Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City: what missing Champions League would mean

We examine why the three clubs’ Premier League fate has gone to the wire and what the impact would be if they finish outside the top four

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Chelsea 37 48 90
2 Tottenham Hotspur 37 54 83
3 Man City 37 36 75
4 Liverpool 37 33 73
5 Arsenal 37 31 72

Arsenal (home to Everton on Sunday)

P 37 Pts 72 GD +31

How did it come to this?

Arsène Wenger cannot understand it. As he has pointed out more than once, his team have 72 points – one more than they finished with last season, when they came in second. If they were to beat Everton on Sunday, they would have 75, and no club has missed out on the top four with such a haul. Put it down to the extreme competitiveness of the top six but Arsenal’s regrets will centre upon the car-crash defeats at home to Watford and away against West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace. More generally, it has been a season of tension and hostility. How many Arsenal players or fans have actually enjoyed it?

What would it mean for the club to miss out on the Champions League?

The financial hit would be significant, even though the club have noted that the Europa League is worth more to its participants these days. But the major damage would be on the sporting front and, having enjoyed platinum membership to Europe’s most exclusive football club, it would be deeply frustrating to be on the outside looking in. Perhaps the truly elite players would not want to join a club competing in the Europa League but the attraction of London and a massive salary could persuade many others.

Would the manager survive missing out on the Champions League?

Yes. The Wenger situation has cast long shadows over the season and it is remarkable that it has been allowed to do so. The directors have said virtually nothing on whether the manager will stay – which reflects badly on their authority and handling of the whole affair – but it has become increasingly clear that Wenger will stay. The chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, wants to attach various conditions to Wenger’s next cycle, including upgrades in scouting and coaching.

Which players may leave if they fail to qualify?

It will be jumped upon as a reason/excuse for leaving but the reality is that many players have been exploring exit routes for weeks. Alexis Sánchez, Mesut Özil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain head the list of those with only one more season on their contracts, and Héctor Bellerín would be receptive to an approach from Barcelona.

How would the supporters react if the club miss out?

Obviously they would be upset and the Wenger Out brigade would see it as the final straw but, in all honesty, positions have become so entrenched and opinions so strident one way or the other that it is difficult to say how much more greatly an absence from the Champions League would affect things. DH

Liverpool (home to Middlesbrough)

P 37 Pts 73 GD +33

Would Philippe Coutinho, right, be tempted by a move to Barcelona if Liverpool miss out on the Champions League?
Would Philippe Coutinho, right, be tempted by a move to Barcelona if Liverpool miss out on the Champions League? Photograph: John Sibley/Reuters

How did it come to this?

The January-February slump, injuries and struggling against the Premier League’s lower and more defensive teams – but mainly the January-February slump. Liverpool harboured hopes of challenging Chelsea for the title at the turn of the year but those evaporated within weeks along with the team’s form in the absence of Sadio Mané because of the Africa Cup of Nations, plus Philippe Coutinho’s gradual recovery from an ankle ligament injury. Jürgen Klopp’s team have dug in to record valuable away wins without key players during the run-in but two points from the past nine available at Anfield – against Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Southampton – have dragged their battle for Champions League qualification to the wire.

What would it mean for the club to miss out on the Champions League?

For a club who pride themselves on a rich European pedigree it would be another blow to status and prestige to miss out on the Champions League for a seventh time in the last eight seasons. Financially Liverpool can withstand the hit and will back Klopp heavily in the transfer market but the ability to attract players such as the Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk would be undermined and, by extension, so would the manager’s plans to bridge the gap to Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur next season. “Yes, it has influence and that’s how it is,” Klopp said last week when asked if Champions League football affected his transfer plans. “The players we are talking to are good players and I know they have offers from other clubs.”

Would the manager survive missing out on the Champions League?

Absolutely. There is no threat to Klopp’s position regardless of Sunday’s outcome against Middlesbrough. That said, it would invite questions about his team’s energy levels at the tail end of a season were Liverpool to fall short at the last again after losing the Europa League final this time last year.

Which players may leave if they fail to qualify?

The only concern would be the impact on Coutinho’s thinking should Liverpool remain outside the European elite and Barcelona validate their frequent links with the Brazil international with a bid. Coutinho, Klopp and Liverpool have been unequivocal on his future – not least in the form of a five-year contract signed only in January – but no Champions League football would leave room for doubt.

How would the supporters react if the club miss out?

Badly, stoically, wearily, angrily – depends on the individual. It is fair to say, however, that missing out on the Champions League having spent all but two weeks in the top four since September would cause greater alarm than Liverpool’s failure to sustain a title challenge this season. The realistic expectation was to challenge for a top-four finish rather than the summit, although Klopp’s team looked comfortable and confident when they arrived there in the early months of the campaign, and to blow it now would be a demoralising setback. AH

Manchester City (away at Watford)

P 37 Pts 75 GD +36

Sergio Agüero was praised by Pep Guardiola this week but missing out on the Champions League could give him a reason for leaving Manchester City.
Sergio Agüero was praised by Pep Guardiola this week but missing out on the Champions League could give him a reason for leaving. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

How did it come to this?

Pep Guardiola’s team returned six consecutive league victories at the start of the campaign, then the wheels came off. The 2-0 defeat at Tottenham in early October began a decline so steep that City’s flying start can be viewed as a freak occurrence. A concern is that whereas received wisdom was that Guardiola’s pressing pass-and-move game would become more prevalent as his tenure ages, the reverse has been true. City can be a dream when roving forward but too often fail to dominate from start to finish.

What would it mean for the club to miss out on the Champions League?

City’s holy grail is claiming a first European Cup and given Guardiola’s passion for the competition the hangover could last into next season if they are not competing in it. It would also cause dismay among an Abu Dhabi hierarchy whose vision is for the club to become a bona fide member of the continental aristocracy. And quick. Although the monies lost would be a drop of oil in Sheikh Mansour’s vast reserves, having no Champions League football would not help to attract, say, Tottenham’s Kyle Walker or Danny Rose, whom the club want.

Would the manager survive missing out on the Champions League?

Only just. Given City have pursued Guardiola since 2012, at least, they would lose serious face if he were culled after a season. The caveat: a mediocre start next term and the Catalan would field serial questions about his future.

Which players may leave if they fail to qualify?

An interesting question given the ages, career-point and general profile of Guardiola’s squad. The only big name who may depart may do anyway, so could use having to perform in the Europa League as another reason. Who is this? Sergio Agüero. The Argentinian finally felt some genuine love from his manager after Tuesday’s 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion. This jarred because Guardiola has been so lukewarm about a footballer who is a finisher supreme.

How would the supporters react if the club miss out?

Embarrassed. Furious. And some would call for Guardiola’s head. Of interest here is the growing constituency already questioning him. Their bones of contention: the Joe Hart/ Claudio Bravo decision; some of Guardiola’s off-note media performances; and an uneven style of play that is not the whirring, dazzle-ball they expected to see. But there would also be a large constituency who would allow him this summer and the start of next season to turn it around. JJ


David Hytner, Jamie Jackson and Andy Hunter

The GuardianTramp

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