Arsenal

How the FA Cup semi-final draw will affect Arsenal’s alternative route back into Europe

Arsenal will head into the penultimate month of the 2021/22 season leading the top-four race and, most importantly, in control of their own destiny thanks to Saturday’s 1-0 win over Aston Villa. After losing at home to Liverpool three days prior, it was important for Mikel Arteta’s side to bounce back immediately and Bukayo Saka’s first-half goal at Villa Park ensured the Gunners’ response was a perfect one.

What the result means is that Arsenal just need to match the results of Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and West Ham United from their final 10 Premier League games of the campaign in order to be playing Champions League football once again next term.

With that said, the Champions League is one of three routes Arsenal have in their quest to be back in Europe next season after a year without it for the first time in over two decades. One being the Europa League and the other being the Europa Conference League (UECL).

And thanks to Liverpool lifting the Carabao Cup trophy last month, it means the UECL place is likely to go to the next eligible team in the Premier League, because Jurgen Klopp’s side are on course to qualify for the Champions League next season via their position in the top-flight of English football.

As usual, six teams from England will be in European competition next season, but this number could increase by one with the UECL place going to the team that finishes seventh as long as the FA Cup winners finish in the top five of the Premier League table. Arsenal actually benefited from a similar scenario in the 2019-20 season, as after an eighth-placed finish it was their FA Cup win that sealed qualification into the Europa League group stage for the following campaign and caused Wolves to miss out.

Currently, Crystal Palace are the only semi-finalists who can realistically repeat what the Gunners did two years on as Patrick Vieira’s side aren’t expected to finish in the top-five this season and have been drawn to face Chelsea, who beat Middlesbrough to reach this stage, at Wembley Stadium next month.

The other semi-final sees Manchester City face Liverpool and with both teams likely to finish in the top-five this season, it means as long as Palace don’t get their hands on the trophy, the reward for finishing no lower than sixth in the Premier League is a place in next season’s Europa League group stage.

Although, Leicester City and a Europa League rule change can offer up a further twist. With the Foxes into the quarter final of the Europa Conference League, the rule as per UEFA, if they are the inaugural winners of the competition, states: ‘The winner will gain a place in the following season’s UEFA Europa League group stage if they have not qualified for the UEFA Champions League via their domestic competition’.

As Brendan Rodgers’ side are unlikely to seal a top-four finish this season, they pose a threat to Arsenal for a place in next season’s Europa League if they win the Europa Conference League and Gunners don’t qualify for the Champions League as well as finishing sixth because England are only allocated two teams in Europe’s second-tier club competition which means Leicester and whichever side finishes fifth in the Premier League would gain entry.

In addition, the team that finishes sixth would get a Europa Conference League place. Therefore, in this particular scenario, finishing outside the top six will mean no European football in 2022/2023.