May 19, 2013
Somehow, they did it.
Despite a slow start to the season and a seven-point deficit to Tottenham on the league table after a 2-1 loss to Spurs on March 3, Arsenal went undefeated in their last 10 games (eight wins, two draws) and secured a fourth-place finish and berth in the Champions League with a 1-0 victory against Newcastle on Sunday.
So what exactly does a spot in the Champions League mean for the Gunners?
For one, it keeps the team's streak of appearances in the premier European competition intact. Arsenal have now qualified for the Champions League for a 16th straight year, a staggering level of consistency for Arsene Wenger's troops.
But Arsenal have another streak that fans are more concerned about—no trophies since 2005's FA Cup triumph.
In an effort to end that streak and return Arsenal to the level of winning titles rather than scratching and clawing in the final weeks just to finish in the top four, Wenger will supposedly have a lot of money to spend during this summer's transfer window.
That will surely be attractive to prospective targets, but so will the opportunity to play in the Champions League. In fact, that's probably the largest benefit for Arsenal—the ability to sell the chance to play in Europe's most prestigious tournament next season.
Without question, the team needs help at holding midfield, could use an upgrade at striker and will probably seek a new right-back as well. Outside of an often-restrictive wage structure, Arsenal can offer prospective players top-notch facilities, a place in the Premier League and the chance to play European football.
It's a nice package to sell.
Plus, Sunday's win ensured that hated rivals Tottenham will be limited to playing in the Europa League next season, which could be the difference between Gareth Bale leaving this summer and sticking around.
Surely, he would have stayed if Spurs had qualified for the Champions League. Now, however, the overtures from wealthier clubs—we see you whispering in Bale's ear, Real Madrid—may be too tempting for the superstar to ignore.
And on the other hand, Sunday's win should guarantee that Arsenal's top stars aren't once again poached away. Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere would probably be the most appealing players for European clubs, but each signed contract extensions this year, so it's hard to imagine either leaving anyway.
Arsenal have a nice, young core in place, and this season showed a lot of grit and determination. Plus, the defense improved dramatically. With an upgrade at striker and a true holding midfielder on the roster, it isn't hard to see the Gunners competing for a league title next year—maybe making a deep run in the Champions League as well.
Arsenal fans may have become infamously pessimistic in the trophy drought that has nearly stretched a decade now, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism heading into the summer.
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