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Can Arsenal's Young Guns Lead Them to Europa League Glory?

Kevin Taylor for Bookies.com

Kevin Taylor  | 5 mins

Can Arsenal's Young Guns Lead Them to Europa League Glory?

Inconsistency continues to plague Arsenal amid the backdrop of a potential takeover involving a trio of club legends.

Owner Stan Kroenke was keen to join an exclusive party involving the biggest clubs in Europe when he signed Arsenal up for the Super League that failed within 48 hours of its announcement. But the sobering reality facing the Gunners at the moment is mid-table obscurity in the Premier League.

Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira have joined Spotify founder Daniel Ek's bid to buy the club from American owner Kroenke. Those three names bring back memories of the trophy-laden Highbury glory days, which seem further away than ever given Mikel Arteta's side's struggles.

Things seemed to be moving in the right direction last season after the Spaniard took the reins and led the Gunners to FA Cup glory. But Arsenal have struggled to string a run of good results together during this campaign, as summed up by their recent form.

A 2-1 North London derby win over Spurs last month could have been the catalyst for an uptick in results. Instead, Arteta's charges could not manage a win in their next four competitive games.

A disappointing 1-1 draw with Fulham at the Emirates was followed by a 1-0 defeat to Everton last Friday and attention now turns to a Europa League semi-final first leg away to Villarreal, with Arteta needing a positive result to relieve the pressure.

Ex-Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri is the 13/5 favourite to land the job if it becomes available, while Brendan Rodgers is priced at 3/1 in the latest next Arsenal manager betting odds.

Former Arsenal star Nigel Winterburn has been encouraged by the club's talented crop of young players but reckons the squad will need shaking up during the summer transfer window.

“They’re going to have to make a few more changes to the squad. How much they’ll do, I don’t know,” Winterburn said.

“If I’m honest with you, I think there’s still a huge amount of questions to be asked about the team and Mikel Arteta would probably say so himself if he was asked at the end of the season.

“There are times when you see glimpses of how good Arsenal can be, and then there are times when you feel as though it’s just not the club we all recognise.

“The levels can vary from week to week and that inconsistency is a big problem for me. Until they find a solution, Arsenal are going to struggle to get back into the top four.

“Points wise they’re not a million miles off but the performances suggest, to me, that we’re still way short of the mark.

“We still don’t know who our best centre-half pairing is, the right-back position looks as though it will need to be filled, we don’t know about the futures of [Martin] Odegaard and [Dani] Ceballos.

“And then there’s Lacazette closing in on the end of his contract, Aubameyang has had a poor season.

“Really, when you look at it, the young players have kept everything going this season as far as I’m concerned.

“The young players coming through and performing to a high level have enabled the fans to be slightly more patient than they would be under normal circumstances."

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‘A Lot to be Resolved’

Arsenal haven't had the opportunity to voice their displeasure with performances this season due to games being held behind-closed-doors amid the pandemic, with their side languishing 10th in the Premier League table.

Winterburn believes supporters won't accept another campaign without a top four challenge next year, however, and expects them to make their feelings known if they are back in the stands by then.

The decorated ex-Gunners defender added: “I think there’s a huge amount to be asked about where Arsenal are going and whether they can close the gap on the teams in the top four, but I don’t think the fans will settle for us being in the same position this time next season, particularly if they’re back in the stadium and voicing their opinions.

“There’s a lot to be resolved at Arsenal unfortunately.”

Despite their domestic struggles this season, Arsenal have lost just once so far in the Europa League. They dished out a 4-0 hammering away to Slavia Prague in one of their most impressive showings of the season two weeks ago to seal their place in the semi-final with a 5-1 aggregate win.

They are currently second-favourites at 3/1 to lift the trophy behind Manchester United, who are priced at 15/13 to claim European silverware ahead of their semi-final tie with Roma.

Former manager Unai Emery stands in Arsenal's way with his Villarreal side and Winterburn is wary of the threat posed by the ex-Gunners boss, pointing to the fact that Emery is a specialist in this competition. The 49-year-old Spaniard claimed three Europa League titles in-a-row with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016 and led Arsenal to the final in the 2018-19 campaign, where they were beaten 4-1 by Chelsea.

Arsenal recorded a sloppy 1-1 draw at home to Slavia Prague in the quarter-final first leg, but a repeat of their display during the 4-0 second leg win could go a long way towards sealing their place in the Europa League final on May 26.

“I’m slightly concerned by our injury list at the moment but if we perform like we did in Prague then we have a great opportunity to be in a European final," Winterburn added.

“Obviously, you come up against the stronger teams the further you go into a competition and that level of performance has to be consistent over two legs, you can’t let it drop.

“We got away with it in the last round with our first leg performance, which was flat, but we’re going to have to be somewhere closer to the level we showed in the second leg for most of the semi-final tie.

“In Unai Emery, they’re coming up against a manager who is a specialist in this competition.”

About the Author

Kevin Taylor for Bookies.com
Kevin Taylor
Kevin Taylor is an accomplished writer and editor. He previously worked for the print and online editions of national publications in Ireland such as The Irish Mirror, The Irish Sun and The Herald.