere on the pitch. And, ultimately, these are the problems that need to be fixed before progress can be made. 

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