Arsenal are in contention to participate in the next season’s UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2016-17 following their 3-2 win at Watford over the weekend.
The victory saw the Gunners move fourth on the Premier League points table, above a struggling Manchester United.
With eight wins in their last 10 league matches, Mikel Arteta’s side have put them firmly in place for a top-four finish having registered eighth-placed finishes in the Spaniard’s first two seasons in the dugout.
Since their exit in the 2016-17 Champions League season in the round of 16, Arsenal reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League twice in four seasons while they lost the 2018-19 UEL final to Chelsea.
With form and plenty of games in hand, we explore a few reasons why Arsenal are in the driver’s seat to qualify for the 2022-23 UEFA Champions League.
The Odegaard-ESR-Saka partnership
Starting with Martin Odegaard, it is safe to say that Arsenal have found a successor to former club favourite Mesut Ozil. The Norwegian, who secured a permanent €35 million move from Real Madrid, has registered an 84.4 per cent pass success rate in 19 Premier League games and has contributed four goals and four assists.
Once dubbed the Norwegian Messi, Martin Odegaard has struck a bond and developed an understanding with Bakayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe to establish a new and young attacking trident for Arsenal.
While Odegaard dictates the game’s tempo, Smith Rowe and Saka push forward from the wide areas as they look to attack with great fluidity and cohesion, which has been the case in recent weeks.
Martin Odegaard playmaking skills has played an essential role in the Emile Smith Rowe-Bukayo Saka pairing blossoming in front of goal as the duo have amassed 17 goals. They are joint-fourth on the list of best-attacking duos in the Premier League.
No Cup commitments
Following their Carabao Cup (semi-finals) and FA Cup (3rd round) exits in January 2022, Arsenal can now maintain their focus on securing a top-four finish in the 2021-22 Premier League campaign.
Mikel Arteta’s men have played three games less than fourth-place contenders Manchester United as well as West Ham and are now in prime position to take away maximum points from their remaining 13 games in the English top-flight.
The Gunners have earned 25 points out of a possible 30 since a 1-2 loss at Everton on December 6, 2021. They require at least 22 points from their remaining fixtures to guarantee a Champions League qualification spot, which shouldn’t be an issue barring a collapse of monumental proportions in the business end of the season.
Lack of European football action
Arsenal didn’t feature in any European competition - UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League - in the ongoing season. As a result, the Gunners had a vast amount of time to concentrate on the Premier League. Head coach Mikel Arteta has emphasised that he is overseeing a ‘process’ to return Arsenal back to the Champions League and as things stand, the results - 15 wins in 25 games - signify that it is only a matter of time before the Gunners play UCL football again.
Easy fixtures compared to rivals fighting for UCL qualification (GW 36-38)
The final three gameweeks of the Premier League season are always a make-or-break for teams battling for a third or fourth-place finish in the English top flight.
Looking at those fixtures, Arsenal play Leeds (home), Newcastle United (away) and Everton (home) in what are winnable fixtures against teams that will be fighting to stave off relegation.
The Gunners’ nearest rivals Manchester United have Brighton, Chelsea and Crystal Palace lined up as their last league opponents. Given their form at present, grabbing three points from all fixtures will be a must for the Red Devils if they are to have any outside chance of denting Arsenal’s UCL qualification hopes.
Author: William Paul
Featured photo: AFP / OLI SCARFF and LINDSEY PARNABY