Never in the history of the Europa League has a club allowed so many goals in the Final. It’s unprecedented. Most likely this is due to the balance of power between the two opposing clubs. Yet, Arsenal managed to capitulate four goals in the span of 45 minutes. Three of those goals came within 12 minutes of each other. Chelsea were clearly the better side and nothing should be taken away from the sheer brilliance of their build up play through Eden Hazard and their ability to easily dispatch breakdown the Arsenal defense. By all means, however, Arsenal should never have so comfortably allowed Chelsea to win the Europa League. Now, the club will be reeling from the lack of finances, the diminishing appeal to foreign and domestic potential signings, and the questionable capabilities of the players, the manager, and the executives.
Unai Emery was faced with the unenviable task of attempting to rebuild an Arsenal squad devoid of leadership, grit, and quite honestly quality. Arsenal are bereft with young players that offer great potential for the future, but the question remains if the future should start now. Emery was not necessarily expected to achieve a Champions League birth in his first season. However, as the months passed Arsenal found themselves not only in the hunt for a place in the top four, but also progressing through the latter rounds of the Europa League, both of which could have provided a spot among Europes elite .
Unfortunately, Arsenal will again be playing in the Europa League for the 2019/20 season, and the quest to reach the top four looks to be more arduous than ever. Manchester United will get better, Tottenham do not look to be losing any steam next season, and clubs such as Wolves, Leicester, and Everton are all expected to be more formidable next season. Lest we forget that Newcastle just might drastically improve with an abundance of investment courtesy of Sheikh Khalid.
Regardless of the challenges that were in front of Unai Emery, Arsenal should be playing in the Champions League next season. The Gunners’ final last eight matches did not feature a single top six side, but this should not wholly discredit the sheer capabilities of the opponents such as Leicester and Wolverhampton. Yet the two games that stuck out as easily winnable were Crystal Palace as well as Brighton and Hove Albion. Arsenal dropped five points out of six in those two games and as a result, look to be a club going backwards rather than forwards. Unai Emery’s tactics and management must be called into question. There are no excuses for not finishing the season out strong. Even a loss to Chelsea in the Europa League final would have been respectable if the Gunners made it difficult for Chelsea.
Emery is working with a double edged sword. The club must improve on the pitch, but Emery has not received the backing from the board to construct a side that fits his tactical prowess. He was quoted after the Final saying,
“Maybe [in regards to potential trouble with signing players], but I think that we are a big team, and I think Arsenal are a big name in the football world.”
Arsenal are a big club, but the best players do not want to play for a club in the Europa League if they are currently plying their trade in the Champions League.
Should Arsenal perform on a similar level in the 2019/20 season as they did this past year, then Emery’s job will inevitably be called into question. His moniker was Europa League Maestro. That was the sole reason for his appointment with the North London side. He struggled to manage the personalities of his players at PSG, and Sevilla only managed to succeed so consistently in the Europa League because of their perennial shortcomings in the Champions League. Emery is undoubtedly capable of turning things around at Arsenal, and should he accomplish this difficult task, this downturn in fortune could be a blip on the radar.
For now, however, Arsenal must mentally prepare for another year striving to get back to where they believe they belong. Players must leave to offload the wage bill and increase the transfer budget. The players that remain with the club must take a deep look at how they want to be remembered as Arsenal players. The mentality must also change within the club. This weak mentality is a virus that has found its way into the heart of what the club stands for. This cannot change overnight but must be a process. Lucas Torreira’s tears as he made his way to the bench represents the true anguish of a man that wants and expects more from himself and the club, as well as disgust with his own disappointing performance. It is never easy to bounce back after getting so close to your goal, but hopefully this loss will bring systematic changes throughout the club and open Stan and Josh Kroenke’s eyes to what must be done to stay afloat in a perpetually improving league.