Europa League a get-out-of-jail-free card


After a shocking 1-0 loss against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, Arsenal’s top-four chances have been decimated. The Europa League is now their get-out-of-jail-free card.

The top four is now out of Arsenal’s clutches. Period.

Third-placed Liverpool are nine points clear after their 2-0 win against Southampton on Sunday afternoon, and if Chelsea beat Watford on Monday, which, even despite their recent toils, is still expected, will be eight points off the pace. I’m going to call it now: For the second time in a row, the Gunners have failed to seize another highly coveted Champions League spot.

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Yesterday’s game was a shambles. Arsenal immediately started off on the back foot, defending in a 4-1-4-1 and attacking in a 4-3-3. They failed to play on the counter-attack successfully because both Mesut  Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were shifted into wider roles and had to track back Spurs’ ambitious and aggressively positioned full backs.

Mkhitaryan was especially culpable in this role, due to Mauricio Pochettino’s clever tactical setup. Christian Eriksen played more centrally and occupied Nacho Monreal, while Kieran Trippier was Spurs’ main form of width and stayed too far up our third for Mkhitaryan to track back without sacrificing attacking positioning.

Moreover, Aaron Ramsey’s absence in the heart of the midfield severely limited the energy, impetus and drive of the attacking play. Without a surging presence in central areas, there was an inability to establish extended periods of possession, lacking a presence in the penalty area, forcing that attacks into wide areas, leading the likes Mkhitaryan and Ozil to cross with no avail. It was a stale shadow of what we saw against Everton.

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Arsene Wenger decided to play three in midfield to shift Spur’s main efforts to the wings. However, doing this invited Spurs to pile on the pressure, especially with Arsenal playing such a deep defensive line, and they were able to utilise the space in wide areas and feed the aerially dominant Harry Kane — he had three good headers at goal, one of which was the only breakthrough of the game, rising high over Laurent Koscielny.

With the loss, it is fair to argue that the Europa League may be Arsenal’s only chance of Champions League qualification. Certainly, the top four seems to be beyond their grasp. It was exactly what Manchester United did last season, and they are now reaping the rewards. Plus, it’s a trophy, something that Spurs may not get when all is said and done.

The loss to Spurs was thoroughly disappointing. The performance was insipid; the result is damaging. The top four is now too much of a stretch. But as attention turns to FK Ostersunds and Europe, Arsenal have been offered a second chance. The Europa League is their get-out-of-jail-free card. Let’s hope they use it correctly.

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