Arsenal had a chance to win their first European Trophy (outside of the now-defunct Fairs Cup and Cup Winners Cup) on Wednesday. Instead, they fell apart losing 4-1 to London rivals Chelsea and cemented Unai Emery’s first season in charge as an unmitigated disaster.
Emery was appointed Arsenal manager a little over a year ago. He was given a mandate for this season when he was hired; get Arsenal back into the Champions League. Their defeat in Baku ended any hope of doing so.
Arsenal could have snuck back into Europe’s elite competition with a top-four finish in the Premier League or winning the Europa League. Either one of these results would have made the season a success. At the beginning of April, it looked like the Gunners could achieve both. By the end of May, they had failed to do either.
Arsenal were in 3rd place, and at least two points ahead of all of their top four rivals, after their 2-0 win over Newcastle United on April 1st. Even after their 1-0 loss to Everton a week later, they rebounded to knock out Napoli in the Europa League and squeeze out a tough 1-0 win away to Watford. They were in fourth, a point behind Tottenham, two points ahead of Manchester United, even on points with a game in hand on Chelsea and in the Europa League semi-finals on April 18th: then they collapsed.
Arsenal had 66 points with five games to go. Fourth place Tottenham finished the season with 71 points, so they needed six points from their remaining matches at home to 12th place Crystal Palace and 17th place Brighton and Hove Albion and away to 7th place Wolverhampton Wanderers, 9th place Leicester City and 15th place Burnley. They finished with four points from those five, including only one from the two home games.
The end of their domestic campaign was nothing short of a collapse, but the season still could have been seen as a success if they won the Europa League.
This was arguably Arsenal’s most important match since the FA Cup final in 2014. They went in with their entire season on the line and were embarrassed by Chelsea. The first half was tense and relatively uneventful, but everything fell apart once they conceded the first goal. They imploded, conceding three goals in 16 minutes and ending all hope for Champions League football.
Arsenal came into this season in a precarious position. They had to get back into the Champions League this year. They thought Emery was the best man for that job. Instead, they will miss out for the third consecutive year.