Come Thursday, Arsenal’s fate with regards to Champions League qualification will be decided as Unai Emery and his men get ready to face Premier League rivals Chelsea in the final of the Europa League at Baku.
Having missed on automatic Champions League qualification for the coming season after a tame finish to their Premier League campaign, Arsenal are now at the mercy of the Europa League final if they are to earn a spot in Europe’s top tier.
Qualifying for the Champions League was the remit handed to Emery upon his arrival to the club last summer to replace the legendary Arsene Wenger. However, a modest transfer budget of around £50million was all Emery had to play with upon the start of his maiden Premier League stint. Arsenal’s lack of finances severely tied down the hands of the former PSG, Sevilla and Valencia manager.
With their transfer budget being dwarfed by the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, it was always going to be an uphill task for Emery to establish Arsenal back among the upper echelons of the Premier League.
Yet, the Arsenal coach did manage to make some shrewd signings with a paltry transfer budget with Lucas Torreira, Bernd Leno, Sokratis Papastathapoulos and Matteo Guendouzi arriving at the club over the course of the last summer.
Looking back on his first year at Arsenal, Emery will be disappointed not to clinch automatic Champions League qualification and a top-four finish in the Premier League. But the Spaniard’s work needs to be viewed in the context of the resources at his disposal as well as the spate of injuries that riddled the North London club’s campaign over the course of the first half of the season.
A defensive injury crisis which saw the likes of Laurent Koscielny, Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding sidelined for significant spells in the first half of the campaign was eventually overcome with a 22-match unbeaten run before the Premier League campaign ran out of steam towards the latter stages.
A fractious relationship with Arsenal’s star player Mesut Ozil was one of the main talking points of Emery’s first year at London with the Spaniard showing the German playmaker no leeway as he sought to infuse his own work ethic at the club. While opinions might be divided over Emery’s handling on Ozil, the coach still has to be lauded for showing tough love when required in stark contrast to Wenger who gave the German a free ride for the most part.
Having come to the club as a serial Europa League winner with Sevilla, Emery is now on course for his fourth title in the competition which will be a staggering achievement. Victory in the Europa League final will certainly give a new light to Arsenal and Emery’s 2018-19 season but the Spanish coach can still be satisfied with his work otherwise despite the limitations.
In the Premier League, Emery has bettered Wenger’s 2017-18 tally by seven points and although is only a minor improvement, it is still a step in the right direction.