With Premier League action on the horizon, excitement is the air and the prospect of what Arsenal could achieve is driving up people’s hopes for salvaging the most tumultuous, Arsenal season in over 20 years. Not to mention the topsy-turviest Premier League season, likely, since World War II. The interesting thing is, the chaos may continue.
As the season picks back up, there are a handful of positive outcomes that Arsenal could achieve. With a game in hand, they sit in 9th place on 40 points, 8 points back of 4th and 5 points back of 5th, which is hardly an insurmountable gap.
It’s a point gap that has a lot of Arsenal fans declaring that the Champions League and top 4—or 5 pending Manchester City’s ban—is the only goal that Arsenal should have; the rest can be sacrificed. And yet, given the recent months, the recent Aubameyang interview, and the slim chances of leapfrogging and navigating around, over, and past the other four teams between us and 4th place to beat them seems…tough.
To do it, Arsenal would have to find themselves taking over two-thirds of their remaining 30 points in a run in that is not the easiest. Their game-in-hand is away against City, and they will also run into probable league champions Liverpool, Leicester, Wolverhampton, and a north London derby. In addition to that, there are a couple of matchups that are very winnable on paper but seem to be thorns in Gunner’s sides – Brighton who Arsenal already lost too at home, Southampton, and Watford. It’s no walk in the park. Or maybe it is a walk in the park, but during a global pandemic that makes taking a walk in the park pretty difficult. It’s tough. But throughout it all, many Gooners have declared, “Champions League or bust”, completely dismissing the FA Cup and what benefits it presents them.
The FA Cup, in the minds of many, has been reduced to a second-rate award. It’s a shame really, given the illustrious history of award and the pride that fans should feel if their teams take home a piece of silverware, but when compared to trophies fans believe Arsenal should be contending for, one can understand to an extent. However, this year’s trophy offers real benefits and shouldn’t be tossed away without a second thought or sacrificed to “save legs”.
Arsenal winning the FA Cup this year would give them a few things that the league may not be able to offer – first and foremost a trophy.
Trophies, in recent history, have been an elephant in the room for the Gunners. Post Invincibles, Arsenal went over 3000 days and 500 games without hoisting silverware under Wenger which was a point of contention for all. It was held against him, the club, and the fans when rival clubs judged from afar. How could a team that is consistently in the top 4 for 20 years, win so little when it came time to complete the job?
Then Emery managed to come close, but after a disastrous evening in Baku, fell short. Now the FA Cup presents itself as clear way for new manager Mikel Arteta to get a trophy under this belt, buy himself and the club time to complete their team overhaul the correct way, and offer fans a moment of joy to cap off this poor season. Because even if it’s not the top prize, winning a trophy still should feel great for those that support the winning club.
The second benefit is, in fact, the Europa League. I understand that no fan is chomping at the bit to see Arsenal play Qarabag or Astana, and that there could be real benefits to a year of focusing only on the league, but Europa League offers some obvious and subtle benefits, too. After this pandemic, and the losses suffered during it, Arsenal can’t turn its nose up to a source of funds. The year they went to the finals they scraped £30-40m, depending on who you ask, and while minimal in comparison to the Champions League, realistically could be the difference between buying their first-choice player, second-choice player, or settling for what they have. Something to consider.
In addition to the minimal funds, Arsenal are at a point where they have a considerable amount of youth players vying for time and there are only so many games to play them in. Depending on who stays and who goes this summer, the midfield and attack have an astounding amount of options when it comes to youth. Martinelli and Saka will battle every week for time on the left wing, Nelson and Pepe on the right wing. Nketiah will want time up top. Trae Coyle is getting time after being announced as the 4th Arsenal player to be nominated for Golden Boy. Then in the midfield we have Joe Willock, Emile Smith-Rowe, Matt Smith, and Guendouzi for youth, competing with Ozil, Xhaka, Torreira, and any new people that make their way in.
Competition is good, but getting some of these players real time, in a relatively large cup, and slowly phasing these players into games against other team’s first team players, could be a challenge if Arsenal only had domestic events. Coupled with winnings and the simple half-bargaining chip that Europa offers when it comes to enticing players, and selling them on Arsenal’s project, matters.
Finally, we take a look at Aubameyang. At the weekend, Pierre gave an interview I wrote about, where he stated his career is “at a turning point” and whether or not he stays at Arsenal, “will be the toughest choice in his career.” As a competitor, star athlete, and elite scorer – it was clear that he wants his remaining years of contributions to put his team in the running for titles, and team silverware. It makes sense. At age 30 – 31 in two days – his clock is ticking when it comes to his ability to tally 22 goal seasons and he wants those goals to result in hoisting a cup, not just a golden boot.
The sad truth is, Aubameyang could have scored 30 goals last season or 30-35 goals this season and Arsenal still would not likely be in the running for a league title and that’s a daunting fact for a player that wants more in his final years. To me, it appears that money is not the driving factor. In fact, if it were his priority, I would actually be more confident in Arsenal’s ability to retain him because I do believe he enjoys life at the club. As he said, “its football. Constantly moving and turning” and sometimes the head disagrees with the heart.
But what does that have to do with the FA Cup? Arteta spoke in his press conference about being optimistic or positive when it comes to finding a solution and wants to do everything possible to retain Aubameyang. We know a major part of that is going to be convincing Aubameyang that the Arsenal project is in a place worth is time and headed in the right direction, relatively fast.
Winning the FA Cup, offers Arsenal a chance, this year, to show that Arteta is as capable of leading a team to success as we believe. There is no doubt that the completing the league with a great run-in would have a similar effect but given the diabolical first half of the season and the steep odds against them, falling short is hardly something that can be held against Mikel. However, the FA Cup is a concrete piece of evidence to add to the argument that Arsenal can in fact bring Aubameyang awards.
It may be minor, it may be major, only time will tell, but giving themselves a trophy, extra funds, more games to get youth players involved, and an extra bargaining chip in their attempt to entice talent can’t be undervalued. Sheffield United, be on watch.