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European qualification important for more than money

Arsenal must win the FA Cup final to secure European football next season. Doing so, however, is important for more than just the added financial benefits.

Arsenal must win Saturday’s FA Cup final against Chelsea to secure European football. After finishing in a lowly eighth in the Premier League, their lowest finish in 25 years, they will now have to sneak through the backdoor to secure a Europa League place.

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While the Europa League itself is a dastardly competition, it is a necessary evil for the Gunners to secure. The added financial benefits it provides are massive, approximately around £30 million per year depending on how far they go in the competition, while competing in Europe adds clout to the club’s pull in the transfer market.

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Ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup final against Chelsea, Mikel Arteta was asked about the importance of qualifying for the Europa League by winning the final and whether this is a significant day for the team and his looming rebuild as he enters his first summer as head coach. He said:

“Yeah, it is. I wouldn’t like to talk too much or link these two factors but it is a reality that financially it would be really helpful. Obviously in the sporting side as well because to play in Europe for this club is a must and we have the opportunity to do both tomorrow.”

The financial impact is, of course, the most important aspect here. Given the pressures of the club due to the coronavirus, the ground they have to make up on their rivals as a result of a huge disparity in quality, and their self-sustainable model, achieving higher revenue through competing in Europe is vital.

But there is more than just money at stake here. Arteta alludes to the desire to play in Europe. Every club should want to compete against the best in the world, even if it is in the Europa League and not the Champions League. While Arsenal would much rather be in the latter, the Europa League offers Arteta the chance to do something that Arsene Wenger never could: win a European trophy.

Beyond just the competition, however, the Europa League, like the FA Cup, also offers a backdoor into the Champions League. Should Arsenal qualify and subsequently win the Europa League, they will ensure their place in the Champions League in the 2021/22 season. In effect, the competition acts as a safety net should they fail to finish in the top four.

And at present, it is extremely difficult to see how Arsenal can finish in the top four. Even with the added benefit of not facing a midweek-weekend schedule as is the case with the Europa League, the gap between the Gunners and the other top-four teams in the Premier League is substantial. And it is only growing. Chelsea are set to spend nearly £200 million on a new attacking unit, while Manchester United will likely sign Jadon Sancho.

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While Arteta offers hope as a progressive, intelligent, tactically astute head coach, the squad is so talent-poor that it will be extremely difficult to overcome. A top-four finish simply does not seem realistic. For that reason, securing a Europa League place as an alternative path into the Champions League by winning Saturday’s FA Cup final is vital.

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