Arsenal Football Club and Champions League football go hand in hand. Twenty one years of consecutive qualification for Europe’s premier club competition is an astonishing record which many teams would be envious of, but it certainly isn’t enough to appease supporters who pay some of the highest season ticket prices in world football. Since their run to the final in 2006, the Gunners’ struggles in Europe have become evident and, even when you factor in a 2009 semi-final defeat to Manchester United, it is worth noting that the failure to progress past the last-16 in seven seasons shows how difficult it has been for Arsene Wenger’s side to leave their mark on the biggest stage.
Wenger makes a valid point when he says that teams like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are stronger in Europe because they are at an advantage domestically. In the last two seasons, the Premier League has been won by a team that hasn’t played in Europe and the gap in fixtures that allows sides to have a breather gives them the upper hand and reduces their risk of injury and fatigue - something that the Frenchman is keen to emphasise.
"Chelsea have done well. Congratulations to them. But in the last two seasons, a team that hasn't played in Europe has won the league," said Wenger.
"It will be a different season because they will have to play Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday due to Champions League matches.
"I feel in Spain, Real Madrid can win games by playing some at a lower percentage of the maximum than you can in England. Maybe they are, as well, better than us."Bayern is similar - they dominate the German championship in a very easy way.”
The biggest necessity for Arsenal this summer is to strengthen their squad in key areas. Gone are the days of signing one outfield player and getting away with it. This summer it is imperative that Wenger - who is likely to stay on as manager next season - buys several players in the correct positions to bolster the north Londoners' chances of maintaining a title challenge. The precedent was set with last summer’s acquisitions which totalled around £90m and saw the likes of Granit Xhaka, Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez come in.
Sead Kolasinac will become the club’s first signing of the summer when he signs on a free transfer after his contract at Schalke expires. The 23-year-old chose Arsenal over the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Juventus, which proves that Champions League football isn’t always the determining factor in a player’s decision. However, the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will base their decisions on whether the club are playing in Europe or not and will expect Arsenal to qualify next season and replicate the campaign which has seen Chelsea just win the league so convincingly.
"We are in a strong financial situation and the weight of the Champions League is less than it was years ago," Wenger told a press conference on Tuesday.
"For me it's important because we want to play at the top level and the top level is the Champions League. Financially or negotiation-wise, it will not have a huge impact, but we want to play with the best and against the best, and that's the Champions League.”
Wenger’s side are currently on a run of five Premier League wins in six matches and have closed the gap on the top four to three points with two games to go, but require the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool to drop points in their final games of the season. It’s an unenviable task that appears likely to culminate in Arsenal failing to qualify for the competition which they have become so accustomed to gracing over the past two decades. And perhaps that could be a plus point of failing to qualify. The Gunners will now know that they have fallen behind the pack this season and can’t afford to let their rivals get further away through their transfer market nous this summer.
There’s also an argument for suggesting that qualification for the Europa League would represent a realistic opportunity for Arsenal to win a European trophy. The Gunners are more likely to get past a side like Gent than German giants Bayern Munich and it’s another reason why Wenger will look to bolster his squad as much as possible when the transfer window opens this summer.