The early stages of the 2019-20 campaign have been mostly positive for Arsenal. Unai Emery’s side won each of their first two fixtures of the season before a 3-1 setback at Anfield in matchweek 3. There’s no shame in losing a game at Anfield with the way Liverpool are currently constructed, and there were a few bright spots amid what was largely a dismal outcome overall. I can’t think of a player less fit to defend Liverpool’s attack than David Luiz, but I digress.
Even with the defeat, the Gunners are still sitting third in the Premier League table with six points through three matches. Liverpool and Manchester City are occupying the top-two spots, and it feels safe to say that’s where they’ll finish, in some order. Barring some sort of cataclysmic injury scenario for either club, there appear to be two Champions League places up for grabs this season, depending on what transpires in Europa League, of course.
The best Premier League betting sites give Arsenal very little hope when it comes to actually winning the Premier League this term. The Gunners are down around +5000 at most sites, which puts them on par with Manchester United and Chelsea. City are still -225 favorites, followed by Liverpool (+250) and Tottenham Hotspur (+3300).
Arsenal used to be a fixture in Europe’s most prestigious club tournament. The club made 17 consecutive appearances in Champions League between 2000 and 2017, but the Gunners have missed out on the event in back-to-back seasons. A defeat at the hands of Chelsea in last year’s Europa League final cost Arsenal a spot in this year’s festivities. While winning Europa League this time around would get them a Champions League place, the best route for Arsenal to next season’s UCL comes through the domestic campaign.
Let’s just assume Liverpool and City will finish in the top-4. That would seem to be a safe bet at this point. The Gunners can always put together a nice run in Europa League again, but banking on success in a competition like that is a fool’s errand. The Gunners will be one of the better sides in Europa League again this season, but the more admirable goal is to fare well enough domestically to earn your spot in next year’s Champions League.
So, Arsenal will likely be battling it out with the likes of Spurs, Manchester United and Chelsea for the aforementioned two spots. Leicester City, Burnley and Wolverhampton Wanderers could get in on the fray, as well, but the safer bet is to suggest that the remaining four members of the “Big Six” will be the teams left standing once the season is over and done with.
Spurs were something of a trendy pick to get in on the title race, but Mauricio Pochettino’s side looked underwhelming in a 1-0 home loss to Newcastle in matchweek 3. Newcastle are a legitimate relegation candidate after losing each of their first two games, so the fact that they marched into Tottenham Hotspur’s sparkling new stadium and took all 3 points is a bad omen for Spurs’ title prospects.
Manchester United and Chelsea have also endured tough early-season results. United beat Chelsea 4-0 at Old Trafford to start the season before a 1-1 draw at Wolves and a 2-1 loss at home to Crystal Palace. The Blues drew Leicester City 1-1 before Frank Lampard earned his first Premier League win as Chelsea manager with a 3-2 victory over Norwich in matchweek 3.
The fact that Chelsea, United and Spurs have all dropped points already bodes well for Arsenal’s chances of sneaking into the top-4. September could prove to be a crucial month for the Gunners, however. Arsenal will host Spurs on the first day of the month before facing United on the final day of the month. Matches against Watford and Aston Villa in between aren’t automatic wins, either.
Must Avoid Letdowns
It goes without saying, but Arsenal have to beat the dregs of the league if they want to secure a place in next year’s Champions League. Picking up points against sides like Liverpool and City would be nice, but winning winnable games is a must. Quite frankly, doing so wasn’t exactly a strength of the side in Emery’s first year in charge. The Gunners dropped points against the likes of Crystal Palace (twice), Southampton, Brighton, West Ham, Everton and Leicester City last term.
Obviously, losing points at the hands of relegation candidates isn’t something the best teams in England do very often. Arsenal have as much talent, especially in attack, as any team in the league. Scoring goals shouldn’t be an issue for this side, especially with the collective pace up front with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette.
The other end of the pitch is a different story. Luiz and company were taken to task by Mohamed Salah and Liverpool, but the Reds have a way of doing that to most teams. They’re the reigning champions of Europe for a reason. That said, some of the tactical decisions made by Emery at Anfield can be called into question. Questionable judgment is something that marked his first season at the helm, and the fact that that seems to have carried over to the new campaign is a red flag.
Emery received some praise last season for his ability to make tactical adjustments in the second halves of games. However, the fact that those were necessary so often is a problem in and of itself. If Emery were to get his tactics right from the opening kickoff, so many halftime adjustments wouldn’t be needed.
Emery’s teams have played too conservatively when they should have been aggressive, and vice versa. Coming out and trying to attack Liverpool is a commendable strategy, but far too often at Anfield the Gunners tried to advance the ball through the back. That’s a strategy that plays right into the hands of Jurgen Klopp’s high-pressing style, and we expectedly saw Arsenal give the ball away in terrible areas of the pitch all afternoon long.
Can They Do It?
As mentioned, the talent is there. Assuming the likes of Aubameyang and Lacazette stay healthy while Pepe continues to progress, there is no reason Arsenal can’t finish among the top-4. Dani Ceballos also looks like a natural fit pulling the strings in midfield, and he should look better and better the more he gets to play with his lightning-quick attackers in front of him.
I think Tottenham are a good bet to finish in the top-4, but I certainly don’t trust either United or Chelsea to get there. This looks like a transition type of year for the Blues under Lampard, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer already looks like a dead man walking at Old Trafford. Arsenal have a golden opportunity to secure a spot in next year’s Champions League. Here’s hoping they don’t let it slip away.