Arsenal are effectively three wins away from confirming their return to European competition.
The 2021/22 season has already been a strange one for the Gunners and it will be the case all the way up until May having failed to qualify for Europe for the first time in over two decades.
Finishing eighth and missing out on a Europa Conference League spot on the final day of last season has resulted in the north London derby having a lot more space in their fixture calendar this year.
Therefore, instead of gearing up for trips or hosting games at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal have been watching on with a little envy as the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Manchester United and West Ham United fly the flag for England in Europe this season.
Unsurprisingly, Gunners manager Mikel Arteta has already revealed that he’s not a fan of this rare experience.
“It hurts a lot in the last few days to put TV on and see those teams there, and not see Arsenal there,” the Spaniard admitted during his press conference ahead of Arsenal’s win over Burnley in September. “It was painful. One hundred per cent. I do not want to be sitting there with Arsenal out of those competitions.”
In order for Arteta to ensure he is leading the Gunners out in either the Champions League, Europa League of Europa Conference League next season, then his side will most likely need to finish no lower than seventh in the Premier League.
Of course, a top-four finish would be the dream scenario as Arsenal’s absence from European football’s elite club competition will be over.
Whereas the reward for finishing fifth – or sixth depending on who wins the FA Cup this season – is a spot in the Europa League and there could be two ways to qualify for the Europa Conference League.
One is through the league position and the other is by winning the Carabao Cup as whoever claims the trophy in February 2022 will qualify for the play-off stages of the competition next season.
Arsenal are to face Sunderland at the Emirates in the quarter-final next month, a dream tie for many, and will be favorites to overcome the League One outfit and reach the semis.
With Spurs, Chelsea, Liverpool, Leicester still in the competition, the final four could throw up some mouth-watering ties on the road to Wembley Stadium and provide a roadblock for the Gunners.
But Arteta’s side need to go all the way and take advantage of this alternative route back into Europe – regardless if they’ll be playing in the Europa Conference League.
As pointed out on Arsenal Reddit, it is vital that the club are playing in some form of European competition next season.
This is in relation to the upcoming changes to Champions League qualification and if the north London outfit finish outside the top four in the next two seasons, including the current one.
As previously announced by UEFA, the 2024/25 edition of the UEFA Champions League will follow a new format as there will be a single league made up of all 36 competing clubs.
This means a departure from the current format’s opening 32-team group stage.
And most importantly, as the statement explains: “This will give four more sides the opportunity to compete against the best clubs in Europe”.
In order to get one of the additional slots, Arsenal will have to be among ‘ two clubs with the highest club coefficients that have not qualified automatically for the Champions League’s league stage, but have qualified either for the Champions League qualification phase or the Europa League / the Europa Conference League. ‘
Currently, Arsenal are 14th in the UEFA coefficients rankings – behind Premier League rivals Manchester City (2nd), Liverpool (3rd), Chelsea (4th), Man United (9th) and Spurs (13th).
However, with the Gunners not in Europe this season they won’t get any coefficients points which means they can not afford for their north London rivals to go deep in the Europa Conference League as the two clubs have almost exactly the same coefficients in total over the last four years.
Looking at the rest of Europe and the teams that could rival Arsenal for one of the four additional spots for Champions League qualification come 2024/25 presents a potential issue.
As things stand, Barcelona, Juventus and Man United – teams above Arsenal in the club coefficients – are all in danger of missing out on the Champions League next season.
If this was the case ahead of the 2024/25 campaign, then two of the trio would take up slots three and four.
The Gunners can avoid this particular scenario if the aforementioned teams qualify automatically for the Champions League, but they will still need to have built up their own coefficients to be in contention for one of the two available slots.
One way to do this is by ensuring they’re in one of the three European competitions next season, not only that, they must go deep in the respective tournament.
As per the UEFA Coefficients calculation method, reaching the Champions League final is worth a maximum total of 38 coefficient points, 34 for reaching the Europa League final and 30 for going all the way in the Europa Conference League.
Simply put, European qualification has probably never been as important for Arsenal as it is this season and having been handed a boost of a dream Carabao Cup quarter-final tie, they’re effectively three wins away from being back where they belong.
It may not be the most glamorous competition in the world, but the Europa Conference League can play an important role in Arsenal’s quest to become a Champions League club again in the very near future.