Arsenal started 2022 with three realistic routes to seal a return to European competition for next season.
A month later and three has become one after crashing out of the FA Cup at the third-round stage at the hands of Championship side Nottingham Forest as well as losing to Liverpool in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup.
In many ways, the 2021/22 season has been an odd one for the Gunners having failed to qualify for Europe for the first time in over two decades due to finishing eighth and missing out on a Europa Conference League spot on the final day of last season.
Therefore, instead of gearing up for trips or hosting games at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal will be watching on with a little envy as Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Leicester City and West Ham United fly the flag for England in the knockout stages in their respective European competitions.
Unsurprisingly, Gunners manager Mikel Arteta has already revealed that he’s not a fan of this rare experience.
“It hurts a lot in the last few days to put the TV on and see those teams there, and not see Arsenal there,” the Spaniard admitted during his press conference ahead of Arsenal’s win over Burnleyback in September. “It was painful. One hundred per cent. I don’t want to be sitting there with Arsenal out of those competitions.”
In order for Arteta to ensure he is leading the Gunners out in either the Champions League, Europa League, or Europa Conference League next season then his side will most likely need to finish no lower than seventh in the Premier League come May.
Of course, a top-four finish would be the dream scenario as Arsenal’s six-year absence from European football’s elite club competition would finally be over.
Whereas the reward for finishing fifth – and sixth depending on who wins the FA Cup this season – is a spot in the Europa League and the team that finishes seventh could get a Europa Conference League place.
But Arteta’s side can’t be too picky about what European competition they’ll hope to be playing in next season – even if the Europa Conference League is their only option.
This is because, as pointed out on Arsenal Reddit, it’s vital that the club are playing in some form of European competition next season.
All of which is in relation to the upcoming changes to Champions League qualification and if the north London outfit finish outside the top four in the next two seasons, including the current one.
As previously announced by UEFA, the 2024/25 edition of the UEFA Champions League will follow a new format as there will be a single league made up of all 36 competing clubs.
This means a departure from the current format of a 32-team group stage.
And most importantly, as the statement explains: “This will give four more sides the opportunity to compete against the best clubs in Europe.”
In order to get one of the additional slots, Arsenal will have to be among ‘two clubs with the highest club coefficients that have not qualified automatically for the Champions Leagueâ€™s league stage, but have qualified either for the Champions League qualification phase or the Europa League/the Europa Conference League.’
Currently, Arsenal are 15th in the UEFA coefficients rankings – behind Premier League rivals Manchester City (2nd), Liverpool (3rd), Chelsea (4th), Man United (9th) and Tottenham Hotspur (13th).
However, with the Gunners not in Europe this season they won’t get any coefficients points, but as their north London rivals have not gone deep in the Europa Conference League it can be seen as a huge boost as the two clubs have a similar coefficient total over the last four years.
Looking at the rest of Europe and the teams that could rival Arsenal for one of the four additional spots for Champions League qualification come 2024/25 presents a potential issue.
As things stand, Barcelona, Man United and AS Roma – three teams above Arsenal in the club coefficients – are in danger of missing out on the Champions League next season.
If this was the case ahead of the 2024/25 campaign, then two of the trio would take up slots three and four.
The Gunners can avoid this particular scenario if the aforementioned teams qualify automatically for the Champions League, but they will still need to have built up their own coefficients to be in contention for one of the two available slots.
One way to do this is by ensuring they’re in one of the three European competitions next season, not only that, they must go deep in the respective tournament.
As per the UEFA Coefficients calculation method, reaching the Champions League final is worth a maximum total of 38 coefficient points, 34 for reaching the Europa League final and 30 for going all the way in the Europa Conference League.
Simply put, European qualification has perhaps never been as important for Arsenal as it is this season.
It may not be the most glamorous competition in the world, but the Europa Conference League can play an important role in Arsenal’s quest to become a Champions League club again in the very near future.