An advantage for Arteta or a costly sign of Arsenal's decline? The pros and cons of no European football

Written By Charles Watts
Mikel Arteta Arsenal Premier League 2021-22
Getty

There will be an odd feeling around Arsenal’s London Colney training ground this week.

For the past 25 years, it would have been a hive of activity at this time of the season, with the squad preparing for their first European fixture of the new campaign.

But things are different this year, with last season’s eighth-placed finish in the Premier League meaning the Gunners failed to qualify for Europe for the first time in a quarter of a century.

So, while Liverpool, for example, are looking forward to facing AC Milan in the Champions League, and Leicester are getting ready for a Europa League showdown with Napoli, Arsenal are just waiting for Saturday’s trip to Burnley to roll around.

Some have suggested that it will actually be a good thing for Arsenal to be able to focus purely on the Premier League this season, but will that really be the case?

Below, Goal takes a look at the pros and cons of missing out on continental competition...

The pros

There’s no doubt that Arsenal’s absence from European competition this season will give Mikel Arteta far more time to work with his players on the training ground.

Arsenal’s manager has previously voiced his frustration at not having enough opportunities to really get his ideas across due to the hectic fixture schedule, and from Arsenal captain Robin van Persie feels the Spaniard will make the most of 'empty' weeks such as these.

Speaking on BT Sport, Van Persie said: "From one point of view, you can say that it's maybe better for Mikel to have extra training sessions to work on the tactics, to work on the fitness, which is needed to actually compete at the highest level against the bigger teams.

"So, if you ask me, I would say that it's better not to qualify for the Europa League and get those extra sessions in.”

Fatigue should certainly be far less of a factor for Arsenal this season.

The perils of playing on a Thursday night, often in far flung places across Europe, and then again on Sunday are obvious for all to see and teams often struggle in the Premier League as a result.

It’s an issue Arsenal have had to deal with for some time now and you would hope that the lack of travelling and game time during the week will benefit them over the course of the campaign.

All of their main Premier League rivals will be in European action this season, so Arsenal must try to use that as an advantage in terms of preparation for domestic fixtures. Having far fewer games also means there is less opportunity for players to pick up injuries.

Arsenal played 58 games in all competitions during the 2018-19 and 2020-21 seasons, while clocking up 54 on the 2019-20 campaign.

That number will be far lower this season and should certainly help keep the squad fresher and more injury-free, which should boost Arsenal’s chances of picking up results in the Premier League.

The cons

Financially, missing out on Europe is a big blow to Arsenal, although qualifying for the Europa League does not bring in anywhere near the same amount of money as the Champions League.

In 2018-19, when the Gunners reached the Europa League final, they pocketed £34m ($44m) in prize money. However, that figure was dwarfed by what the English representatives in the Champions League earned that season, with Liverpool - £98m ($126m), Tottenham Hotspur - £92m ($118m), Manchester City - £82m ($105m) and Manchester United - £82m ($105m) generating huge sums.

So, failure to qualify for the Europa League this season certainly won’t bankrupt Arsenal, as was shown by the club’s record-breaking £145m ($201m) outlay during the summer transfer window.

Still, missing out on additional revenue is never good. It could have an impact further down the line.

It will also see the financial gap between Arsenal and the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool continue to grow, as those clubs will have their Champions League prize money coming at the end of this season, while Arsenal will have nothing.

Perhaps the biggest negative for Arsenal about missing out on Europe, however, is the message it sends out about the club’s current state.

Arsenal have become a staple of European football over the past 25 years, so this shows how dramatic the slide has been in recent seasons. 

First, they slipped out of the Champions League and now they have even slipped out of the Europa League. 

“I’m sad,” Arteta admitted after the final game of last season when Arsenal’s fate was confirmed. “This club deserves to be delivered trophies and the Champions League. We haven't managed that. 

“It's very challenging circumstances but we've tried to stick together and do our best. It's not been enough.”

Another downside on missing out on European football is the lack of opportunities it will give for some younger players to get much needed game time this season.

Several youngsters and squad players were given valuable minutes in the Europa League group stages over the past few seasons, with Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka both using that competition to push themselves towards a starting spot in the Premier League.

Without those group stage games during the first half of the season, players such as Folarin Balogun, Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli may struggle to get enough minutes to keep them sharp and that could also have a knock-on effect in terms of their morale.

The verdict

Overall, there are arguments both for and against Arsenal missing out in Europe.

For Arteta, there are certainly huge benefits that should come from having extra time to work with his players on the training ground and being able to focus purely on domestic matters.

Arsenal need to improve on two successive eighth-placed finishes in the Premier League and we saw Chelsea benefit massively from a season outside Europe in 2016-17, when they won the Premier League.

Nobody is expecting Arsenal to replicate that sort of success, and even mounting a challenge for a top four spot looks doubtful, such is the strength of the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Liverpool.

But it should certainly give them a better chance of challenging the likes of Spurs and Leicester for a place in the top six and a qualifying spot for next season’s Europa League.

Having said all that, however, Arsenal are a club that need to be competing amongst the best in Europe every season.

Missing out this year is a clear indication of the worrying slide in standards that we’ve seen in recent times and, for all the benefits that a season outside of Europe could bring, it could never be considered a good thing for a club with the stature of Arsenal.

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