“If somebody told us in November, December that we would have the chance to qualify for Europe in the last game, I would have said ‘you are crazy.'”
Those words from Mikel Arteta shine a light on just how unpredictable Arsenal have been this season.
The football may not be as entertaining as the fans would like and the results certainly reflect that, but securing European qualification could make a huge difference going in to the new campaign.
Arsenal’s away form this season is better than in any of the previous last five seasons, and they have now won four consecutive games under Arteta for the first time.
Over the last 23 games, Arsenal have won 13 games, drawn five and lost five. They are in better form than Manchester United, Chelsea, Leeds and Leicester, with champions Manchester City the only team with a better points tally.
After West Ham’s win over West Brom, the Gunners cannot mathematically qualify for the Europa League which means their only chance of European football would be via the European Conference League.
Some may mock the fact that a team who were playing Champions League football several years ago could be about to play in Europe’s third tier competition, but the club’s position is that European football is European football, regardless of the name.
Indeed, the problems at Arsenal were made evident when Christian Benteke headed in the equaliser at Selhurst Park.
They still lack the star quality that Manchester City and Chelsea possess, yet the likes of Nicolas Pepe once again turned up to showcase his own individual qualities and remind everyone that there is a technically excellent player ready to fight for his place.
“This is what I saw from him in training every day,” said former Arsenal player and coach Freddie Ljungberg.
“If you put him in these positions he can be lethal.”
Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Kieran Tierney and Gabriel Martinelli are four reasons why Arsenal fans can have a positive outlook going in to the new season.
Martinelli especially proved once again that he is ready to produce when called upon, something that he echoed in his post-match interview after the game.
“I’m always ready. When Mikel needs me, I’ll be there,” said the Brazilian youngster.
The 19-year-old possesses an attitude and stoic characteristics that have long been missing from Arsenal teams over the year; hard-working, enthusiastic and willing to give everything on the pitch.
He sent a further reminder to Arteta that he can be the long-term replacement for Alexandre Lacazette, whose future remains uncertain going in to the summer transfer window.
A clearout of unwanted players remains on the cards – with technical director Edu and head of football operations Richard Garlick set to be two of the busiest football executives over the next couple of months.
But there are building blocks for Arteta to work with and he can take solace from performances over the past fortnight.
Improvement takes time and patience, both of which are rare qualities in football, but there are signs of optimism at Arsenal right now and qualification for Europe would go some way to ending the season on a much-needed high.
Source by Football London