This season showed that no matter what Arsenal players believe or what Arsene Wenger is telling them, they have very clearly not been good enough.
You don’t end up in the Europa League by accident. It is the canary in Arsenal’s coalmine.
This is also available in audio format
In my head, being dumped into the Europa League should act as a catalyst, the way sticking me in the B reading group did when I was a kid. It should encourage Arsenal to get their heads down, domestically at least, to ensure they claim back their place in the Champions League.
But history tells us this is easier said than done.
Liverpool, once a mainstay of the competition, dropped out and have hardly been seen since. Ditto Spurs between their first and second outings in the competition. Chelsea have stuttered in and out over recent years, and even the mighty Manchester United needed a back door to sneak back in.
The Champions League, like my primary school, rewards only those who improve and keep pace.
Arsenal might be four points better off this season but Chelsea improved by a whopping 43. Liverpool and Chelsea 16, and City 12. That’s why we’re in fifth and out of the Champions League – our rate of improvement pales in comparison to theirs and the teacher has noticed.
Like United this season, there are two ways back into the Champions League for Arsenal – via the league or the Europa League. Both call for vast levels of improvement, but without the guiding hand of a special teacher.
We need to take on of the two very seriously indeed if we are to reclaim our place as a Champions League mid-table side and that requires a focus that has been sadly lacking at Arsenal for some time as we coasted.
My biggest fear is that we will approach both in the same way as we have over the last decade with the Champions League, believing that we are somehow A group material that has no need to improve because we’re already ‘good enough’ and that things just didn’t go our way this season.
In the Europa League, we must either play all the kids or all the A listers. There can be no halfway house. We are either in it to win it or in it to get out of it as soon as possible. Being in it just to be in it will not be enough and could wreck our league season which should be Arsenal’s priority above all else next season.