Mikel Arteta cut a sombre figure on the Villa Park touchline at the final whistle on Tuesday evening.
He saw his Arsenal side succumb to their 10th Premier League defeat of the season, which took Aston Villa out of the relegation zone going into the final day of the season on Sunday.
The positive vibes that were coming out of Arsenal following wins over Liverpool and Manchester City were quickly wiped away.
The Gunners didn’t register a shot on target against a side who have been in the bottom three since February.
The Arsenal manager did wring in the changes to his starting eleven, and they were good enough on paper to beat the Villans, but they couldn’t.
Mikel Arteta has conceded that the season has not been good enough and he is right. This is their worst league campaign since 1995 and they won’t finish higher than eighth in the league table no matter what happens on the final day when the Gunners will face a Watford side who will be desperate for points as well.
Arsenal’s season is now hinging on winning the FA Cup, which would give them a backdoor entry into the Europa League next season as well.
Mikel Arteta and Arsenal need the FA Cup
Arsenal are the most successful team in the FA Cup’s history and Mikel Arteta will be hoping that the club can extend their recent record of winning the trophy.
The FA Cup will go on to define his first season in charge of the club and will also be a marker for the future ahead.
Arsenal’s decision to ask their players to take a pay cut during the pandemic made it clear that money is tight at the club. The club’s board have already made noises about having to run a Europa League club on a Champions League wage bill.
The spectre of no European football next season could further eat into the club’s transfer kitty for the summer.
Stan Kroenke has shown little to suggest that he will invest in the squad from his own pockets and so, Arsenal are facing a catch 22 situation.
They want to return to the Champions League without spending the kind of money needed to turn a top-eight club into a top-four one.
The Arsenal manager has been vocal about his need to invest in the squad heavily this summer to make further progress.
But defeats to teams such as Aston Villa and Brighton will not help his cause when he sits down for talks with the hierarchy at the end of the season. What could help him is the FA Cup trophy.
It’s a tangible sign of progress and it also gets them into the Europa League.
While Europe’s second-tier competition is not as financially lucrative as the Champions League (far from it actually), it could still mean more games to play and with the real possibility of fans returning to stadiums next season, it could mean crucial extra matchday revenue.
Mikel Arteta is likely to find it harder to convince the Arsenal board to splash the cash with no European football. While the next window is expected to be a buyer’s market, clubs will still need to spend considerable sums on the quality needed to take a team forward.
William Saliba is a talented young defender but a 19-year-old is unlikely to transform Arsenal’s defence.
Do they have the funds or the appetite to go big for a Dayot Upamecano? Can they convince Thomas Partey to leave Atletico Madrid and move to north London without the spectre of European football?
Arsenal are yet to sort out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s contract and will he sign a new deal knowing that he would only play domestic English football at least next season?
Dani Ceballos is wanted at Real Betis. Will he consider extending his stay at Arsenal without at least the Europa League?
The Gunners are facing a tough summer with the prospect of other big teams spending again and increasing the gap in quality.
Without the FA Cup and a place in Europe, Arsenal will risk falling further behind the pecking order in the Premier League next season.
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