Arsenal's trip to Slavia Prague is their biggest game in a decade

15 April 2021 05:30

Arsenal travel to Slavia Prague for the second leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter-final on Thursday night for what is arguably their biggest game in a decade.

Out of context, that sounds utterly ridiculous - given they were contesting the Europa League final against Chelsea two years ago - but it's a reflection of the ongoing turmoil at the Emirates Stadium, and highlights the need for head coach Mikel Arteta to continue delivering European football in north London.

Domestically, Arsenal have been woeful during 2020/21. They are languishing in mid-table - which for a club of their size and storied history is completely unacceptable - and as a result, the Gunners are facing the very real prospect of failing to qualify for Europe for the first time since Arsene Wenger took charge back in October 1996.

Failure to play on the European stage would not only make it borderline impossible to attract the calibre of player Arsenal want to sign, it could be a financial catastrophe for the club. The Gunners, like everybody else during the coronavirus pandemic, have been forced to cope with a dramatic reduction in revenue, meaning the television and sponsorship income the Europa League provides is more welcome than usual.

But with a ridiculously high wage bill, stadium overheads and other costs flowing out of the club accounts as normal, there can be no denying that Arsenal are in the same cash flow trouble boat as everybody else.

On the pitch, Arteta is desperate to restructure his playing staff and mould the team into what he wants. He needs players to leave, he needs players to come in and he needs the lure of continental football to ensure his purchases are of sufficient calibre.

Arsenal's owners are, unfortunately, as passive as they come and based on previous experience, there is no evidence to suggest they'd be willing to inject funds of their own in order to accelerate the team's progress.

The self-sustaining model the club are so proud of will no longer be viable in the absence of European football and therefore the significance of beating Slavia and winning the Europa League shouldn't be underestimated.

Having lost 12 games in the Premier League already - two more than they lost last season when they finished eighth - you'd be forgiven for thinking this inconsistent group of Arsenal players are incapable of stringing enough positive results together to qualify through the club's league position.

That's despite UEFA announcing their will be a tertiary tier competition introduced from the 2021/22 season onwards, the UEFA Europa Conference League - open to the Premier League side who finishes seventh.

With every year that passes, the club's absence from the Champions League becomes a bigger problem. When Arsenal first dropped down to the Europa League in the 2017/18 season, very few associated with the club would have expected them to remain absent for so long. But here we are, four seasons on discussing the prospect of the club falling even further into the doldrums.

Finances aside, failure to win the competition would see the mounting pressure on Arteta increase. He's already struggled to win over a number of the clubs supporters, and elimination could see the
38-year-old lose the already wavering support he has.

Arsenal can't afford to lose another manager, nor can they afford to not be competing in the Europa League. Hell, qualifying for the Europa Conference League would do at this point, but there's no disputing that the aim must be overcoming Slavia - the biggest game in a decade.

Source: 90min