After matchday 23, Arsenal sit sixth.
Having just lost to 17th (at the time) Bournemouth, everything appears to have hit rock bottom.
This wasn’t some fluke defeat that the team will easily bounce back from. Bournemouth took their chances while Arsenal struggled to connect passes in the final third, and saw most of their counterattacks get snuffed out before providing any real threat.
Arsenal are just as close to Burnley in seventh as they are to Spurs in fifth.
The reality is that the Premier League has evolved. With the massive swaths of cash coming in to all teams, it is tougher than ever before, and Arsenal have completely failed to adapt. Before the billion-pound television deal, it was enough for Arsenal to not be as aggressive. As part of a “big four” of United, City, and Chelsea, not making it into a Champions League place was never really a threat.
With Spurs and Liverpool back in the picture, Arsenal find themselves on the back foot. The complacency and contentment with fourth have come back to haunt them. Not only is it more competitive at the top, but the teams in the bottom half this season would possibly challenge in the Premier Leagues of a few years ago. As Arsenal just learned at Bournemouth, you have to “bring it” every game. However, the squad as currently constructed cannot do that.
Yes, Arsenal have been hosed by Mike Dean twice this season for a total of four points. But with those four points, Arsenal would STILL sit sixth. This is completely unacceptable.
Selling their best players
On transfer deadline day in August, Arsenal seemed resolved not to sell Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil after not being able to find replacements of their calibre. But with Alexis Sanchez—the club’s leading scorer—not making the trip to Bournemouth, it appears they have gone back on their decision. Sure he has not been his best, and that may be due to him itching to leave, but he is still the top scorer!
Watching Arsenal’s best leave for greener pastures has been terribly hurtful over the years. Henry and Cesc for Barcelona, van Persie for United, Nasri and the like to City. But these were all in the summer, when Arsenal could (at least in theory) bring in other players and plan the season without them. But to sell your top scorer in January is thoroughly idiotic.
To make matters worse, there does not appear to be an immediate replacement lined up. Thomas Lemar could possibly still be on, but that would be a total shock. The two names making the most waves are Malcolm from Bordeaux and Cristian Pavon from Boca Juniors. Both seem like fine young forwards; and still at a young age, they might become great ones. But therein lies the problem. When replacing a top scorer in January with the season already falling apart, money does not need to be spent on players that MIGHT become great.
Arsenal need great players NOW. Too much is at stake.
Other competitions falling apart
Unlike the League shambles of 2016-2017, fans do not even have the possibility of an FA Cup Final to look forward to. The Gunners were sunk out of that competition by an American fullback from the championship, even though a more than capable team was fielded.
Arsenal are still alive in the semifinals of the Youth/League/Carabao Cup, but who here thinks that will end in glory? Winning that “trophy” is not likely to make the pain of this season any less palpable. Back in the dark days of the trophy drought, Arsene Wenger said that if he were to win it, he would not consider it an end to the drought.
This is not to say Arsenal should not even try; if they’re keeping score, play to win. But winning a competition that every Premier League team uses as effectively a youth league until the semifinals will not ease the embarrassment of sixth place in the Premier League.
The last hope of saving this season is the Europa League. IF Arsenal can somehow manage to get their crap together and win that competition, the rebuilding project in the summer will be much more successful.
Arsenal have a daunting summer ahead.
Even with Alexis and Ozil staying (which neither appears likely), the need for a squad overhaul is generally accepted.
Without Champions League football, that will be much more difficult. Last summer, when it appeared as just a one-off break from the UCL, Arsenal were finally able to lure Alexandre Lacazette.
But will top players really be swayed to join a club that has hit relative rock bottom?
It will not matter that Arsenal have the money when every other club does as well.
If Arsenal are to truly become THE Arsenal any time soon, rejoining the Champions League by any means necessary is a must; and right now, the Europa League looks like the only hope.