LONDON – It often happens that European competition becomes more important than domestic activity arsenal have now safely reached this point. Same goes for Manchester CityEspecially in view of the responsibility that Pep Guardiola sees as the ultimate confirmation of his methods for the success of the Champions League. But they can focus on the round of 16 Borussia Monchengladbach After a simple 1-0 win over the Gunners at the Emirates Stadium, the 10-point lead at the summit was almost free of concerns in the Premier League.
Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta does not have such comfort. Arsenal’s defeat in the 11th division of the season puts them 11 points behind the top four, which means that qualifying for the Champions League – an essential financial and football goal – will most likely be achieved through the Europa League.
It will be difficult to win Europe’s second-rate competition, of course, but the success of the FA Cup final last season highlighted Arteta’s ability to prepare a team for knockout matches. If anything, it’s a leadership skill that he arguably developed more than his squad management, a criticism that first surfaced when Southampton Arsenal kicked out of the FA Cup in January.
However, one could argue that no matter which team Arteta picked, Arsenal would have been beaten on Sunday.
City extended its breathtaking run to 18 straight wins in all competitions with a win that was never questioned from the start Raheem Sterling scored after 77 seconds. Guardiola’s side were already working on the ball with their usual bragging rights Riad Mahrez should be praised from the right for the correctness of his delivery, but it’s a damn charge against Arsenal’s defense that Sterling, only 5-foot-7, was allowed to go unmarked and head past the goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Arsenal have been too tired to have a real fight against Man City as the schedule keeps getting strained. At this point, they should do their best for the Europa League. John Walton / PA Images via Getty Images
The Gunners regrouped in the face of an early attack, but the truth is that City slacked off afterwards and was happy to control the game through conservative possession. Both teams played from start to finish as if they knew the end result and were ready to save themselves for what comes next.
For Arsenal it is certainly the biggest game of the season so far. Their Europa League last 32 draws against Benfica is well positioned after the 1-1 final of the first leg. Arteta called an unchanged line-up for this game from their previous game against Leeds UnitedThis marked the first time the Spaniard had done this during his tenure and an understandable decision given the offensive fluency they showed against Marcelo Bielsa’s side. But the kick-off effect was certainly felt here, even with five changes in the team.
Bukayo Saka did his best to carry an attacking threat to the hosts that combined positively with Kieran Tierney bottom left, but both looked tired in the end, especially Tierney. Hector BellerinAt his eighth consecutive start he was far from his best. At least Emile Smith Rowe got a break except for the last 18 minutes. Martin Odegaard, on loan from real Madrid, started his third game in a row, but couldn’t influence it in the way Arteta would have hoped.
The same was true for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyangwhose three games in seven days sum up his current inconsistency: a hat-trick against Leeds, followed by waste against Benfica and anonymity against City. He had only 19 touches in the entire game, the fewest of all players who played 90 minutes, closely followed by Nicolas Pepe (22), whose staggering 73-minute account underscores the importance of Arsenal wisely spending the money they have in trying to bring together teams with much greater financial strengths. At £ 72 million Pepe cost more than any other player on the court, but he was probably the most peripheral.
“With the schedule we have, it’s really tough. We don’t have time to recover, very little time to prepare for a game,” said Arteta after the defeat on Sunday. “For example, we couldn’t prepare the game on the field against City because we didn’t have enough time. But we have to get used to it.
The need for Arsenal to get everything right on the transfer market is compounded by the club’s major financial bottlenecks – exemplified by the wage cut in the first team and 55 layoffs of non-playing employees – but without it this would exacerbate revenue European football. There are tons of complications, but the fifth-placed team and FA Cup winners are going to the Europa League next season. The sixth-placed team qualifies for the first Europa Conference League.
Arsenal are six points behind the defending champions Liverpool in sixth place – it’s not an insurmountable hurdle but if the past few days have suggested something Arsenal may need to prioritize from here.
Arsenal will travel to Greece on Wednesday to face Benfica and then face a quick turnaround with a trip to Leicester on Sunday starting around noon. It’s a busy schedule, tightened by the COVID-19 restrictions that have resulted in Wednesday’s match being moved to Athens, and presents Arteta with a similar puzzle to the one he faced this week: a major European one Game followed by a sculpted domestic rival.
“It’s hard because everyone wants to play and everyone wants to be available for every game,” said Arteta. “Everyone is doing their best to be available at all times, which I really appreciate. But there are a lot of players who are tired, they have played so many minutes and unfortunately we don’t have enough players to replace them.”
The mounting evidence suggests that Arsenal simply isn’t strong enough to compete on either front. As a result, Arteta has some tough decisions to make.